Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The More Things Change

There is a picture I cannot throw away: the last house I grew up in, my mother, my then-fiancé and I (the weekend he proposed), and my sister and her then-fiancé, as they stood beside a moving truck with her belongings tucked inside. I was 22, barefoot and standing on a piece of shade in the July heat. My left hand was raised to show the engagement ring I was wearing. My fiancé was standing behind me in his typical way, one hand in his pocket. He was waving at my father, who took the picture. The house behind me would drown in Hurricane Katrina 11 years later. The marriages would fail. The relationship between my sister and I would come to a great divide. Only my mother, who is still married to the picture-taker, and the concrete street itself remain as steadfastly as before. Even the yard, trees, and sidewalk would later be claimed by floodwater, then the backhoes would scrape away whatever was the last physical reminder of our home.

I hold this photo, as proof that I did once live in this place and I was once closely entangled with the people in it. I remember a life before more life—children, dogs, multiple moves, travels—and the end of things—flood, divorce, deaths, endings. History is the embodiment of bittersweetness. Would I wish to be the girl in the picture again? A girl near the same age as that of my step-daughters? The girl who was facing marriage but didn’t really know what she wanted to be when she grew up? No. But this is a good picture, and one that is also glorious. We were all young there, with so much ahead. I can hear the voices of each person present, feel the summer pressing down on our skin, and even retreat into the memory of that cool, blue-brick house for iced tea and a seat on the embroidered, floral couch after the moving truck pulled away. 

What I miss is what could have been simpler, easier, less harrowing—but I have learned that no hard change comes without its own reward anyway, and so I type this from the comfortable colonial home in a historic town 1000 miles away from the footprint of that picture. My pretty children snooze upstairs in rooms I decorated to their taste. My second husband irons his own clothes as he watches a documentary on baseball in the next room and casually offers reassurances about our holiday plans. Our dog rests behind me, her back pressed to the legs of my chair. She chases rabbits in her sleep as she dreams, too old to pursue such things in her waking hours anymore.

I still talk to everyone involved with that picture, some more than others, and all for different reasons. I can still close my eyes and see everything as it once used to be. You know, I once heard this expression—the more things change, the more they remain the same. I no longer believe that to be true.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bullying... with Jesus

I am having a little trouble with something, and am trying to gently express this special request. I hope that what I say here might give some people pause for consideration of the wording of their messages on Facebook and blog comments throughout the Web.

Throughout the recent presidential campaign, while I found people to be publicly kind when expressing thoughts, the Web became a free for all and many posts were hard to take. Readers were told to wake up, that they were blind to truth, that they were allowing the media to delude them, and referred to as ignorant. Would you have said such a thing to your neighbor over dinner? Would you have told this to your mom or to your boss at work? 

A general assumption was made that people were not following the news, conducting research, or in any other manner carefully weighing the voter decision. And finally, of course, God was used as a weapon, as a way to represent the be-all and end-all. Does this not smack a bit of judgment? Are some of you aware of how it might feel to be preyed upon by Facebook friends or blog buddies in this manner? Certainly, I have enough faith in humanity to know that if those who do this were aware of their impact that they would have chosen a better way to frame their ideas. I can tell you this morning that one gentleman told me the attitude of certain people pushed him away from choosing their candidate. He was reluctant to be part of a group that didn’t seem welcome to the variety of reasons and ideas that should be considered in the decision-making process in general. He felt alienated. I understand. Right now, I feel bullied… by Jesus.

While some posts were blatantly callous, others were blindsiding. One Facebooker posted a lovely sentiment about looking within our hearts. When I expressed nicely that I was still on the fence and considering points of view, I was told that if I read my Bible, I would know what the answer is, and among other things said, I was fairly well accused of being one who was ill-informed or misdirected—for still working to come to a sound decision. In that same chain of post and responses, another person cited disapproval of a candidate’s religion. Do you remember that John F. Kennedy was our first and only Catholic president? His Catholicism was often used as a point of doubt by those who opposed his candidacy and election, yet today he is cited as one of our most popular and best presidents. 

The religious posts have taken the form of bullying. Many plead us to pray for the half of the country that “voted wrongfully.” Posts are constant, and the worst ones I remove from my newsfeed, but that doesn’t stop the feeling of sympathy for those being hounded by pages full of bitter Jesus-wielders. To those that keep crying defeat and fear for the future of our country, find solace in knowing that our history has often held our citizens to flames of doubt, and we have survived: stock market crashes, World Wars, the Great Depression, polio scares, and more. Each time, it was not fear that drove us to rise. We rose again because we fought to do so. The only difference between then and now is that it is easier to quickly expose the masses to every worldly event and our opinions about it. So put your pack on your back and march on, fair soldier. Have faith. Have hope.

I researched my voting decision carefully, not even telling my husband who I voted for until the election results were coming in. My goal was to be happy with the decision I made; to combine reason, rationality, and instinct; and to find the blessing in the ability to vote and watch an election come to a resolution. What I ultimately wanted was a message sent to whoever earned the title of president: Many in this country weren’t sure enough of your principles to endorse you. Please do your best to inspire us and resolve the crises close to our hearts. When I left the voting booth Tuesday, I was completely at peace with my decision.

To the people who write that those who voted for Obama should be prayed for—to have some kind of political conversion or eye-opening, they say—I am sorry to say your message is not being received as goodwill. It feels like you are passing out hair shirts. I offer this morsel of thought: Perhaps, God in all his infinite wisdom, desired a close election after all, and called individuals to vote a certain way for reasons beyond our understanding. Or perhaps, God in all his infinite power, doesn’t need an election by limited mortals on one patch of land in the globe to effect change. Do you think it might be, maybe, a kind of errant supposition on our part, that we are so great, so noble, so flawless, our spot at the right hand of God so given, that we should belittle, patronize, or  criticize others as we attempt to cling to virtue? Do you think, given the hand-to-hand battles of daily life, that an unconditionally loving God would punish you for your vote

Over recent years, the word “Christian” has morphed from not just “follower of Christ,” but to become more synonymous with “charitable.” What I wish is for those who do claim Christian as part of our heritage and faith, and continue to espouse it in our public posts, to exercise both meanings of the word, in hopes of inspiring those that remain to follow.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Great Voter Debate

This is the only post I will likely write about politics. I feel about politics the way I do about sports--that is to say, I appreciate it but recognize that aspects of it will always be beyond my interest. The reason why has to do with the political "enthusiasts" or other purveyors of that information. Many are, like I have witnessed certain sports fans to be, rabidly unforgiving of anyone who does not share their team colors. I tend to collect newsy highlights and ask people what they think, then do some additional reading on the matter. When television commentators begin their rants, when editorials run obnoxiously... I get to a point and then shut it all out.

It's pretty ugly out there. And yes, I understand that one man or another in the White House can allow the cost of gas go up, change a policy that makes it harder for my daughter to receive a student loan, and so on. But I am not about to insult a neighbor while discussing the fact that maybe he voted for someone whose term enabled those changes to take place. Recently, I mentioned to two women that I was interested in other people's points of view and had not yet formed a concrete opinion. I asked them what they thought. The response: "Well, if you cared anything about your body, you would know who to vote for." Do you hear the implication? Meanwhile, circulating the web is a video by David Barton saying that God will hold me accountable if I vote for the man who allows for the abortion of unborn children. You know, I am not worrying about going to hell on this one because I am already there as a voter in crisis. It's the hell I go through every four years.

I hate debates and don't think the best candidate arises from that battlefield. It allows a candidate to behave like a spoiled child, one who condescends with snide remarks, interruptions, and talking over the other. The fast talker who twists statistics to his liking is the winner. Yes, flailing on opinion is not such a smart move during a political debate, but I know many great thinkers who simply take time to put words together. Sweating under the heat of stage lights, camera, and public opinion, how might you perform?

Advertising that comes in my mail or rolled up and parked in the railing to my porch is just as bad. One today read VOTER GUIDE and I mistakenly thought it contained an objective list of information about the two candidates for the U.S. Senate. Instead, it was an endorsement for one candidate. I gave it to my son to make a paper airplane out of it. My local councilman, who is running for re-election, was recently criticized in another flyer that stated he used city money to pave the alley that happened to be behind his house. I asked myself, if this was the worst thing that could be said about him, wasn't that almost an endorsement?

I wish candidates weren't allowed to support criticisms of their running mates and could only post their own successes and visions. I wish they were kind in regard to one another. A local gentleman running for representation with the school board shook my hand and then said something very nice about his opposing candidate, who shares similar experiences and credibility. I was touched by that, and he ultimately earned my vote with that gesture. He was who I thought would best represent my school needs to the public and school board. I won't wince when he rises to speak.

While I can't guarantee the outcome of the election, I can promise this... a chain of feedback here. I will get at least one or two posts or emails that invariably tell me why I should vote for one person over another. This will prove my point entirely. :)

Good luck voting. I wish you confidence and comfort in your choice. And I will hope for a brilliant future for us all. At worst case, folks, it's just another four years, and we get to do this again.