Friday, January 31, 2014


I signed up for a seminar at a Christian Conference. It was 2003 and my rear was ablaze in zeal for Truth. The seminar was entitled “Creation vs Evolution”. The guy poised to teach the class was young, but I excused this detail in my eagerness to gain by any and all means ammunition for my apologetic arsenal. Christians, as I was keen to point out, believe in a literal six day creation. If they don’t, then they aren’t.

Ten minutes into the talk my heart was pounding in rage. The kid was teaching not the science of creationism, but the necessity for those who hold my position to be at peace, to listen, and to remember the main thing had always been - and always would be - love. What an uninformed flake I thought to myself. Where’s the “vs”?

Humbly, after fifty minutes of making his case from the flipping gospel of all places, he allowed for a time of questions. My hand shot up through the ceiling tiles.

“Yes,” he pointed at me.

“Thanks. So, I get your point about love and all that. But how can you make so little of a thing Christ affirms?”

His face looked genuinely shocked. “What do you mean?”

“Well, Christ quotes from the first chapters of Genesis and says, ‘God made the earth in six days and rested on the seventh.’ So how can we just throw out, merely in light of other theories, what Jesus affirmed?” I was satisfied my tone and quote had showed the last fifty minutes to be the waste of time I knew it was.

“Jesus said that?” The guy was sincerely unaware. I was amazed. How do you get these speaking gigs?

“Yep. I’ll show you.” I sat down and began rifling through the crinkly thin pages of my New American Standard. Sensitive to the time we had, the young man moved on to other questions, inviting me to circle back when I found what I was after. He was genuinely interested in the implications of my point. But I never found the verse. Because it wasn’t there. Which says nothing about the heart of my point, but says everything about the spirit of those who cannot listen when defending their side is their goal. I was embarrassed, the room clearing as I continued checking the concordance and wishing someone would hurry up and invent Google and Smart Phones to see if Jesus ever said anything close enough for me to save face. It would be a couple years before I realized I had been sitting in the presence of a peace-maker, and had missed a wonderful, timely talk.

Some people believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis one. Some don’t. Neither position a better Christian makes. 

Christians follow Christ, not party-lines. 

And our ability to defend our position doesn’t make any point beyond “I can defend my position”, which is different than “I am right.” In one extreme Young Earth Creationists believe their view is the only one, and any view to the contrary was a lie, and perhaps conspiracy. I used to camp here. In the other extreme, physicists have everything reduced to predictable, lifeless formulas that make math god and a Creator God mere myth. Their work is invaluable, but their certainty is often simply more dogmatism.

Here’s my take.

I don’t look at Genesis one literally like I used to. I am generally persuaded that the Universe and Earth are older than many assume the Bible depicts. I am also persuaded that a strict literalist view of the text isn’t fair to the text. 

Some say in response to this, “I take Genesis exactly as it is. Word for word.” 

But this is the sort thinking that led me to back off the hardline stance; I tried literally reading it.

“Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation…Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds. And it was so.…" Genesis 1:11,12,24
Note the actual phrasing. Earth brings forth the vegetation. Earth brings forth the creatures. The earth seems to be the mechanism for making, if taken at face value. The response to this is generally something like, “That’s just a way of saying it.” Which is fine. But that admits and establishes we don’t take the words for themselves. We intuit that things are being said “in a way” to tell us things which aren't obvious from a literal reading. We bring that to the text. This one example isn’t the end all be all. It shows rather simply that probably no one embraces the text in the rigid literal sense many of us have been taught is requisite for the truly faithful. Being strict in our literalism isn’t fair to our own ability to appreciate the point behind the metaphor.

Other factors played a role in my backing off a young earth, literalist view. Such as the “firmament” or dome of water spoken of in Genesis one, upon which the starry host were attached. Or the stars themselves depicted as having been created for guiding earth travelers. Or the moon put forth as a light alongside the sun, rather than a reflector of the latter. But none of this rendered Genesis one obsolete, or even wrong. No more than a song about the rising or the setting sun is wrong because it supports an outmoded geo-centricity. That’s not the song’s point.

Where I used to get hung up is where some still do. “If you don’t take this literally, then on what grounds do we believe anything in the Bible?” I understand this. It isn’t a flippant exercise. But it also assumes that taking the scriptures seriously is equivalent to taking them literally, when we all know that we can’t always do that, and that that metric for taking them seriously isn’t articulated in the Bible itself.

More significantly, we have to understand that the worst possible reason to believe something is because the rest of our belief system falls apart if we don’t. This has the effect of making us believe things because we have to, rather than believing them because they’re true. A belief of necessity, but not necessarily of reality. I can’t stress this enough- if I have to believe something about someone, or something, because I’m scared of what will happen if I don’t believe it, I admit I am not interested in truth as much as I’m interested in glue. This way of believing things doesn’t open us to learning because our belief is already built on what’s predetermined as necessarily true. Any additions or subtractions bring disaster. This sort of calcified faith feels forced to be at war with science and others’ opinions out of its own survival. Not the sort of faith Jesus had in mind when he spoke of truth setting people free. 

Tim Keller said it well:

“I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a “song” about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation….There will always be debates about how to interpret some passages — including Genesis 1. But it is false logic to argue that if one part of Scripture can’t be taken literally then none of it can be. That isn’t true of any human communication." (Tim Keller, The Reason for God, page 94).

It’s fairly engrained in out collective mind that our interpretation of Genesis one is an either/or scenario. The upcoming, silly debate between Ken Hamm of Answers in Genesis and Bill Nye the Science Guy reinforces this false duality. There is no scenario where one side of that will win, because the truth isn't the goal. Once we understand our common goal is truth and unity, the divisive debating of the past becomes nonsense. None of this has never needed to be an argument anymore than enjoying a song like Freebird ever required a debate about bird origins and migratory instinct canceling out true freedom. 

If you choose based on the evidence to believe earth is thousands of years young and that Genesis, though ancient, is a fair telling of things, my challenge to you is to not put that conviction at the center. That would be idolatry. Leave yourself humbly open to new information, and never, like I did, conflate following Christ with fighting about things not ever listed scripturally in what it means to be Christians. And if you have chosen to look at the evidence and embrace an evolutionary view of things, be sure your position isn’t mere disassociation from your faith roots so your smart, cynical science friends will respect you. There’s belief and tribalism on both sides. Don’t throw out Genesis anymore than you'd throw out any other art which tells the truth.

There’s far more to this than I can post. Huge implications in the classroom, in churches, and in forums such as this are in my mind. There’s harm being done over this issue by both “sides”. Fear and defensiveness and line-drawing has that effect. A lasting effect, as I can feel tension even now as I admit my actual views, voices on either side of my brain wondering to me, “why do you deny the plain teaching of the Bible,” and “why do you present empirical facts of science as opinions one chooses?” I wish I could go back and thank that young guy for having the courage to talk about love in front of a room full of people like I was; who wanted armed more than taught. To win more than serve. I hope, no matter where we come out on this 1 chapter in the Bible out of 1,189 that we recognize Love isn't a flaky bait and switch, and is nothing like a distraction. It's the point.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

IN THE BEGINNING. Genesis 1/3-31

“...And God separated the light from the darkness…” -Genesis 1:4
So begins distinction and separation: 
Light and Dark. 
Day and Night.
Land and Sea. 
Earth and Sky. 
Above and Below. 
Sun and Moon. 
Hot and Cold. 
Animate and Inanimate. 
Creature and Environment.
Male and Female. 

These distinctions aren't a disunity, but are that which gives substance to what unity means. Compliments and balances embraced by different polarities. Interconnections and contrasts. One not being the other but not making sense without the other, and with the other. Much like the ancient concept of yin-yang and the Taijitu symbol, Elohim creates harmonies and tensions and calls them a whole. Elohim, that mysterious Plural Oneness, creating plural oneness.
The six days of creation, from Genesis 1:3-31, contain interesting correspondency. If you look not only at the contrasts within each day, but also between days, there's a pattern.

All napkin media property of The Pedestrian. Use subject to hand-written approval.

Often we think our duty as spiritual people is to be properly dividing up this from that. Sacred from secular. Holy from unholy. And in some important ways that's sometimes necessary. Even valid. But how much more spiritual might it be to understand that, from the Beginning, harmony and correspondence were God's design, not severing and marginalization. Where the impulse to push away that which doesn't fit (a behavior not exclusive to Christianity, or any religion, as all humans sever from themselves that which they don't like or fear) is trumped by an ability to incorporate it, a longing to find peace with it, to recognize it not as unclean or wrong or un-this or anti-that but as a potential part of the whole.

It is a holy thing to allow the differences of others -even deep, seemingly polar differences- to remain intact as we sit at the common table of faith. I struggle here. My instinct is that different is bad, or different is incomplete and needs my assistance. My role as a "teaching pastor" exacerbates this. It takes an enormous amount of maturity to be able to disagree with one and yet still look at the idea as having merit. To look at different people and see different, not wrong. It takes a maturity that most of us have never had because so many of us have learned our job is to properly uphold the THIS while dutifully renouncing the THAT. 

How comprehensively we need God to give us eyes to see. In all ways. Our inability to figure out how to live at one with the environment God gave us is a parallel with our inability to live at one with other people. We struggle with oneness of all kinds for much the same reasons; a general misunderstanding of relationships as peace-through-control-and-augmentation and our fear of losing "me" in the "us". We have a ways to go before we can see our relationships as peace because all is already connected. Elohim made it as such. We don't really make oneness. We discover it under our dividing.

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Before Jesus was arrested and crucified, he prayed. According to St. John's account, he prayed and prayed and prayed. And at one point in the lengthy prayer, Jesus said this from John 17. Perhaps, as you ponder all reality having been designed to dance together, you can give his words, and the original intent of all creation, a place in your day. 

"Holy Father, keep these people you've entrusted to me in your name, that they may be one, even as You and I are one ... I don't ask this for these apostles only, but also for everyone else who will believe in me through their message, that they may all be one, just as you are in me and I am in you, Father- may they be one in us...I have given to them the glory you gave me, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one." Jesus, John 17:11-23

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

IN THE BEGINNING. Genesis 1/3-4

Anthony DeMello, a Jesuit priest, used to talk often about people’s desire to change, but their insistence they try and change through steps and techniques. He always pushed back:
“You only change what you understand. What you do not understand and are not aware of, you repress. You don't change. But when you understand it, it changes.” 
I speak to struggling couples who ask me how to fix things. Or men struggling with anger and condemnation. Or women who’re bitter and unforgiving. Or young people feeling low and anxious. And I am most helpful not so much when I give a number of steps, but when I help people see. No small task coming from me, a frustratingly chronic blind dude.

But how can we change something we don’t understand? What are we changing if we don’t even know how things really are, and then by extension, how they are supposed to be? Not having the answer to these questions hasn’t stopped us from trying. Our favorite psychosis is trying to transform the universe and all its inhabitants with little or no awareness to the reality we’re tinkering with. Friends try to change friends. Parents try to change children. Spouses try to change spouses. The rich try to change the poor. The poor try to change the rich. Missionaries try and change foreign cultures. All while people continuously try and reinvent themselves.

It’s as if the driving force isn’t so much a beautiful endgame as it is a desperate confused desire to get rid of what is.

Early in Genesis, the Spirit of Elohim is hovering over ruin. Emptied chaos. And then,

“. . .God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” -Genesis 1:3-4
God is speaking. These are depicted as the first words. And they’re words about light. But light for what? Does God need to clap twice and get the lamp on before God starts sculpting planets? 
God’s first declaration is to light up what’s just been described for us as a formless, ruinous void enveloped in darkness. And the reason, in my opinion, gives me peace: God is a gracious, unthreatened judge who doesn’t condemn. God is light and love, and simply calls things as they are. 
Because how are things ever supposed to get better when you go on trying to make with the lights out, the mess unattended to?
Genesis begins with tohu wa bohu illuminated, not hidden. Acknowledged, not swept under the rug for the sake of reputation or even holiness. Genesis begins with creation. With recreation. And, in a strange but necessary way, with confession. All creation being drawn into the honesty of what is before there's any preoccupation with whatever else there could be.
In a few chapters, Adam and Eve will forget all this and start veiling shame again. But that’s the cycle you and I are invited into anyway: We bring our mess to God. God shines light on it so it can be seen without pretense or shadow. And then change begins. Because in the light there’s nothing to hide, and only in true awareness can things be as they should be.  And if we forget the order of God’s universe and the invitation of light, we will try and hide what we regret. We return to the shadows, trying to change ourselves and everything else in an anxious, visionless delusion. Eventually, we get tired of hiding and pretending and the fruitlessness of trying to adapt everything to our delusions, and come quivering into the light again. 
May we enjoy the piercing, painful, humbling bright light of God’s love. And may we offer others the blessed safety of being really known by us, and loved anyway.

“Arise, My people! Let your light shine for all the nations to see! For the glory of the Lord is streaming from you. All nations will come to your light”  -Isaiah 60:1-3

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Prophets had a tough job. They warned (which is different than threaten) their own family that their continued foolishness, continued mimicry of other nations, would come to a bad end. Borne out of love, prophets used imagery and rhetoric to make their point: I know the other nations have better weapons and technology and more impressive reports from their census bureaus, but we are not to live like them. We are the people of light. They're supposed to be mimicking us! Turn back, or we're going to ruin ourselves!

In Jeremiah 4, war and destruction are coming. Israel’s enemies are drawing near, their trumpets and shouts echoing in the distance. Israel's enemies are going to treat them the way they treat all the other nations, since Israel is behaving like them. The prophet pulls few punches: “You guys are acting like stupid children. The whole land will be laid waste. It will become unrecognizable and devoid of its former beauty. We have to turn back to who we are. To who God is.”

In Isaiah 34 rebellion of God’s chosen people is threatening to get everything destroyed. The imagery is vivd: God’s people will be besieged and torched to the ground by neighboring peoples. Only scavengers and birds will be found in what is destined  to become a place of chaos, waste and emptiness.

Job, Isaiah, Psalms talk about beloved places ruined for rejection of God's way. Gutted of their former glory. Waste, wilderness and chaos where something whole and good had been. 

Genesis 1:2 reads, "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. "
As the story goes, Elohim makes all things from no things. Yet the second verse in Genesis paints an interesting picture for us as we try and imagine the beginning. “Without form and void” is the poetic Hebrew phrase tohu wa bohu. These are the very same words used by the prophets to describe something ruined and reduced to broken chaos and waste. Devoid. Emptied. Unrecognizable. The connotation does less for the idea that there was nothing in the beginning, and more for the idea there was something that got messed up.
Some insert all sort of ideas here. Interesting ideas. Speculations. Argument fodder. Perhaps you’ve heard, for instance, of the Gap Theory. This isn’t the theory of well-folded jeans. I’m not even saying that was a funny joke. Gap Theory is in essence the idea that the perceived gap between verse one and two can be found the mysterious allusion to a former creation that got tanked, and then, some time later, got remade. 
I am not selling this as the case. 
I’m simply interested in the idea that in the beginning, God was not just making things from nothing (which our tradition holds, on faith)  but can be read as taking circumstances usually understood as being the result of former, regrettable behavior - tohu wa bohu - and turning it into something good. There in the second verse of the Bible is the Spirit of Elohim, hovering like a mother bird on her nest, eagerly anticipating rebirth where others would say there was no hope at all.
Jesus’ stepdad was Joseph. And Joseph was a tekton, typically translated carpenter, or better, craftsman. Joseph* apparently taught Jesus** the trade, as Jesus was known as a tekton himself. And what do carpenters/craftsmen do besides make guys like me feel useless at a worksite? They take available materials and create things from them. Beautiful, meaningful, essential things others eagerly adopt as part of their life.
Piles of dead trees. Buckets of tacky mud. Mounds of broken stone.  Formless and chaotic. “Nothing” to the unskilled eye and in unskilled hands. And then, where there was nothing, there is suddenly something.
When we live at odds with love and humility and generosity, we bring ruin to ourselves and our world.
But when we entrust ourselves to God, living in God's ways . . . we still find we’ve brought some degree of ruin to ourselves and our world. 
There’s no way to avoid it. Created things have a tendency to unmake themselves. There is no experience where we humans aren’t in varying measure complicit in tohu wa bohu. You and I will always break stuff. Ourselves. Others. Even our attempts at fixing tend to result in formless void. But the story of creation is at the same time a story of re-creation. Of messes being remade. Individuals and families and churches and nations understanding they've varied from their proper course and have wreaked havoc on their part of the world, and yet believing that that's not at all the end of the tale. Much the opposite. It's a beginning. From the very inception of reality, all that is not God has needed the redemptive creativity of God. 

May we make the material of our tohu wa bohu realities available to the Craftsman and find ourselves being remade.

* Whose name means “He will increase it”

** Whose name means “The Master Salvages”

Monday, January 27, 2014


“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1, ESV

We begin in the beginning, reasonably enough, and someone with the title Elohim (God) taking responsibility for it all. It feels important to point out that Elohim sounds a bit like Sophia Vergara saying “I love him”. I won't often plumb the depths of pop culture like this, so take note.
The Hebrew title Elohim is shared, and perhaps originates from, the ancient Canaanites. Numerous groups in antiquity appear to have used some form of the title Elohim to describe the creator. The root of the title, El, had the well-known connotation of “The strong one” or “The one out in the front.” The writer of Genesis sets out using this familiar title to tell us where we, and all reality, come from.
In the beginning there was The Strength. The Source from which all other things derive their power to live and to be. The River from which all other streams flow.
In Hebrew, adding the suffix im generally makes a word masculine plural. This doesn't work in English, or the name Jim would be the butchest name of all. It may be anyway. Theologians make much or little of the fact that the One God depicted in Genesis 1 is referred to in the plural, depending on their angle. Some sniff at Elohim and confidently declare the scent of the Trinity permeating the first sentence in the Bible. Elohim is one God, yet referred to as containing multiplicity. A corporate oneness. A multitudinous singularity. Others point out that other Hebrew names for individuals, like Ephraim who pops up later in Genesis, are obviously not plural. Unless of course Ephraim was identified by his parents at birth as having multiple personalities. The suffix im is understood in this camp's interpretation as a marker for lofty abstractions, but not necessarily plurals, such as “life” (khayim) or even “the heavens” as is found in Genesis 1:1 (ha shamayim).  
Still others point out that, depending on where you find the term in the Hebrew scriptures, it gets translated God, gods, judges, rulers, powers or even angels. You just have to determine the understanding from the context. And of course, from what ideas you bring to the text beforehand. 
Where do I come out on it? Not certain. I used to be certain because I used to know everything with certainty. The more I learn, the less certainty about these sorts of things holds for me any appeal. But I am struck with the story starting with a seemingly generic term for the Almighty. I'm puzzled by that. Despite knowing others' explanations about God not yet revealing God's name at this point in the narrative, I'm still puzzled. But these days, for me, the more interesting part is in the next verse.

Feel free to share your take, head-scratchings and enlightenment below.

Monday, January 20, 2014

An Absence of Asterisks.

I just walked in and sat down.

I had been speaking with homeless men and women in downtown Raleigh, serving them coffee and letting them know in a simple way, they aren’t forgotten. They’re loved. All that.

Afterward, cold as I was and hoping to check a few things off my work list, I grabbed my laptop out of my car and walked into one of the restaurants flanking Moore Square. They opened at 11. It was 10:38. They’d unlocked their door but no employees were stationed inside. I walked in, greeting no one in particular with a lilt in my voice.

“Hello? Helloooo?”

I walked over to a booth, watching the kitchen door. I knew any moment waitstaff would emerge and I would explain my intentions. When she came out she was already smiling.

“Hey,” I said in a way I hoped was disarming. “I know you’re not open yet. I've been in the Square out front for a couple hours and now, if it’s ok, I was just going to crank out some email. When you’re officially open, I'll grab some food.”

“Oh honey that’s fine. Sit wherever you want. Coffee?”

“No thanks. Maybe some hot tea when you get a chance.”

“No problem.”

I sat down and began replying and forwarding. Earl Grey, ever my helpmate, was soon steeping at my side. 

I looked up at the door and then it hit me.

I couldn’t know it absolutely, but I was confident: There was no way any of the black men I’d just spent the morning with could pull off what I had just pulled off. 

I hadn’t made good on some exclusive invitation. There was no secret handshake. I simply walked in because I know in ways I don’t even know I know that I’m a white man, and hey, everything’s gonna be okay.

It’s often the case that when white men discuss race, they are either talking out of school about how everyone should feel, or expressing what is in some measure white guilt. I am hoping to avoid writing in either of those columns. In the last few years I have really begun to understand a principle at work in this world, of which I am part, that I had been blind to before. And it’s that privilege creates ignorance.

The ignorance I am referring to is similar* to adults forgetting the perspective of a child. Not just forgetting it, but also not realizing they have forgotten it, and therefore fundamentally failing the young human beings they are interacting with. Or the ignorance of someone who grew up in a positive, encouraging, stable home environment saying, “Just suck it up and try harder” to someone wracked with depression and anxiety. They not only don’t know, but they don’t know they don’t know - the surest way to invalidate the humans you think you’re helping. 

I think of it in terms of asterisks in this culture. As a white male in western society, according to how I think of it, I don’t generally have many, if any societal asterisks beside my name. I don’t carry around considerations or mitigators or annotations like others have been forced to. This allows me to walk into a closed establishment and be served, and to assume it would go that way. Perhaps that it even should. When I’ve told black men this story of the unopened restaurant that served me they’ve laughed and shook their incredulous heads. Must be nice. The absence of asterisks gives me an undeniable edge getting a job, even while I assume and claim I was hired for my resumé. It affects what happens, or doesn’t, when I’m pulled over by police. It affects how I’m received by strangers. This doesn’t begin to appreciate the very real economic, familial and educational pitfalls experienced disproportionately by men and women of color in this society seemingly underconcerned about continued gaps between us. The effects of these and other issues I only read about make much of their lives as alien to me as alien life would be. As I’ve listened to people over the years, and paid more attention to my own existence, I see clearly I am not having the same sort of experience as anyone else in the Land of the Free. 

Generalities ahoy. Indulge me a second:

I had a mind-blowing conversation with a woman a while back, and was left feeling like a different species. I could see clearly that if I were a white female, I would have at least one asterisk. Probably more. A clearing of the throat that comes with my entering the room, an alert to others in near undetectable ways that something else besides “human” is being measured, considered, etc. What about attractiveness? I’m a person, but am I an sexually attractive person? If I’m not sexually attractive, in what ways will that cost me? What about intelligence? What about toughness at work? Do I have kids? WHY NOT? As a female, when I walk to my car at night, I wouldn't intimidate. Intimidating others doesn’t even register. If anything, I'd feel intimidated; on guard in ways those with no asterisks couldn’t conceive of. “Woman” means other metrics and considerations are in play that steepen hills men rarely climb and too often claim aren’t there. Statistically, women more fear being taken advantage of or even raped when meeting someone on a blind date. Men fear the girl might be fat.

At risk of sounding like I am setting up some sort of joke, I can’t even imagine being a black lesbian. What is that, three asterisks? Five? After a day in those shoes, would I think America or the church or my job was a good, safe place? Home of the free? Where is “home” when your identity comes, as it does in so many places in our culture, with that many little stars barnacled to it? What would others’ (others with less or even no asterisks annotating them) rules and moralities and claims about freedom and hope and responsibility sound like through those ears? Like giving a well-meaning pat on the back to one with a third degree sunburn, there are pains and insults occurring in ways I couldn’t possibly understand and may unthinkingly find unintuitive and perhaps even wrongly felt. 

How could a white heterosexual male pastor have such confidence so as to tell this dear woman how to live her life, what causes her to be, what she must think and do, so removed as he is from anything like her existence? How would one attach Christ's - Emmanuel's - name to this?

I often hear white men say things like, “Look, I’m not racist. That’s the past and I wasn’t there” or “I treat everyone the same, male, female, black, white, so let’s cut the hypersensitivity crap…” There’s perhaps some substance to some of that. Often political correctness hijacks legitimate attempts at sensitivity and makes everything so taboo, people eventually get frustrated navigating the latest minefield and walk off. But, as a white male that can get hot tea in a closed restaurant, among other plushness I don’t know I’m experiencing on the hour, I’m finding my awareness of ignorance silencing me about how others should be acting or feeling in this world. I have lost the sense that I have the right to say when the conversation should end, or to what degree it has merit. How can those soaring the skies, unaware they are experiencing a rare privilege, have any real understanding, let alone any real empathic guidance, for those who for generations have had clipped wings? Clipped, historically as a matter of interest, by birds who've looked uncomfortably like me. 

And so I have become quiet in my opinions, and more vocal in my advocacy.

Dismissal of all this isn’t an option. Neither is the paralysis of shame and guilt. Both of those widen the divide, so far as I can tell. And most significantly, neither is it an option for me to think the logical outcome of all this is those who are not me are pitiful and weak. 

Much the opposite: there’s nothing as weak as ignorance. 

This flat path I’ve walked has been comparatively steep for others in ways I’m still only beginning to discover at nearly 40 years of age. That path has taken strength I don’t have, and hasn't been required of me. So I'm persuaded the weakness is mine. It’s easy to think my job is to save a world full of victims. My race has perpetuated evil against others and so now my race must be the messiah. 

No one is waiting for me to save them. See them, hear them, yes. But it would only be further ignorance, and arrogance, and weakness, to believe grown men and women are waiting for me to validate their existence and rescue them from my privilege.

So I’m trying to listen. To shut up and really listen. 

I am trying to be more aware of my own assumptions and ignorances, like a blind man who only recently discovered I don't see it never meant it's not there. Voter rights, school funding, enforcement of law, incarceration stats, employment, profiling, targeting, etc, etc. It’s easy to dismiss when you’re not, and never have been, under the heel of much of it. It’s easy to get tired of hearing it like some fad has overstayed its welcome. Instead, I try now to really hear. I don't get political, nor do I wait for the government to do what Christ's body (i.e. an awakened people who can see things as they really are, who speak for those with less voice, not just those who don't sleep in on Sundays) is called to do. I listen, I consider my role, I wake to my ignorance and unintentional complicity.**

I try and really hear and see the frustrating and often times horrific experiences of women in a work place full of men unaware of their own level of unawareness.

I try and remember my answers and ideas come from a place not sharable for millions and millions of my human family. 

I try and remember I don't know what it's like to not have it easier than most all human beings ever. Because I don't. 

Most humbling, I try and remember Jesus gravitated to those who were rejected and marginalized. Rejected by those who could deftly apply Bible verses which made the rejection God’s. I try and remember Jesus called guys like me, who experienced privilege unawarely and insensitive to those in the margins, blind guides. 

I think it would go along way for guys like me to really entertain a hard truth: Privilege makes for blindness, and the trick is this privilege insists we've been seeing all along. But there's a fundamental inability for those in the easy seats to appreciate what it’s actually like to live with all those little stars in tow. There's a spectrum to the human experience, and those blind to their advantage cannot be said to be sharing their lives with the disadvantaged.***

My friend said to me today true compassion is the creativity to imagine the experience of others. He's a black man. One asterisk in this culture? More? That's what I am hoping, to become creative enough to understand life outside my own, and in so doing actually broaden my take on what it means to live a human life, rather than just my comparatively easy sliver of it. To listen closely enough that ignorance and blindness drop like scales from my eyes. With this I will start to understand deeply that my brothers and sisters have had the deck stacked against them. So deeply will I understand this that, as it is with true compassion, I will feel the deck stacked against me. Because until the many become one, it's broken for all of us.

* I want to be careful with my illustration, as it might have the unintended effect of making statements about merit or worth or development. I don’t believe, for instance, that blacks are unmatured people, while whites are mature. The illustration pertains to the ignorance of those "with power".

** Maybe it's me with the asterisks. Maybe I have this backwards. How would I know......

*** I hope you understand this has barely anything to do with money.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Why are Christians so. . ."

My friend Wuchen pointed out that if you type the phrase “Why are Christians so…” into the Bing search engine, the suggestions provided are a bit depressing. It looks like some hyper-pessimistic round of $25,000 Pyramid.

I saw the list and shook my head. I hated that the phrase “Why are Christians so loving” or “…generous” wasn’t there. Yet I confess I already knew it wouldn’t be. My foot was caught again in cynicism's mire. Christians....

Cynicism has its merits. It's not always out of place. But it's celebrated as intelligence in and of itself, when really it's a way of describing someone who doesn't want to get hurt by being blinded by naiveté.  Cynicism is often an anxiety. It's refusing to fall for anybody's crap, and therefore assuming crap is what everybody is up to. But in protecting ourselves from getting duped and hurt, we also protect ourselves from recognizing anything beautiful. Our society hails this, a generation with an eyebrow cocked at others while assured all big, powerful, beautiful things are a trap, as "realistic". 

I yanked my foot out of the mire and remembered disenchantment might be en vogue, and that Christians do need some help looking more like Jesus, but there's far more good to the story than bad. I knew the results of a suggested search list wasn't an exhaustive science, but I started Bing-ing again to make good on the rest of my hunch.

So it's not just Christians. It's popular apparently to think of all humans the same way. Christians don't look like Jesus, and therefore are bad. But in the skeptical, wound-wary social conscious, people don't even look like people. They all suck.

Except for a few apparent fetishes, apparently even doctors are in the crosshairs of our negativity. I guess modern thought has no room for them either.

That fifth commandment still taking a beating I see. 

 This one is true.

This has been a good reminder to neither entirely ignore nor listen too closely to the social slogans on what or who's bad. In fact, it's a good sign I'm asleep when I start believing too easily in the most popular disenchantments. Or when I on impulse want to be on the right side of mass judgment so to seem as intelligent as the aggregate social critic demands. Wakefulness means I see with my own eyes. That I shed templates and actually pay attention to the whole story, the bad and the beautiful. And I will do my best to go on being a loving, gracious, potentially naive intellectual with everyone.