Tag Archives: love

When “Christian love” erases matters of justice (and the people affected by them)

A friend on Facebook posted a link to this blog post by Sheri Dacon.  Dacon’s position is that all the hullabaloo over the recent Hobby Lobby decision (and similar “controversies”) isn’t important.  She insists that what is important is love, which is about people:

When it comes to love for other human beings, it’s important to remember the human being part. Love is not a formula that can be defined or summed up in textbook fashion. Love involves people. And people are messed up, flawed and difficult to love. Me and you included.

She further says:

Love has much more to do with how you respond to that homeless woman outside of Hobby Lobby the store as you leave with your purchases. It has more to do with how you treat the people who are different than you, perhaps the ones who live a radically different lifestyle. Love has less to do with judging and much more to do with giving and accepting and welcoming and sympathizing.

You know, this all sounds beautiful.  To a degree, I even agree with her.  I have just one tiny, nagging question though.

What about the people the Hobby Lobby decision is hurting?

What about those who work for Hobby Lobby and may need Plan B, can’t afford it, and now can’t rely on their Hobby Lobby provided insurance plan to cover it?

What about the people who work for other corporations who now may refuse to cover all forms of contraception?

What about the people whose employers may even refuse to give them notice that their insurance plan won’t cover contraception?  What happens to them when they find this out the hard way — because they need it and now have no way to afford it?

What about the LGBT people who may face workplace discrimination by religious organizations seeking government contracts?

These are all people who stand to be adversely affected by the Hobby Lobby ruling and other actions and decisions that have stemmed from that decision.  These are people who Dacon seems either to be unaware of or has chosen to forget about.

That’s the problem with many “Love/People over Issues” approaches.  They forget that issues are also about and impact people.

 

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: Deserving of love

I’d like to draw my discussion of the book “Out of a Far Country” by drawing attention to a single statement that Christopher makes in the final (pre-epilogue) chapter.  I feel this statement deserves a great deal of attention, not only because it says something about the conservative evangelical/fundamentalist Christian approach to homosexuality, but their approach to life, the divine, and spirituality in general.  As Chistopher speaks of the overwhelming sense of welcome he felt as he returned home with his parents, he offers the following phrase:

I was unworthy of my parents love…

Christopher quickly slides past that statement and goes on about the great depths of love that his parents had for him despite his alleged unworthiness.  But I want to pause and really think about that statement.

Christopher felt he was unworthy of his parents love.

Because a child doesn’t deserve the love of parents simply because zie exists.  It’s something that either the child must earn — presumably through proper behavior — or through the magnanimous actions of parents who decides to love zem anyway.  But either way you slice it, a child is not simply worthy of a parent’s love simply because, hey, children deserve to have parents who love them.

I don’t buy that line of reasoning.  Quite frankly, if a parent ever told a child, “You know what, you don’t really deserve my love because [the reason doesn’t matter], but I’m going to love you anyway because that’s just the way I am,” I would not consider that parent loving.  I would consider that parent cruel.  I would suspect that such a parent was being manipulative or otherwise abusive.  If I were in a position to do so, I would watch that parent very closely and see how else zie treats zir child.  I might even have social services on speed dial.

Here’s the thing, many Christians like Christopher don’t just think that this unworthy child with a parent who deigns to love said child anyway as a dynamic between earthly children and their earthly parents.  They see this as the appropriate dynamic between themselves and their heavenly parent.  They see a God who loves not because people deserve love, but sees a bunch of unworthy people and decides to love them anyway because He feels like it.

My view of such a heavenly parent is no higher than my view of a similar earthly parent.  I believe that the Divine loves me because the Divine can do nothing else when the Divine looks upon me.  I believe that Divine love is based in my inherent worthiness to be loved.  I don’t have to earn it.  I don’t have to wait for the Divine to decide to love me anyway.  I deserve to be loved.

That doesn’t mean that I’m perfect.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to improve.  The Divine calls on me to do these things because the Divine loves me, not in order to make me (more) lovable.

I feel a great deal of sadness for someone who considers themselves unworthy of love.  In my book, that suggests to me that zie is in a dark place.  And if zie is in that dark place because zir  religion tells zem that’s the zie they should be in, well, I’ll make no apologies for finding that monstrous.

Raised Right: Chapter 1

humanity. love. respect.

Image by B.S. Wise via Flickr

Chapter 1 of Harris’s book, Raised Right:  How I Untangled My Faith From Politics, bears the title “Flesh and Blood.”  I assume it was chosen for the chapters attempt to show the need to see not issues, but people.  Harris starts the chapter by describing a scene where she, her parents, and her younger siblings picketed an abortion clinic together.  After describing that scene, she speaks of her past, offering the following insight:

I had been picketing since before I could walk.
Understanding that statement and its significance reveals a great deal about those of us who were raised as conservative Christians.  In a sense, I think it makes it easier to understand us — whether speaking of those of us whose politics and/or faith have changed or those who remain a part of the movement — as flesh and blood people.  Our understanding of the religio-political views we were meant to adhere to was formed very early in our lives.
As I mentioned when I announced I’d be reviewing this book, I was not raised with the direct activism as Harris.  I never picketed before I could walk, or even after.  However, the messages about what I was supposed to believe started when I was young.  Perhaps nothing about the political topics that seem to make up most of the Religious Right’s platform, but there were still those subtle messages that set the stage for me to understand what “good people” believed and did versus what “bad people” said and did.
Subtle is a key-word here.  While Harris’s own childhood experiences were direct and explicit, my own (and I suspect others’) was more subtle.  Things got implied more than said.  Or certain things were said and I inferred.  To be honest, I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about the evils of homosexuality.  I’m not even sure where I first learned that homosexuality was supposed to be wrong, or even that there was such a thing as homosexuality.[1]  But I certainly picked that message up from somewhere.
When we read Old Testament passages like the story of Rahab and I asked my mom what a prostitute was, she said, “Women that men paid to act like their wives,” which conjured confusing pictures of paid cooks and housekeepers.  When I asked how the single mom in our church had a baby without a husband, she said the mom “acted like she was married.”  Apparently, I was too young to know how people made babies, but not too young to know how they killed them.
Harris’s statement above is something I can totally appreciate.  Sex was something that simply was not discussed.  I remember spending the night with one (male) cousin and sharing a bed and wondering if it was okay, because that’s something only a husband and wife do.  I did not understand there was more to being a husband and wife (or lovers) than merely sharing a bed for actual sleep.
I don’t think my own parents meant to keep me naive about sex.  Looking back, I think that if I had asked about it, either of them would have answered me honestly.  They simply weren’t going to volunteer the information.
However “sinful sex” or the consequences of it did tend to get a bit more attention, from other sources if not directly from my parents.  And that strikes me as quite common in conservative circles.  In many ways, the discussion of sexual sin[2] seems to be the only discussion of sex that goes on in many such environments.  This tends to lead to a rather grim view of sex in general.  I know I tended to think of it as a mostly dirty thing, despite my eighth grade science teacher’s occasional declaration to the contrary — a declaration he made the few times the subject came up in his classroom at all.
Harris goes on to describe a protest held in front of New York Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office which she covered as a journalist.  This protest took place when the state’s same sex marriage legislation was waiting to be approved by the State Senate.  Harris describes the shouting, the anger, the jeering, and the rebukes offered up during the protest.
As the crowd yelled, I would at times forget that these were supposed to be prayers until I would catch an “Almighty God!” or “Lord we pray!”
I have seen these kinds of public “prayers” before.  In fact, I recall participating in a few of them during my college years.  The ones I was involved in were not as heated, aggressive, or condemning as the ones that Harris describes in her book, but they were surely sham prayers meant for public piety and acts of showing others our (my) own superiority.  They were the same in spirit, even if not the same in degree or volume.  I think Harris remarks upon this practice when she writes:
I couldn’t help but think of the kind of ostentatious prayers Jesus chided:  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”  He must have meant, Pray to Me and not to the cameras.  When you pray, talk to Me.
Harris describes talking about the importance of love and her own struggle with the idea that these protestors would insist that they “loved” the homosexuals and that they merely wanted to help them “out of their sin.”  She thought of how they would compare themselves to a parent correcting a child.  Harris then goes on to share her own revelation in response to that claim:
Then I realized why these efforts at love sounded hollow — because this love was not the way I experienced love every day.  Even setting aside the arrogance suggested by viewing all other sinners as children and saved sinners as the world’s in loco parentis, I know my parents love me because they sacrificed to feed and clothe me every day.  In the end that burden of labor and sacrifice is what gives them any right to be heard or believed when they say “I love you” after they say “you’re wrong.”
I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone express this as eloquently as Harris did here:  If you want to correct people out of “love,” then you first need to show those same people love in other, tangible and edifying ways.  That may mean meeting other needs they might have — which might actually mean learning what those needs are in the first place.  That’s something that many conservative Christians are not good at.  I know I wasn’t.
Unfortunately, my former self and many conservative Christians come to “sinners” with pre-conceived notions about what they are like and what their needs are.  And they act on those pre-conceived notions, never questioning their accuracy or relevance.  This often leads to offering help that is unneeded, unhelpful, and even insulting.  And then the “helpful” person wonders why they get such a negative response.  Their premise for action is completely wrong.
The problem is, learning people’s real needs and responding to them can get messy.  There are rarely prepackaged slogans, ready-made signs, or “witnessing tools” that covers those needs.  And that can be scary.  But I think that’s exactly what Harris is calling for in this chapter:
Unless you are smuggling soup to the Jews in your attic, I think a political act can’t be an act of love.  It can be a good act, even noble and heroic, but love is not something that takes place behind a barricade;  it happens in the breaking of bread and the passing of cups.  Political love is theoretical, directed at some vague “humanity,” and Jesus didn’t say to love humanity, but to love your neighbor.
May God bless her for it.
[1] I do, however, remember when I first learned what it meant for two guys to “screw.”  It was during my ninth grade English class, and a classmate explained it to me in a tone of complete and obvious disgust.
[2] Let’s face it, too:  The two biggest issues in conservative Christian politics are still homosexuality and abortion, meaning it’s mostly — or even all — about sex.
Other posts in the Raised Right series:

Prayer for Living Worship

The crescent as a neo-pagan symbol of the Trip...

Image via Wikipedia

Blessed Lady,

I know that all acts of love and pleasure are your worship.  Therefore,
please help me this day to be more loving.  Help me to recognize those
opportunities to bring smiles the faces of others.  Grant me the wisdom
and strength that I might be a delight and source of joy for those
around me.  Grant me gratitude that i might treasure my own blessings,
and generosity that I might share them with others.

In this way, let your worship grow in my heart and overflow into my life and the world around me.

So mote it be.

Music, Memories, and Emotions

The other day, I was listening to the radio while driving, and “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith came on.  I absolutely love that song and want to include it here.  So thanks to YouTube, enjoy a nice rendition with lyrics, no less:

I actually have an emotional history associated with this song.  The song was quite popular on the radio back in 1998, thanks to Armageddon.  At the time, I was also involved with a young man name Zech.  It was actually my first relationship, providing you don’t count the friend I experimented with in high school.  The song meant a lot to me back then.  Every time I heard it, I thought of Zech.

The other day when I heard the same song, it made me think of another guy.  I’ll call this guy D (until he tells me he’s ready for me to talk about him by name.  D and I have been talking, hanging out, and otherwise enjoying each other’s company.  We’re not actually dating, though I hope that changes some day in the not-too-distant future.

What I find interesting is that while similar, the reaction the song evokes in me regarding D now and the reaction I had back when I was involved with Zech.  In both cases, the theme of the song — the desire to be with that special someone as much as possible — resonated deeply with me.  However, the emotional undercurrents are worlds apart.

As I mentioned, Zech was my first boyfriend (though come to think of it, we never officially dated).  We were both young and immature, and I was only recently out (I had only finally accepted my sexuality two years earlier).  This meant that I was going through a lot of emotional turmoil, and tended to cling to Zech in a sense of desperation.  And that desperation came through back then as I’d listen to the song.  I didn’t want to miss a thing, because I was terrified that things would end.  Part of me wanted to squeeze as much out of the relationship before the horrible ending came, and part of me foolishly believed that simply by being ever-present, ever-vigilant, and ever-suffocating, I could actually prevent the horrible ending from coming.

I’ve grown up a great deal in the intervening twelve years, and I now listen to that song again with a new guy in mind.  And once again, I find myself nodding along with the song.  But rather than a nagging sense of desperation, my heart is filled with a sense of peace and contentment.

The funny thing is, there area  few parallels.  There’s no guarantee that things will work out between D and I.  (Is there ever really any such guarantee?)  I don’t know how long I have with him or even if we’ll ever become a couple like I’m hoping for.  I think it’s likely though.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter.  I have this time now, and I want to make the most of it.  Not out of fear or desperation, but out of hope and joy.

People often talk about how music can evoke powerful emotions and we can associate specific memories and feelings with a song.  However, I sometimes think that people forget that new connections and associations can be made with old songs that replace or overpower the old ones.  I know from personal experience that this is true, because I enjoy “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” far more today than I did back in 1998.

In fact, I think I’m going to go listen to it again.

Hurt

The Voice of a broken heart

Image by WolfS?ul via Flickr

I love you and I miss you. But I’m also hurt.

I understand
you’re in a difficult position. I understand that it’s frightening for
you. And I understand why you’ve made the choices you did. My heart
breaks for you that you were ever in a position that you had to face
such choices.

But you were in that position, and you made those
choices. What’s more, you made many choices that helped to leave us in
the situation we now find ourselves in. And I feel like you chose to
ignore that fact, and instead place responsibility entirely on those
around you — including me — instead of accepting your fair share of
that responsibility.

Please understand, I’m not saying it’s all
your fault, either. We both made choices, and not all of mine were the
wisest or best choices I could have made. And others have contributed
as well. There’s plenty of “blame” to go around. But it hurts that you
seem to want me to shoulder your responsibility — or at least part of
it — in addition to my own.

In some ways, I wonder if I made a
mistake in trying to make things easier for you. I sometimes steered
clear of bringing up the consequences of your choices or the painful
decisions that you might have had. I find myself wondering if in doing
so, I merely encouraged you to continue denying your own
responsibility. If so, then I suspect I did both of us a great
disservice.

So I’m hurt right now. But I still love you, and I still miss you. I think that makes the pain all the more acute.

I Miss You

The Voice of a broken heart

Image by WolfS?ul via Flickr

I miss you.

I
miss our talks. I miss your requests, even though they were often more
like demands than actual requests. I miss the way you’d get excited
about something and become completely consumed with a thought or idea
that struck your fancy.

I miss how you could be tender and
loving so much of the time. I miss how you yearned for both physical
and emotional intimacy, and I cringe at the thought that we may never
share that intimacy again.

Some people want to think it was just
about sex. I know the reasons they think that, but they’re wrong. It
was never about the sex. Yes, the sex was nice and I’ll miss that too,
but sex alone does not make a relationship.

Besides, let me be
honest. If I was just interested in sex, there are far easier avenues I
could pursue to get it. I could get a room at the spa if I just wanted
sex. I could hang out at the Home Depot if I just wanted sex. I could
have answered ads on craigslist if I just wanted sex.

Accepting
the complications, limitations, and risks of our relationship would
have been way too much foolish effort if I had merely been in it for
the sex. I’m amazed at anyone who can’t see the truth of that statement.

It’s
the memories of moments spent lying next together and talking that are
most powerful. It’s the memories of hopping into the shower and
lovingly washing each other’s bodies that make me ache for more such
tenderness. It’s the memories of your smile as you tell me about every
little detail of your life that fill me with wistfulness. The thought
that I may never have any more of these experiences with you is what
tears at my heart so much.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that some
day we might beat the odds so that we can be together gain. I hoe that
some day we might again share such moments of tender joy together.

But for now, I miss you.

Light in the darkness

The Candle

Image by Rickydavid via Flickr

From my private journal.

I sit here in my living room next to the only lamp that’s lit in the entire house.  For the half hour prior to me picking up my pen, the only light in the house was made by three tea lights and a votive candle.  I spent that time laying on the couch enjoying the dimness, letting the shifting glimmers of light cast by those small flames dance around me.

There’s something magical about such a scene.  Whenever I sit in such lighting, I get a sense of peace and comfort.  It’s as if the near-darkness stills the world around me itself, swallowing up ll the cares and worries of my life.  In such a setting, there is no place for the myriad distractions I normally face.

And then there’s the light.  Tiny and almost fragile, it flickers and dances.  And yet, it’s intensely bright in comparison to the darkness around it.  It becomes all the more beautiful and powerful for that contrast.

And that play of darkness and light allows me to turn inward.  the still silence allows me to see that same interplay within myself.  For I can see the small sparks of passion, love, courage, and compassion twinkling in my very soul.  They wait for those perfect opportunities to shine brightly into the rest of my life and the world around me.  They are ready to shine even in the darkest and most empty of times.

After all, that’s when they’re the easiest to see.

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