When everybody belongs

Twice in the space of three days, I was hit with the theme of everybody belongs. It could be coincidence or it could be God pointing something out. Either way, it resonated.

Mirabai Starr, a Christian (I think) mystic, has been asked about the challenge related to the Biblical verse in which Jesus says I am the way and the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him. If that’s the case, what about Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic, or even atheist people who live a good life and embody what Jesus asks for? What about my agnostic friend who is going through an extended rough patch with grace and empathy that shines as a model of what Jesus asks for?

Are they to be cast into the fiery pit merely because they didn’t say The Prayer™?

Mirabai Starr

According to Ms. Starr, the answer is no because God is love and Jesus is God and love is, indeed, the way and the truth and the life. If anyone has cause to be angry with God, Ms. Starr is among them, having lost her 14-year-old daughter to a car accident in 2001. Sometimes hurt(adj) people hurt(v) people. And sometimes the pounding of the pain softens their soul, as if were a tenderized delicacy that would, against expectation, melt in your mouth.

When the concept of everyone belonging came up, I mentioned how some exclusion is more acceptable–such as the derision of black conservatives by liberals as traitors. A woman I know–a kind and generous woman with a soft heart–said black conservatives make her so angry she wants to just smack them (metaphorically). Even soft hearts have hard spots.

A couple of days later, after playing a video clip that called out President Trump and, by extension, the people who voted for him and believe in him, at the Joshua Tree concert, Bono doubled down on the colors bleeding into one by saying that all people, right and left, Democrat and Republican, have a remarkable capacity for kindness and generosity. And that everybody belongs.

Great big Bono.

So when everybody belongs, how do you deal with the people who don’t agree? Do they belong? How do you reconcile their beliefs that they don’t belong? Whether they are black conservatives or homosexuals or Democrats or Republicans or whoever? How do you reconcile the people who want to exclude them when everyone belongs? Do you exclude the excluders? Who decides? And who’s left after all the exclusion is done?

Earlier this week a man was stopped from a massive assassination of elected officials by sheer luck. If Majority Whip Steve Scalise and his security detail hadn’t been at that ballpark, a lot more people probably would’ve died.

Last night someone drove a truck into a crowd outside a mosque in London–a city that has more than its share of hurt people hurting people.

The answer to these attacks isn’t to debate which side’s shouting rhetoric is worse.

Maybe the answer is to stop shouting. Maybe the answer isn’t to post that meme that’s a little over the top–you know, the one that’ll make all the people who think like you feel good. Maybe the answer isn’t to find that article where that guy no one has heard of says something outrageous–and then post that article as if it were the other side’s mainstream.

I’m more or less conservative. “My side” is the one that talks about second amendment remedies. It’s the one from which people showed up at Obama rallies armed to the teeth. “My side” has more than its share of bullies. But it isn’t alone.

Opposing someone isn’t the same as simulating their death. It’s not the same as showing up at a rally looking like a stormtrooper. It’s not the same as wishing ill on their children and family. And if you aren’t four, “they did it first” really isn’t a justification.

In the Bible, Elijah was weary from the way things were going and he needed something to touch him. So God came. But God wasn’t in the earthquake or the fire or the storm. He was in the whisper.

At one point in the concert last week, Bono asked for the lights to go down, then asked for everyone to get their phones out and turn on their flashlights. One phone in a crowd of 60,000 was no big deal. But when everyone got out their phones, we didn’t need the harsh stadium lighting.

Just a thought.


Fighting “bleak”

And then this morning, a guy shot up a Republican softball practice this morning. The shooter, James Hodgkinson, was killed. If you look at his Facebook presence, he’s a hard-core “Bernie or bust,” guy.

As a result of the shooting, it’s reasonable to expect Republicans screaming about leftwing hatred and Democrats screaming about how Republicans set the tone that resulted in the shooting.

A Facebook friend describe her viewpoint this morning as “bleak.” A Facebook friend of hers said that “The best resistence to the powers of violence, death, and despair is laughter. Evil is prepared to fight righteousness. It has no idea what to do with joy.”

The evil on display wasn’t socialism. It wasn’t the Republican Party. And the ultimate evil wasn’t Hodgkinson.

The ultimate evil is the force that would steal our joy. It’s the requirement to not just disagree with people on the other side of an issue–but to build a righteous rage around it.

The ultimate evil is to see the people we disagree with as them.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen people on both sides, including someone associated with the Trump administration, imply that “they” are somehow less than human.

Say what you will about Christianity, but its rules are very specific about this. We aren’t to hate them. We aren’t to view them as somehow less than human. We aren’t to tolerate them. We’re to love them.

If you look up love in any dictionary, it doesn’t mean agree with, support, or condone the positions of. It’s harder than that. It means that we have to work really hard to view them as special, as one of God’s precious children.

It’s really, really hard. But it’s more necessary now than it was yesterday.


I belong to a Facebook group for The Leftovers. The problem is, now there’s another group dedicated to friendly discussion of The Leftovers. The supposed shortcomings of the third season were apparently so massive that it became impossible to relate to people whose lives weren’t greviously affected.

By a television show. In fairness, the show resonated with a fiercely loyal fan base (except when it didn’t). But it was a television show. It was a limited-engagement by a bunch of people who are exceptionally good at pretending for other peoples’ benefit.

And yet, if you don’t condemn the third season and everything it stands for, you’ve failed a vital litmus test.

Snowflake is a popular word these days, used to call out people are so victimized that the very presence of a different line of thought constitutes an existential threat.

It’s typically used by the right to criticize safe zones and the like. Many of them are the same people who vigorously objected when Megyn Kelly dared ask then-candidate Donald Trump a difficult question about his relationships with and references to women.

Mr. Trump’s response was breath-taking. He became offended–vigorously offended–that such a question would even be verbalized. In the next breath, he bragged that he didn’t have time for political correctness.

With all respect to those who support the President, difficult questions and criticism come with the job. To be so obvious in your inability to weather that storm makes you a–dare I say it?–snowflake.

It’s prevasive, born of a culture where you can seek people and information that re-enforce your view of the world, then hold up what you’ve sought out and found as proof that you were right.

The questions of national and international politics are a serious matter. The decisions made today are vital to what tomorrow will be like. But when a mere disagreement on political policy is enough to call a person’s worth into question, maybe it’s time for some political Sanka.

We’re not talking about bringing back lynchings or counting blacks as three-fifths of a person. We’re talking about substantive disagreements on issues like health care, immigration, and the balance between the economy and the environment.

These are complex issues without simple one-size-fits-all answers. The discussions we have about these issues are as important as the decisions we make at the end of those discussion.

Just because someone doesn’t believe in incrementally increased government involvement doesn’t mean that she wants to kill your grandma so she can get a self-parking Lexus. Just because someone thinks it’s immoral to deny benefits to anyone who makes it across the border doesn’t mean he wants to dissolve the country.

They simply disagree with you.

That’s what happens in a free society.

Maybe instead of insulating ourselves from it, we should celebrate it.

The real problem

Not long ago, I admitted to being a (gasp!) Republican on Facebook. I may have lost a few Facebook friends as a result. So be it.

For one former Facebook friend, though, the magnitude of my moral depravity was too much to bare. Unfollow and block for bigotry, misogyny, and all sorts of other assorted hate. In response, I did what anyone else might do–I told him he needed to work on reading comprehension when interpreting my post.

My response was the wrong thing to post.

We live in a political world teeming with Uncle Robs (if you don’t understand, click this link and watch a brilliant demented pyromaniac with a gasoline fixation).

The last thing we need is someone throwing a little more gasoline on the fire.

The simple fact is that most of the people who reacted, though they may have disagreed, did so with respect. It might’ve been tinged with a touch of anger here or there, but there was respect.

That respect is lacking when:

  • A person running for Congress assaults a media member–regardless of what the media member may have said at the time.
  • People show up conspicuously armed at political rallies. In general, you don’t need a scary-looking semi-automatic rifle to keep safe when protesting the candidate you don’t like.
  • People was poetic about killing the opposition, finding a tree and a rope, or sending everyone they disagree with to another planet.
  • Speakers of with a different political viewpoint are shouted down because the guardians of righteousness can’t allow them to speak.
  • Anyone decides they are somehow subhman. There are hate-filled cretins all over the place, but to decide an entire group is somehow less than because of political differences is little more than intellectual and moral masturbation.

Most people, regardless of political stance, aren’t bent on genocide. They don’t want to starve your grandma to death and they don’t want to turn America into an intellectual police state where you can go to prison for simply referring to the Washington Redskins.

Most people want to get to the end of the day. They want to work hard and pay their bills, take care of their families, and have a little left over for some luxuries.

A lot of people gain money and power by helping us to forget what most people have in common. They do better when we look at what a few of them do, then generalize those actions so we can see the “real threat,” then consume more of the material that made us feel threatened in the first place.

I’ll never be a Democrat. I don’t believe in open borders, free abortion to all, or speech codes. I don’t think we’re worse off than ever when it comes to women’s right, minority rights, or gay rights. I’m not 100% certain that climate change is primarily caused by industry. I believe that Islamists are a clear danger to this country, but that the guy you work with who wears a turbin or hajib almost definitely isn’t. And I don’t think a 70-year-old woman who doesn’t want to share a bathroom with a person with male parts is a hateful bigot.

I’m increasingly not a Republican, either. I think Jesus can manage without us screaming about red coffee cups and what the person at Target says to you on Black Friday. I think consenting adults should be able to enter into contractual agreements about marriage without government interference. I believe that abortion will never be eliminated by making it illegal. And, increasingly, I believe that single-payer healthcare is a horrible solution–but it may be the least horrible option available to us.

According to the people who make the noise, those beliefs qualify me as a hate-filled misogynist Islamophobe who puts religion in front of science and wants to create The Handmaiden’s Tale in this country, while simulataneously hating Jesus and our Christian heritage, selling out to the damn gays, supporting baby murderers, and favoring socialism–maybe even communism.

Problem is, guys like me are the majority. There aren’t easy, checkbox solutions. It’s messy. The truth has many different shades and no matter what we do, people are going to get screwed.

Guys like me aren’t the problem. The guys who make us yell at each other are.

What if He is not watching?

“Everything you’ve done, you’ve done because you thought I was watching. Because you thought I was judging. But I wasn’t. I’m not.” — God, or some Aussie bloke named David Burton, The Leftovers.

Let’s pretend for a couple of minutes. Let’s pretend that God’s talking to us and he says these exact words, uttered by an actor named Bill Camp. In the context of the television show, if Camp’s character really is God, then he’s a very crotchety, cranky God with a short fuse. He’s the type of God who would throw someone overboard on a ferry from Tasmania to Australia. (He also gets eaten by a lion, so he’s probably just David Burton, not God.)

God. Or David Burton. Or Bill Camp.

It’s my blog and my exercise in Let’s Play Pretend, so let’s assume that God isn’t like David Burton. Let’s pretend he’s not arrogant and self-serving and that he wouldn’t make 2% of the world’s population disappear just because he can. Let’s pretend he’s the God of the prodigal son, who runs to his son–the one who wished him dead–when he finally comes home.

And let’s pretend that God says that to you.

If you’re a parent, did you linger just outside your kids’ awareness, observing and waiting for that child to forsake you? Did you actively seek opportunities for them to fall short of your expectation, so you would swoop in and dispense some fiery, well-deserved parental justice?

What if we didn’t do things because we thought God was watching–because God was judging? What if we did them because he is the father of the Prodigal Son story? What if we did them because he was pouring his love into us so abundantly that we can’t hold it all?

How would we act if we weren’t worried about some Cosmic manifestation of the Elf on the Shelf?


Adorn yourself accordingly

When I get deep into a television show, I think and write about it a lot. Right now, I am deep into the Damon Lindeloff HBO show The Leftovers. In one episode, the male lead, Kevin Garvey finds himself transported to a hotel room having to get dressed.

The closet door includes placard with the Epictetus statement First know who you are and then adorn yourself accordingly. Kevin gets to choose from among a priest’s garments, a white t-shirt and pants (favored by the show’s cult, the Guilty Remnant), a police uniform, and a black suit and white shirt.

He chooses the black suit and white shirt. A bit later in the episode, he finds he’s chosen the clothing of an International Assassin. After getting dressed, the first thing that happens is that he has to kill someone while defending his own life.

Too often, when things go poorly, I decide to be the International Assassin. Without really thinking about it, I pick those clothes and then everything becomes a battle to the death.

In the show, Kevin’s father tells him, “You’re no assassin.”

Me, either. But sometimes I don’t think it through before I adorn myself. And the resulting mismatch resulting from not adorning myself accordingly makes it hard on me and others as well.

Before the episode is over, Kevin smashes a guy’s head against a vanity, shoots several other people (including the woman who–it turns out–wasn’t really his target), break’s a fat guy’s neck, and pushes a little girl down a well. (It makes sense in the context of the episode, mostly.)

As he’s on the way to push the little girl down the well, a man stops him and says it’ll change him forever.

You have to wonder, how things would be different it he’d understood his father’s statement that he wasn’t an assassin?

How often do I pick clothes before knowing what I am? I’m no assassin, either. You probably aren’t either. Yet we pick the assassin garb sometimes without thinking, or because maybe we feel we need to.

It’s all a fancy way of saying that we have only one choice to make in life–how to respond.

As I suit up in the coming days, I plan to know who I am–to put thought into it–before I adorn myself, rather adorning myself inappropriately and then having to move foward with that choice.

I AM not

In the Bible, Jesus is sometimes called I AM. In fact, at church, we sometimes sing a song called The Great I Am. Given my penchant for irreverence, that always brings to mind Sally calling Linus her Sweet Baboo in Peanuts.

Then again, maybe that’s not irreverence. Maybe it’s a statement on childlike love.

Either way, my journey has brought me to the place where I think I’m understanding it’s not about me. The true path to happiness, maybe, lies along the path of caring about yourself less and caring about the other more.

(Please note, I said caring about yourself less, not caring less about yourself–huge difference.)

In other words, if God is I AM, it’s entirely possible that the route to happiness requires me to say I AM not. I AM not God. I AM not the center of the universe. I AM not all that. Incidentally, God is all of those things.

Maybe the Declaration of Independence has it wrong. Maybe it’s not the pursuit of happiness–for that implies that happiness is not here. It’s elsewhere and you need to go get it.

Maybe happiness is something you accept rather than pursue. Maybe the very act of pursuing happiness guarantees that you’ll never truly find it.

Or, you know, maybe not.

Happy Friday.