One More Thing (on Social and Political Change)

charles-darwin-sssshh-ofset-to-right-of-frameBecause of its tendency to polarize and alienate people, and how easy it is for online “discussions” to lose control to third/fourth/fifth parties, I have resolved to no longer engage in emotionally charged social and political discourse on Facebook (or social media in general).

This doesn’t mean I don’t have strong beliefs and opinions, or that I don’t care about voting or community activism. It doesn’t mean I don’t think speaking one’s mind is important. I think there are many people who are gifted at political discourse, activism, organizing and social theory, and they continue to share those gifts.

I have simply come to the conclusion that it is more beneficial and fruitful for me to have these discussions in an environment that is controlled, peaceful, and personal. It is way too easy for me to dehumanize  another when we use machines to communicate.

If I share something, I want it to be in the spirit of sharing what I learned, how something helped, edified, or challenged me, not as a means to shame my detractors.

(I have not “arrived” or perfected any of this. I’m writing this- all of this- for the same reason I write anything down- to hold myself accountable; to preserve my commitment for posterity.)

Beyond that, I don’t feel it’s my prerogative to make sure an online acquaintance changes his mind, or that a friend changes her opinion and votes for the same person I do. I am not obligated to answer for their choices.

The best I can do is set a watchman for my conscience, my feelings toward others, and my own behavior. I think the best way for me to change the world is to change it around me, through interacting with people and with my community at large.

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Some will disagree with me and take the big picture approach. Some will see things more the way I do. Both have their benefits. Both can and do have positive outcomes. One is just a better choice for my own peace of mind and relationships than the other.

With some professional guidance, I realized that If I focused the same energy I expend trying to convince others to see my way, if I channeled that into action, big or small,  my relationships and my community would transform. [Wow, I thought. What if all people had this approach.]

With all that said, it would be hypocritical for me to tell you who to vote for, how to voice your opinion, what to protest, how to act. When it comes to choosing your candidate, your cause, or your way to take action, there’s only one thing I can ask people I care about to do.

And it’s the same thing I’m asking of myself:

When you make your choice, do it with intention. Doing one small thing that you know will have an effect changes more than sitting idle for hours, stewing in anger and contempt. If your conscience tells you that something (or someone) is morally repugnant, align yourself elsewhere.  If you want to change a social or political reality, take an action that answers the call of your conscience. Whatever you choose to do, do it to strengthen your community, not to tear down someone else. While it’s always nice when others join you, sometimes they won’t. Don’t lose heart. Act in a way that leaves you at peace and doesn’t betray yourself. You can act big, or small. The important thing is to act from kindness, in earnest, and with empathy.

Here’s hoping.

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Opinions are People, Too.

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I haven’t blogged in a long time, because I have been afraid. Yes, afraid to do something I should be eager to do as a writer living in a free-speech loving country: I am afraid to share my opinions, and tell you the stories that form them. I have kept quiet for a long time about many things. But that doesn’t jive with me, turkey.  Because whatever else I have to be to pay the bills, I am a writer. Writing is what I do. I do it to make you think, make you feel, and [hopefully] make you smile. I have to do it. It feels wrong not to, especially when I am learning, struggling, and wanting to grow, since writing is the vehicle I use to do that. I have to speak up. I have to be myself. I have to tell people who that is, because I like her, and I am proud of who God has made her. There is a good case for keeping our mouths shut a lot of the time. But after much thought, prayer and consideration, it is time to break the silence.

Warning: these stories contain opinions that may not be agreeable to all readers:

  • Several months ago, I implied on social media that I think anyone should be able to get a wedding cake from anywhere that sells wedding cakes, regardless of whether I shared the same definition of marriage as that couple did. [My reason being, of course, that if a business owner could decide to deny someone else a good, service, or civil right based on a differing characteristic or belief, I could also concievably be denied civil rights, goods, or services by the same exact line of reasoning.] And there was a firefight. I mean, you would have thought I said I was a cannibal, and that you were next, buddy. The comments made me cry. I lost sleep. It was not an easy time.
  • A few weeks ago, there was a barrage of posts on my newsfeed about how [yes] all women have been victimized, objectified or abused.  Perusing some of the posts reminded me of my own experiences: growing up with a man who made ours a tumultuous house, being flirted with [in the classroom] by male teachers who were twice my age, being asked by random men for a “ride” because of my wheelchair. Remembering made me feel small and sad, and my heart went out to women.  But at the very same time, I was made aware through circumstance and conversation of the countless good men in my life, who have never treated me with anything but love, dignity and respect. Some of the most poignant, loving and heartfelt help I have had working through these things has come from the men in my life- one in particular. And my heart went out to them, too. Good men–no, great men–who were only seeing negative messages from the world at large. I wept for my friends, male and female, as I watched them victimized and villainized. I could not perpetuate that.
  • I have read things bemoaning government assistance, wondering why individuals who receive it have nice phones and televisions. I receive government assistance. I have a nice phone and a television. I also[gratefully] work 2 jobs. But I know people who can’t work for many valid reasons, and I think of them, how grateful they are for what they have, how freely they have shared with me of the possessions and resources such assistance has allowed them to have. I couldn’t agree with prejudice directed at people like those I knew. And iCouldn’t let someone who had no interest in learning about any other aspect of my life make me feel guilty for having a talking phone [I have to admit, it’s pretty neat].
  • I have seen posts about how a photo of me in my two-piece swimsuit might cause trouble in a marriage. “My husband shouldn’t have to see your boobs” it read. I agree, I thought. And he won’t, I can assure you. But he may have to see my opaque, normal-for-this-century swimsuit [gasp!]. And I have full confidence in his ability to continue to be lovingly and faithfully married to you after he does.
  • Just yesterday, I was accused of believing in “magic” because I have a deep and abiding faith in the sacraments and the healing power of the Church. I was singled out and belittled by a stranger without a second thought.
  • The same day, I saw the latest title from a popular Christian blogger: “If you want birth control, go buy it. Nobody is stopping you” he said. And I felt ashamed because I would not be able to afford birth control without the insurance [from the government] that helps me pay for it.

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Every single time I found myself in possession of a strong opinion after reading [or receiving the brunt end of] these social shenanigans, I simultaneously wanted to shut up about it and shout it from the rooftops. And I have kept quiet, for a long time.  Truth be told, I was a wimpy-wimpface who used my insecurities as an excuse to be so. But I had to cut loose [footloose, kick off your Sunday shoes!] Because my opinions are not just tenets or ideologies.  They are indicators of my feelings and passions, my shortcomings and wants. They remind me where I am on my journey of empathy, compassion, understanding and faith.  They are my stories. And coming to this realization has shown me something important.

Just as my opinions- when you read or hear them- point directly to myself and my circumstances, opposing viewpoints from people whose opinions differ from mine, are still glimpses of who they are. If I am angry at an opinion and I state that anger plainly and without tact, it will hurt the people attached to those differing opinions. It will make it a battle of correct and incorrect, instead of an effort to do the right thing.

To counter the knee-jerk reaction to talk about how right and awesome I am, I have tried a new strategy of late. I have intentionally read opposing or differing viewpoints, to get a sense of the stories people are trying to tell me.

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As a result, I enjoy reading about and discussing men’s issues, LGBT issues, minority issues, stories about the military, blogs by rabbis and Muslims, you name it. [And surprisingly, I have not turned into an LGBT Jewish Muslim man yet!] The whole thing has challenged me, taught me new things, and made me more aware of “the other side” of a lot of popular debates in the news and media.  I especially like to read opposing views from people I know. I can flex my empathy muscles and make them big and strong. Which is important because:

  • Everyone has opinions on everything.
  • Those opinions are strong, often because they are tied to a real-life experience the person has had, or a deeply-held belief or tradition.
  • There is much more to a person than their opinion on one issue.
  • People’s opinions change over time, and can even change as a result of an exchange of opinions with someone different from them.

And most importantly, the opinion I don’t agree with belongs to a person with a need, a hurt, or a story. A person I am obligated by my humanity and my theology to love, from right where they are.  Because that’s just the right thing to do, in my opinion anyway.

 

DOMA: One Christian Speaks

With the DOMA decision hot off the presses this week, my Facebook news feed has been fascinating. I just sit and watch the screen refresh with anticipation; waiting for the gloves to come off.

One minute: OMGRAINBOWTEARSOFJOY.

The next: OMGWORLDCRASHINGDOWN.

And about every half hour: Something about Jesus, churches or the Bible, and how they feel about “The Gays” getting married.

As an Orthodox Christian, I view marriage [which my Church defines as being a physical and spiritual union between a man and a woman] as a Sacrament. Something spiritual and supernatural happens during a wedding for an Orthodox Christian: Christ is the Celebrant, He joins the couple together. And in a Mystery, they become one person. Because of this, sex is meant for marriage because it is a participation in that oneness. It is meant to be experienced within the context. So, taken together: having a wedding, being married, and having sex are beautiful, holy, and sacred.

Marriage is also known as the White Martyrdom within the Orthodox Church: you are giving your life for your spouse before God; this is represented by the “crowning” part of the marriage ceremony [Yep, those are Martyrs’ Crowns. Intense, right?!].

I cherish this view of marriage and sex as a healthy, full one. I look forward to experiencing it; I believe it is truth, and I believe this because I trust my Faith. It’s not an easy thing to believe, wait for, or live by, believe me. [White Martyrdom does not exactly come up as a topic of conversation at most parties these days.]  But I know it’s worth it.

However, I don’t expect every single person in the United States of America to have the same beliefs I do about marriage any more than I expect them all to show up at my Church on Sunday morning.

To follow the teachings of Jesus or the Church is now, and always has been, a choice, not a legislation or ruling. Jesus has never been shy; He has never been a shrinking violet, but He has never been a politician, either. He loves, He teaches and lives from Love; we choose how to respond.

Jesus never ran for President, and America is not now, nor has it ever been, an exclusively Christian nation. The Founding Fathers did not all go to the same Church together. They did not pen the Constitution at a Small Group at Bible Camp, and they never intended for a particular brand of religion to be legislated from Capitol Hill. In fact, the need for Freedom of Religion [any, not just mine] is what brought those rowdy ex-Brits here in the first place. That’s why it’s [still] in our constitution [right now, actually]. So, because the Constitution is what guides our law/political process, DOMA shouldn’t be discussed in terms of religion, because Church and State are separate here. And that’s where it gets tricksy, my little hobbitses.

See, within the American political sphere, marriage can’t be viewed as religious, because there is a legal component to it [and Church and State are separate]. So, the real question behind whether or not the Supreme Court should’ve upheld DOMA is not “Is it Christian for people who are in same-sex relationships to get married?” it’s “Should they have the Constitutional right to do so, based on what the rest of our law and Constitution says?” When marriage is being debated in politics, it’s a civil issue, not a theological one.

As much as I love my Church and my Faith [a lot, you guys, it’s changed my life in the most beautiful ways possible], I cannot find within it anything that says I should impose or enforce my own moral code on someone who is not choosing to be a part of my Faith. And  as an American citizen, I can’t find a place in the Constitution where it says I  have the legal right or civil obligation to do that, either.

So, yes, I am a straight, heterosexual Orthodox Christian. That means a someday I will marry a man in my Church: we’ll put on Martyrs’ Crowns and kiss dramatically in front of all our relatives [awkward!], and then we’ll dance the night away. And you’re all invited. Because it will be a beautiful, real experience, with a great party to follow.

My devotion to my Faith and its teachings about marriage does not mean I have the right to make anyone else’s faith or marriage illegal. And it doesn’t mean I should be unkind, rude, or unloving toward anyone, whether my theology agrees with their lifestyle choices or not.

I pray I have spoken the Truth in love, and that I can live it the same way. And I hope for your patience and respect as I spend my life figuring out the best way to do so.

tongues of fire

[Please note: all photos used in this post are from this Los Angeles Times article.]

It is no secret that I am what some people may call a bleeding-heart [and others, a tree-hugging, face-painted, Kumbaya-singing hippie], and that I have some views that are- if you will forgive the unfortunate pun- unorthodox.  But please believe, I am not partisan, and my positions are not always static. I am very willing to listen, and attempt to understand a variety of points of view. But on some things I am stubborn.

In light of the tragic massacre yesterday in Arizona, I offer you some of my favorite rhetoric from one of history’s most controversial figures:

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.”

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister  will be subject to judgment. You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? . . .  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?”

What bothers me most is that it takes a horrific act of violence to bring the importance of nonviolence to the forefront.  Although I am what some might consider a ‘strict’ [or ‘crazy’, depending on your dialect: see above citations] Pacifist, who does not expect people to agree with me on any or all points, I hope there are some agreeable bits here for you to nibble on.

I think a lot of people in the political and social arenas-not to mention elsewhere- underestimate the importance of their words. Violent words are the product of violent thoughts; and violent action cannot be far behind either.

[For a really powerful address on the importance of eliminating violent language and suggestions from our political rhetoric, click here. I promise it is worth the listen and the read, regardless of your specific views.]

People are often critical of society for being too politically correct. But I don’t see anything ‘correct’ about the way that politics has become bitter and polarized. The respect of people- whether or not they are like us, or people whose viewpoints and lifestyles might differ from our own- is completely essential. Anyone can treat people like himself or herself fairly, but it takes a true leader to approach differences respectfully.

In-fighting solves nothing. It alienates and distances: and we need each other.

The same goes for playing the blame game. Outside of the persons immediately responsible for a negative act, even the most eloquent discussion becomes heresay, gossip, and prejudice.

Scapegoating poisons our political discourse and our social climate. It is the first symptom of prejudice [then comes discrimination, then comes racism, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism, and all the negative thoughts and actions those attitudes prompt.]

Progress is suffocated when we continue to point fingers at the problems caused by ‘them’, whoever they are, instead of thinking about how we can be more proactive to bring about change.

We are bound to read. We are bound to listen. It is inevitable that we will form and reform opinions, and that they will be influenced by our own biases. I’m not saying go about silent in the name of tolerance. [It is just as shameful to say nothing in the face of wrongdoing.] But when we start to think of human beings as ‘hinderances’, ‘enemies’ and the like, we are standing on dangerous ground.

Let’s take a moment to cool our jets, and our tongues.

the home stretch

School is almost over. I mean, really over. Like I will be done with school for all eternity in about 6 weeks. I cannot believe it. I still have so much to do. Too much to even contain in the vast void of the Internet. Piles and piles of stuff to be read and written and done and sent and not enough time or motivation or smarties inside of me to get it all done. At least that’s how it feels. The closest thing I can compare it to is the breaks going out at the top of a hill {bear with me even though I don’t drive}. You keep going faster and faster and it seems like there’s nothing to be done until you crash into a bazillion pieces at the bottom. So you hold your breath and hang on for dear life and hope you live through your epic collision with reality without having a steering wheel as a permanent appendage.

The thing about me is that I seem to perpetually get myself into academic rough spots. Not just because I procrastinate, which I do, but because I get overwhelmed. Yet, and here’s the interesting part, not only do I seem to work well, if not better, under pressure, but I have never been in a situation where I haven’t gotten everything done. So why do I worry so much? I’ve been here before, right? The Lord has gotten me through every other imaginable academic hurdle. There’s a great gospel song that says something like “I know He didn’t bring me this far to leave me”…and He didn’t. I’ve got to remember that.

In case I needed more evidence that the (near) impossible can happen, a more unified America than I have seen in a while elected a president of color in the same lifetime of millions of people who grew up victims of racism, prejudice, and segregation. Our president-elect represents hope and optimism, to be sure. But he has also proven to be forthright and proactive when faced with some pretty intense economic hurdles, not to mention international conflict and a high unemployment rate. He isn’t perfect (and isn’t claiming to be), but he is so much of what we seem to need right now. Just days after the election, he has already laid out an economic plan and has begun assembling a Cabinet, while meeting with the current administration to strategize for his transition. 

I was thrilled Tuesday night, and my excitement has continued as I think about the things that I’m hoping will happen for our country. Big things. And they’re getting closer, at least for the “whole”. I’m hoping that they’re around the corner for me, too.