05/10/12

The Real Problem

Ugggggh. I really would like to do a Knesset ruling coalition or a French President Francois Hollande blong. But, our domestic news has been dominated by sexual orientation news and debate. And, it seems irresponsible not to say more about it. In two days, we’ve had NC adopt a constitutional amendment forbidding the legal recognition of any sort of same-sex civil arrangement; President Obama was “forced” to admit his support for same-sex marriage by the admissions of his Veep, Joey B.; and Mitt Romney has been accused of shearing a fellow classmates hair, in high school, for the classmate’s perceived homosexuality and against his will.

As I’ve confessed, I’m constrained, most notably by my day job, from commenting too specifically about the legal aspects of the matter. And, I’m personally wary of offending some or all of my audience. It’s hot button. And, my courage is not red badge.

But, the Romney accusation exposes a blind spot in the dialogue of the right and among people of faith about the homosexual issue. As the story is told, Romney became obsessed with what he perceived as the inappropriate length of a blonde classmate’s hair (circa Ronnie Bass of Remember the Titans). Witnesses say that Romney took a pair of scissors, held down the classmate, and cut it off — the hair. Romney first claimed that he didn’t remember the event but then offered that homosexuality couldn’t have been any sort of motive because that was “the furthest thing from [their] minds back in the 1960s.”

The rejoinder misses the mark.

Ducking the hate crime or homophobia accusation doesn’t save you from the most damning one.

That you’re cruel.

When I was about 11 I saw an advertisement for the television premiere of the movie, The Elephant Man. I BEGGED my parents to VHS tape record it for me. They kept saying, “You know it’s really sad, right?” But, I was apparently so intrigued by the sort of sideshow aspect of it that I insisted.

As best I recall, in the movie, the Elephant Man builds, out of match sticks or cards, a replica church. One night a group of drunken revelers comes by his hospital room. They destroy his model, pour alcohol over his face and body, and then show him his own misshapen face in a mirror.

In that moment, I ran sobbing convulsingly from the room. Like couldn’t catch my breath, ran into the wall type crying. It was abhorrent cruelty. It was gut level, my reaction. Pure grain empathy. No real analytics or moral processing. Just base sadness. I spent 2 hours swinging on the playground. I couldn’t sleep for an actual week. (It didn’t help that my dad thought Poltergeist was a “comedy” and that I had seen it that very same week. The irony is that my parents were, and remain, about the most prudish movie consumers I know. I didn’t see Robocop until I was 27.)

That scene is, for me, the emblem of cruelty.

Mitt Romney is an old man. (Sorry Dad.) He went to high school FIVE decades ago. I would never hold him to account for basically anything he did then, including this alleged incident. “Every five years or so I look back on my life and have a good laugh.” – The Indigo Girls

That Mitt Romney might have disagreed with homosexuality in the 60s or that he disagrees with it now or certain civil benefits for the same, should be permissible in our public discourse. But, this alleged story epitomizes the problem with those that would — disagree that is.

We don’t stop at disagreement. All such opposition is eventually marked by a type of metaphorical “holding down” and “shearing.” In private conversation, in political strategy, in the voting booth, we don’t seem to stop at disagreement. It nearly always morphs into cruelty.

I saw a girl in high school who lived in Toms River, NJ. And, by “saw” I mean so in the Biblical sense, if you get my drift. She was a devout Christian and her father was a pastor. I was visiting with her family one summer and they began talking viscously about “faggots” and “queers.” At that time, I probably shared nearly identical theological and political views concerning the LGBT community. But, I was just stunned by the rhetoric. Even then, at 17 or so, there was this impassable gap, for me, between the viewpoint and the hatred. And, trust me, to be completely above board, at that time and even now, much of the pattern and practice of the LGBT community illicits from me only revulsion. I was not, and am not now, any sort of specific behavioral sympathizer. My instincts, in other words, have never been ones of appreciation and understanding. But, the hatred to it is simply foreign.

Hate crimes, bullying, dirty politics, name calling, talk radio. These are symptoms of something more universally disgusting — our inclination to cruelty. But it’s not just freaks and gays we treat meanly. We invite underclassman teammates to the back of buses, through dark tunnels, strip them naked, duct tape their ankles and wrists, and send them back to their seat. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) We build whole stand-up and talk-radio and late-night television careers out of ridicule. We love a good prank show. Clever condescension. The snide. Cruelty can be so cool.

I have been plenty cruel in my life. I don’t mean to cite some set of silly anecdotes to distinguish others from myself.

But, in our moral policing and proselytizing, let’s make sure we don’t find ourselves straddled over a classmate, taking hair against his will.

Performed by ipoet. Music produced by Sundance.

Today’s song blog here:

Haircut

12/17/11

A Deathbed Confessional

I don’t have the time to say all that I’d like to about Christopher Hitchens. It’s an especially strange thing to have to make these comments, about maybe the most famous atheist in the world, the week before the Christmas holiday. And, yet, for me personally, it’s all somehow perfectly fitting. Over the past 2 or so years Hitchens has been significantly at the center of my spiritual life.

He was a writer and political journalist and activist and orator above anything. He became associated with the neo-atheists, of Four Horseman fame, later in life, but to remember him as an atheist is to miss him as a gift from God. He spun the English language like the bat of a feline paw. In debate he exercised poetry and obscure literary quote like they were teleprompting. He had impeccable comedic timing and was the most entertaining, if not persuasive, debater, I’ve ever seen. I spent hours upon hours on YouTube with his debates and interviews. I’m a sucker for the psuedo-intellectual harmonic of the British brogue. He had just a stunningly quick mind. People like Hitchens remind you that there are some smart people that you know. And, then there are some smart people. He was wicked smart.

Where I’m normally a champion of reasonableness and discretion, I was moved by his confidence and adamancy. I thought there was an intellectual honesty to his views that I craved even more of for myself. Not to be banal, but there simply is never a place to stop reevaluating what you believe, no matter how deeply and longstandingly held. The writings and speeches of Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris became a kind of religious devotional for me. I’ve spent my whole life finding faith in all the places it’s so readily and typically found. Church, Bible studies, pastors, evangelists, Scripture, commentary, scholarship, devotionals, hymns, conferences, religious radio. Although arriving at a different endpoint, I have always found kinship in the fervor of atheism. In some sense, I feel less connection to those who might profess religious views comparable to mine, unthinkingly so, than I do with those who have asked the deepest questions even where they depart in result. I needed a shot in the spiritual varicose and a group of atheist fundamentalists ironically administered it.

It’s a lot like Christmas. As we insist on engaging the story of the Incarnation in the same way over and over, it becomes some sort of pitched whistle we can’t hear anymore. We’re increasingly numb to its force. It’s like the diminishing effects of drug. With each successive use the narcotic is less able to reproduce the initial experience. We have to find a way to rattle the cage. Like rolling down the window or slapping your own face, drowsy on an overnight drive. Exploring Hitchens’ anti-spirituality was, itself, of such tremendous spirit for me. It made me alive in a way that great Christian apologetics increasingly couldn’t. It takes me to the same place of devotion and awe and curiosity that I’ve felt in other genuine pursuits of faith and worship.

He died this week of esophageal cancer. Some called it the judgment of God. Others called it the opportunity of God. He was prayed fervently for and against. He was conscious of his religious detractors and proponents alike, and he predicted their possible reactions at his demise. He was adamant in interviews that any posthumous news of a deathbed confessional or conversion should be dismissed altogether or, in the least, disbelieved as ineffectual because, even if somehow made, could not be considered as having been made by the real Christopher Hitchens. Maybe some deluded, hysterical, and failing version of a ghost of that person might utter such gibberish on last minute fear of death and eternal judgment but it could never be any reflection of the real man’s cogent and incomparably sharp mind, he said. I always loved the calculation and resolve of it. If ever a man has scoffed knowingly, even welcomingly, in the face of eternal judgment, he did. But, I hope Christopher finds that he was terribly and utterly wrong. I also hope that we’re proven equally wrong. And, I hope most of all that somehow the Lord and Christopher are laughing right now at the ignorance of us all. Let God’s grace be bigger than even we could ever imagine this Christmas.

I got this text from a friend about the news of his death: “And, now he knows better than the rest of us.”

He would have hated this post and song. But, I don’t care. He certainly didn’t care what we thought!

RIP C.H.

Performed by ipoet. Produced by pumpkinFoot.

Today’s song blog here:

I Didn't

10/22/11

The World Did Not End, Again, Update

In case you missed it, the world failed to end again, yesterday. It would be embarrassing if you were continuing as if it had. In May, I warned here about the consequences, historically, associated with laughing at prophets and cynicism for the end of days. My sympathies continue to lie with those who are desperate for the deepest mysteries of our existence and universe, even when they are laughably wrong.

The originally posted song appears, again, below. Some days just aren’t your day.

This post will expire at midnight tonight.

Performed by ipoet. Music produced by Jordan Santana.

Today is Your Day

09/10/11

CMXI

To me it was really difficult not to say something obvious and banal. All of the sentiments have been run. I thought about just telling my own story. Everyone has one, and sharing yours is quintessentially a part of the moment. I thought about trying to honor the major events and personalities of the last decade. But, that seemed too clinical. Everyone wants to somehow reflect afresh the sentiment and the pain and the loss. But you just can’t. Personal grief can’t be mediated well and observed grief is sort of condescending.

As I considered all the possibilities, I was desperate most of all to identify some unified theory on the matter. What is the particle that connects us in this tragedy, the enemy and the ally, the terrorist and the captive, the soldier and the civilian, the muslim and the Christian, the democrat and the republican, the martyred and the living, the atheist and the evangelical, NYC and PA and the Pentagon and the rest of us, the world and the United States. The sides and the versions and the moralities are too many and too nuanced and too at odds to be made to fit. And, then I thought about our moms. We all had moms. However you want to label us, saint or sinner, we all had a mom, if even for just for a moment. We all came from a place of nurture and charity. Of course, to varying degrees, all of us departed that space, some, maybe the 911 hijackers, to a greater extent than others. But, we all were there. In that moment, we were at our most similar. Possibly even at a near likeness.

I also wanted to say something of hope and joy. That, in our daily routine, we can feel alive and keep those fallen in unspeakable tragedy alive in spirit, as well. When we live in righteousness and peace and forgiveness, we honor them and ourselves.

May we all be thankful for what we have today, including country and global community, and let us remember the many heros and villains and loved ones that have blessed and marked this season of human expanse. May God have mercy on us all. This is my worship.

Performed by ipoet. Music produced by dj clutch.

Still Alive

05/23/11

Laughing at the Prophets

The apocalypse came and went Saturday, harmlessly it appears. It’s natural and easy to make jokes. Twitter abounded with them. It doesn’t take any sort of clever wit of observation to cast Harold Camping and the Family Radio followers as either fools or charlatans or both.

But, as between those who anticipate God’s plans and those who would mock them, I would choose to be among the former. I didn’t think the world was ending. But, it will. And, I don’t plan on laughing while it does.

Performed by ipoet. Music produced by the AMAZING Jordan Santana (sorry for the oversight).

Today is Your Day