My church is full of loving, liberal-minded, enlightened people whose ideals match mine to a large extent.
I’m looking at the safety pin my church gave me on Sunday … it is still attached to a card made of thick paper.
The Safety Pin Movement is a response to the perception (which appears to have some merit in light of current events) that Donald Trump’s election may embolden certain people, i.e. people who have negative, even hostile, views toward “minority” populations, to act out that hostility.
The card basically says that if I wear it I’m pledging to take action if I witness verbal or physical attacks on others. It says I should be prepared to intervene “with my physical body” if necessary. The card lists these potential victims: “women, LGBTQA, transfolks, people of color, those wearing religious garb, people speaking languages other than English, those who are visibly different—anyone.”
My first response is to think, “What a wonderful, simple thing to do to show solidarity with, and a willingness to come to the aid of, others who may be thought to be disenfranchised or under threat by certain segments of society.” I think, “I can do that.”
Wear a pin? Yes. I can do that, obviously. Place myself (potentially) in harm’s way to protect others? Well…
That’s a far harder question, isn’t it?
I mean, I totally want to wear the pin. The principle behind it is a good one, the intention is awesome and laudable.
I ask myself: Would I, in fact, risk harm to myself to stand up for this principle of unity?
The answer: I don’t know.
I ask myself: Have I ever stood up for someone before?
I can say, yes to that.
A time or two. In very small ways. In grade school and in high school I can think of two times I stood up for kids who were being picked on at school for being “different.” The kids doing the picking on were just being mocking, they weren’t trying to beat up anyone. Nor were the perpetrators particularly “dangerous” fellows. And in both cases, we were on school grounds—so there was pretty much zero real physical threat to me.
What if it had been at night in an alleyway, far from the safety of adults in authority? What if there had been pushing, or worse? Would I have acted?
Doubtful. Maybe run for help. But intervened? Sadly, probably not. I wasn’t at all a tough kid. I’d never been in a serious scrap. Wasn’t athletic. Wasn’t particularly courageous.
I’m 56 and none of that, regrettably, is any different.
So, would I stand up, today, for someone if I thought there was pretty much no possibility of violence? Yeah, I would. Would I be happy to be a friend and support to someone in one of these categories who came to me distraught? Yep, I would. Would I call 911 from across the street? You bet.
But am I going to risk real physical harm to myself? Probably not. That’s just the unfortunate truth of that.
Does that make me a coward? Maybe.
But wearing it without feeling certain I could follow through with the pledge that the pin represents? Well, that presents its own moral dilemma, doesn’t it?
I feel like I just got jabbed with a pin that I haven’t even put on.
Maybe that jab wants to teach me something. (Like, now is the time to take that self-defense class you’ve always wanted to take?)
Am I doing the right thing by not wearing the pin?
It isn’t surprising that we seek to take the “sting” out of death by making it into a cartoon lawn ornament, or wearing it as a costume, or embracing a belief system (religious or secular) that enables us to make peace with it.
Death is the great, inescapable, metaphysical killjoy waiting in the weeds for every man, woman, and child. Clearly, it is the end of one thing: our consciousness in this body on this planet in this moment.
We long to believe that it may be the beginning of another thing; because, if it isn’t, the little light that is “us” winks out forever. We are the center of our universe. We can only perceive life through our singular prism. A world that goes on without us, is a world that might as well not exist.
“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” Said William Wallace, as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart.” And this simple statement is the crux of the matter, isn’t it?
We move through life wishing away mortality because we fear we have not lived well. “Really living” is something most of us feel we have yet to accomplish. It is out there. Maybe it’s falling truly, madly, deeply in love. Or maybe it’s a great friendship we don’t yet know. We think real life is waiting in a thousand future moments. It’s writing that song or that screenplay or that novel. Getting that royalty check—that validation of our worth, our talent, our intelligence. It’s in reconciling with our dad or our son or … you know who.
I watched my elderly mom die slowly for two years. She wasn’t a perfect saint. She didn’t live a perfect life. But she absolutely had zero fear of death. This had a lot to do with her unwavering faith, but it also had a great deal to do with her being able to look back at her life and feel good about it. She knew she’d been a good wife and mom and friend. She knew she’d (mostly) lived well and loved well. This, I believe, gave her a peace about facing death.
She also was 89. She’d lived a long life. I’m confident it’s a very different thing to get a terminal diagnosis when you’re 45 or 29 or six.
At the very end of her life, my mom was still as a stone for three days, didn’t move a millimeter. I have to admit, it was a bit eerie standing over her during that time, saying, “I love you, Mom,” out loud, not knowing if she heard or understood. She looked like a corpse. The only thing that told me she was alive was the fact that, very slowly, she was still breathing. Finally, that stopped.
Seeing death in such an intimate way, up close and personal, is something you don’t forget. Not ever. But it’s my mom’s life that I reflect on, far more than her death. I am grateful she was my mom. I’m lucky I had her as a model.
I’d like to be able to say that today I’m living well and loving well. All I can say is that I’m trying. I’m as caught up in ego and worries about everyday things as the next guy or gal. Maybe more.
What, then, does it mean to “really live?”
I’m tempted to say it’s about living in the present tense, appreciating each moment, seeing the beauty in small things, doing everything you can to be at peace with all people, finding meaning and purpose in loving family and friends, following your “calling” in every aspect of life, finding your spiritual bearings, you know—seizing the bloody day and all that…
I guess that I believe those things are all part of “really living.” However, I believe them to a much larger extent than I am actually doing them. So, it feels fraudulent to say them. It feels like someone else’s list.
And yet … these ideas are the best I’ve got. So, I will say … I’m working on it.
That’s all I’ve got. How about you?
(It seems this blog keeps inspiring me to write: https://writerswithoutmoney.com/ This post is 95% a comment on left on this guy’s blog. He’s smart and insightful and I enjoy disagreeing with him in a friendly way. He takes it well.)
Nature is amazing. The stars. Animal life. Microscopic life. Forests. Oceans.
Science has done astonishing things with its ability to deconstruct nature, explain it to laymen (sometimes in terms we mostly understand).
Science is useful when its analyses lead to good medicine and a more thoughtful approach to the use of natural resources.
But science is forever USELESS when it comes to the things that we yearn to know. Most of what truly matters to people in life remains entirely outside the domain of its relevance: love, friendship, the “high” we experience in an encounter with literature or film or music or any kind of art that moves us, the transcendent sense of awe we feel before nature, the search for purpose.
Such pursuits are not the job of science, never have been. When we try to make science a God, we have made a horrifying error bound to result in things like sterilizing races we deem as inferior or using unwitting people in tests without any thought to the morality of doing so.
Yes, the USE of science can accomplish great moral good too. Feed more people. Teach us how to live sustainably. But scientific principles, when applied, are only as “good” as the souls of the people behind their application.
The same is true of religion. Its application is only as good as the hearts of its leaders and adherents. Religion can spread brotherly love or divisive rhetoric. It can elevate us or turn us into groveling idiots.
People can be beautiful and noble. Sadly, they can also be really fucking dangerous. Power in the hands of people is the most dangerous thing of all. In the guise of religion or atheistic totalitarianism or socialism or communism or democracy … humans having power over other humans is the great bugaboo of all suffering and tragedy.
And this boils down to intent. Do those in power want to minister to the people or manipulate them? Do they want to serve them or make them subservient?
These are moral questions, not scientific ones.
So, thank you science … for heart transplants and AIDS treatments and flat screen TVs.
Thank you religion … for prayer that brings connection to the sacred, for the dissemination of ideas that lead us to give to others, to love mercy and to seek justice and peace.
Just watch your hearts, atheists and theists and agnostics. This is where all future hope will come from. This is where our doom will come from.
Consider well what manner of thought and belief you deposit and nurture therein.
(This post inspired by another blog post: https://writerswithoutmoney.com/2015/08/04/the-surgeon-on-the-mount-or-science-the-theology-after-god/comment-page-1/)
It sounds a little crazy, I know: Bring Your Own God to the party.
But, in fact, we do already.
Even if you go to a church where very specific theology is taught, very specific creeds invoked … I can guarantee you that not every member/attender embraces every word of what comes from on high.
We come into church service with slightly different versions of God informing our faith.
As Rob Bell says, “We shape our God, then our God shapes us.” (Love Wins, p 97)
Exactly right, Mr. Bell.
In my church, the Unitarian Universalist church, that truth is not just acknowledged, it is encouraged and celebrated. The Baptist sits between the Buddhist and the atheist. Each is pleased to let the other believe what they do (or don’t) believe.
When I look back on the evolution of my faith, I can see that I have moved toward a God that continues to become less and less punitive until, finally, “he” (the language of accommodation) isn’t a punisher at all, but full only of compassion and grace, light and love.
Faith is a weird thing. It surely can divide us. The divisions can be lethal, tragically. Or our desire for “higher truth” and “enlightened selves” can lead us to a place of magnificent unity and community. It would be my prayer that this is The Way we choose…
… consider the Syrians fleeing war, risking death at sea with their spouses and babies …
Suddenly, the b.s. I stressed over today seems like a weekend at the Holiday Inn with imported beer and a beautiful nymphomaniac who thinks I am super-cool.
May God (or the smiling Buddha or Whoever) bring them safely to shore. And may the rest of human civilization find a way to treat them like people in need instead of criminals.
People tend to cling to their little set of closely held beliefs. They want to think they have the superior position, logically, morally.
I’m guilty of this, just as you probably are.
There was a time when my core beliefs and political positions were heavily influenced by thinkers/authors/speakers/entertainers who leaned in a certain political direction.
I can tell you those positions have changed quite a bit for me over the last decade or two. Not from right to left or left to right. But from entrenched to liberated.
Here is something I FIRMLY believe: if you take any issue that is fraught with left-versus-right tension (immigration, education, taxation, abortion, gun control, freedom of religion) and you can see NO MERIT AT ALL in the opposing arguments?
You haven’t thought about it hard enough. You are entrenched, unmovable, and you’ve let your emotions prevent you from independent thinking.
Because, if we’re intellectually honest, BOTH sides make legitimate points on all of these issues. Both sides have a view that should at least be considered thoughtfully, not dismissed out of hand. As soon as we demonize our ideological rivals, everyone has lost. When conservatives are fetus-loving right-wing-nutjobs and liberals are tree-hugging femi-nazis … all hope for meaningful dialogue is lost. All hope for thoughtful compromise … gone.
The further we get to the extreme right or left, the further from reason we get. The folks that are way way out there, to either side, aren’t going to engage in balanced, reasoned dialogue. They’re going to shout slogans and shake fists, they are deaf to any opposition, no matter how nuanced.
But most people don’t fall into these extreme categories; nor do most people embrace every single last idea of the party they identify with. (Those that do, I have to admit, scare me a little.) In most cases, we probably have more in common with “those people” (our political/ideological rivals) than we think.
Yes, at the end of the day you have to come down on a side, make a choice, vote for a person or party that best represents the sort of thinking you believe ought to guide us as a nation. That’s all well and good, as far as it goes.
But if we don’t open our minds up a little and see our neighbor with the opposing viewpoint as a fellow human being of infinite worth, a person whose views should be heard and judged, in their entirety, by their merit … well, we will have what we have. People who don’t hear each other and don’t respect each other; people incapable of working together to accomplish things for the common good. Political gridlock. And that kind of sucks.