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‘Tis the Season

In PeaceAble on November 27, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Yesterday I went out for a Thanksgiving dinner to a very nice restaurant (there were a great many open, but this was the only one that said a cancelled reservation would allow them to seat our party of three), where every table was filled with happy patrons, and an excellent chef and kitchen staff prepared some wonderful food, a delightful waitstaff brought out our meals quickly and pleasantly, the service staff kept tables cleared and dishes clean, and the managers oversaw everything with efficiency, good humor, and a warm and welcoming attitude.

On our way, we stopped to fill up the gas tank; and passed doughnut shops where we might have gotten coffee, and convenience stores where we might have picked up a few things for later.  In an emergency, we knew that we could count on emergency services, hospitals, police, or firefighters to be available.  We briefly considered whether we might forego the big dinner and just get a pizza; but were a bit disappointed to find no pizza places open.

We also passed places where some people less selfish than ourselves were providing Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless or impoverished, or for those who would otherwise be alone and without family or friends to share a meal.

And I wondered why there is always so much controversy about which big box stores would be open that afternoon to start their Christmas season sales. Why do so many people care if WalMart is open, but simply expect to be able to find places to get gasoline or some last minute items for their own celebrations? Why do they worry that some people might have to work, but simply expect that others will? How do they sit down to all the things they say they are grateful for, but not understand that having a day off may mean for others that they don’t get a day’s wages or a bit of overtime pay, and that may make the difference in whether they make the bills this month; and others may want to work so that they don’t sit home alone wondering what to do with themselves? Why do they not see that such complaints are privileged, first world problems; that forcing big box stores to close would not do very much to solve the real problems that other people face? Why do we all take so much for granted on a day when we are proclaiming our gratitude?

Is it simply because if we don’t need or want something then we assume that it is unnecessary for everyone? Is it because we assume that if we don’t desire something, or dislike it, then that feeling must be universal, or at least the norm? Do we assume that if we have something, like a loving family and plenty of food, and we value those things, that we can speak from our position of privilege for the needs of everyone else? Or is it even more selfish than that? Are we afraid, perhaps, that we will miss out on something? Someone else will get the really big deal, save some money on something we might have to spend more for later if they go to the stores and we don’t. Someone else will beat us to the punch somehow. Are we afraid that if the stores are open we might somehow be unable to resist their siren song?

Like so many things we argue about, the arguments about shopping on Thanksgiving are really about choices: what choices are available to us and to others; who decides; who’s in control; and what difference does it all make? Is my Thanksgiving made less enjoyable, less festive, less meaningful because someone else chooses to keep a store open or go shopping; but not affected at all by the knowledge that I am consuming in excess of what I need while others starve, holding court in a warm and comforting home while others struggle to survive, enjoying the pleasant company of family and friends while others huddle close to keep fear and violence and despair at bay?

There is nothing wrong with celebrating our gratitude for what we have. We have no need to feel guilty about that. For all the things we have that we know are not guaranteed us, we should be thankful; and setting aside a day to make that thankfulness manifest is a good and honest and even honorable thing. So do that. Make it real. Make it your own. Choose to spend the day however you wish. And let the rest go. In your gratitude for what you have, why inject unnecessary outrage about things that really aren’t about you? Maybe spend at least a few moments contemplating what you might do to make things better for those who do not have nearly as much to be grateful for.

All through the long fall and winter holiday season, we see all kinds of pointless complaints and imagined controversies erupting. Halloween celebrates the Devil. People might have to work on Thanksgiving. There’s a war on Christmas. People are saying “Happy holidays.” Everything is so commercialized (When is it not in our capitalist economy?). When is Hanukkah, anyway; and what the heck is Kwanzaa? Why can’t we put a cross or a crèche anywhere and everywhere we want? And once we’ve spent weeks in anger and outrage and spewing violent rhetoric, we will all proclaim our desire for peace on earth.

Maybe instead of looking for things to get in a twist about, we could begin to celebrate the season by actually doing things that promote that peace we say we so fervently hope for.

An Essay About God — In Questions.

In A God of Infinite Possibility on November 19, 2015 at 11:31 am

So you believe that telling people they can’t force others to participate in a prayer to a god they don’t believe in or in the words of a faith to which they don’t belong means that your god has been kicked out of our public places? You believe that your god has sent natural disasters and acts of terrorism and violence to punish people because they don’t express sufficient worship and obeisance to your god? You believe that your god encourages you and will reward you for killing those whose beliefs are different from yours, or who look different, live differently, or love one another in ways you don’t approve of? You believe in a god with male genitalia?

Is this not a weak, petty, vengeful, angry, violent, vain, jealous and frightened god that you believe in.? Is not such a god almost human?

You say you believe in a god that is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient? Can such a god not be wherever god wants to be? Is such a god subject to the restrictions of human laws? But why would god go where god is not wanted? Why not believe in a god that goes where god is not wanted precisely because that is where god might most need to be?

You say you believe in a compassionate, loving god who weeps for every sparrow that falls from the tree? Why would such a god rain death on the innocent as punishment for the wicked? Would such a god not protect the weak against the powerful, rather than simply comfort the survivors afterwards? Would not a forgiving god seek to heal the wicked rather than to destroy them; for surely they are sick in their souls?

You say that we are all the children of god? Why does your god require the worship of god’s children? Do you require the worship of your children? Do you require that everyone else’s children should worship you, also? Why would your god require that all god’s children worship identically, rather than to worship as they will? What makes your worship superior? Do you think that you worship god for god? Why do you not worship god because your worship and your prayers connect you to all god’s children?

Do you believe there is only one god? Or do you believe that there is only one “true” god? If there are other gods besides yours, is your god afraid of them? Does your god require you to go to war against those who believe in other gods? Why does your god not want you, instead, to show them the compassion, the love, the forgiveness, and the healing power of your god; so that they will see that your god is a god worthy of admiration and respect? If you believe that there is only one god, then what is it to you if others do not believe? Will your god not love you if others do not love your god?

Do you believe that your god knows all and is all powerful? Then why does your god not know the truth that is in every person’s heart? And knowing, is your god powerless to heal, to change, to make right what is wrong? Are you more powerful than your god? Are you able to do what your god cannot? If your god has created the universe and all that is in it, who are you to question what has been created? Is your god an irrational god who has created an irrational universe? Is your god a trickster god who has given god’s human children the intelligence to see what god has created and seek to understand it, but made all that we observe an illusion? If we study god’s creation as it is, as god has presented it to us, if we seek to understand that god’s creation by making rational sense of the clues god has left for us, is that not the best way to understand our relationship to god?

Why do you give human form to your god? Do you really want your god to be human? Are we humans not flawed and limited? Can we not aspire to a god who transcends the human, who may have the power to lift us up to the very best that we can be; rather than envision a god who is less than god might be? Is it not true that definitions don’t just tell us what something is, they tell us also what it is not? If your god is a man, then is to be a woman to be not god?

Are you reading this and thinking that I am insulting your god? Do you think that it is your god I mean here? If so, then are you not confirming that the questions themselves are valid? And if you believe that I am not describing the god you believe in, then why are you insulted for your god? If you are nodding your head and thinking that I am absolutely right about someone else’s god, are you simultaneously congratulating yourself on not believing in such a god? How, exactly, are you acting in the world to serve that god who is not the god I have described? Are you congratulating yourself that you don’t believe in any god at all? Do you see that this, like everything I have described above is simply human?

Whether we believe in a god, or not, isn’t it foolish of us to use what we believe to separate us, to hurt each other and to destroy this impossibly vast and wonderful creation regardless of how it was created or what it means? Is that what you believe your god, or your science, requires?

What is it with Americans and Bathrooms? And Sex? And Bathrooms and Sex?

In PeaceAble on November 10, 2015 at 11:17 am

Remember the ERA? That was a simply stated proposal to amend the Constitution by adding the idea that: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Somehow, the idea that a person’s biological sex should not be a barrier to full protection of the law became a discussion about bathrooms.

The ERA opponents convinced large portions of the populace that the amendment would require, not just allow but require, men and women to use the same bathrooms. At the same time. And the ERA, which was intended to pave the way for women to be protected equally under the law, had to be defeated to protect the womenfolk and, let’s not forget, the children. Now the same arguments are being used to deny transgender folk from using bathrooms that correspond to their gender.

What are we defending them from in both instances? Why, men, of course.

Think about that for a moment. We cannot do things to protect the rights of women and females because such laws would interfere with our ability to protect them from men. That’s right. Women and children need to be protected from men. And the only thing that can protect them is also men.

We have been raising generations of boys to believe that to be a man is to be powerful, being powerful is the same as being dangerous, and respect is the same as fear. This is the fundamental idea behind every militaristic, male-dominant cultural norm we are now struggling with.

The whole concept is rolled up in a neat package of “natural” or “God-given” law. Even people who claim that evolution is bunk and we are definitely not related to apes will proclaim that male-dominance in other species is proof that men are supposed to be in control and use their manly power to keep things together and ensure the survival of the species.

We cannot, of course, separate this natural dangerousness of the man from the fact of the male sex organ. It is more than a vessel for depositing semen and sperm into the vagina, it is a blunt instrument; a weapon for, literally, invasion and conquest. The consequences of this mind-set permeate our culture and poison our attempts to reach for equality, justice and fairness.

And the converse is also true. Power is seen as male. The female is weak. A woman who seeks power has to make it in a man’s world, be more like the men she has to compete with, learn how to wield the masculine; at which point she is open to the charge that she is not feminine enough. Michelle Obama shows off her muscular arms and expresses herself in powerful ways and she is called a dyke and a “tranny.” Hillary spends a political lifetime showing how tough she can be, how willing she is to loose the dogs of war; and may lose the presidency because she is seen as too much like the men we have been electing for the past 200 years.

Authority is seen as male, also, and that is why we are told to accept it as dangerous. Just do what the police officer tells you to. Everything would have been all right if you had just complied. Don’t question, don’t resist. You should know that it is dangerous and so deserve what happens to you.

The simile of the gun as phallus is real. Guns are rigid projections that ejaculate bullets. They are tools of invasion and conquest. They are powerful and dangerous and masculine.

But such power is not the same for everyone. Its special power is reserved for the privileged. A white man walking around with a gun is a patriot expressing his second amendment rights. He’s a good guy with a gun and we should be thankful that he is there because he is powerful and he will protect you against the danger posed by other guys with guns. A non-white man walking around with a gun is dangerous, a terrorist, a thug. He is the dangerous bad guy we need the good guy to protect us from. The power and the danger of the black male, which are to be feared, are rooted in the mythology of the black man’s physical and sexual prowess. The white man’s power is good because he is seen as civilized; the black man cannot escape his image as a savage in need of subjugation and control. If the black man is allowed his power then he becomes, perhaps, more powerful than the white man and more dangerous to the white man who fears not just his power but his savagery.

As a nation, we are woefully, and perhaps willfully, ignorant about the differences between sex and gender. And, it would seem, between sex as a biological trait and sex as a behavior. To be a male, biologically, is to be born with a distinct combination of chromosomes that cause the development of external genitalia. We can fairly easily identify certain physical traits that are male. But to be masculine is to exhibit certain behavioral traits, including traits of emotional and psychological behavior that society identifies as masculine. These are not universally or exclusively associated with being male, but the confusion exacerbates the problems.

Gay men are seen as dangerous because the object of their sexual desire is other men. We cannot get past the idea that sex is masculine and powerful, which necessitates the weak and feminine as its complement. We cannot conceive of two men in a relationship of equal power because we cannot conceive of a man and a woman in a relationship of equal power. The feminine is weak and someone has to be the woman; or what does it mean to be the male, the powerful one? We are not as bothered by two women being sexual because they are no threat to the power of the masculine; unless they are lesbians, which directly challenges the necessity of the masculine power in the relationship. One of them has to be the man, but how can she? She lacks the necessary equipment. Transgender women are dangerous as long as they retain their masculine sex organs, but no one is afraid that transgender men will infiltrate men’s rooms and be a danger to the biological males. Even if a transgender man has sex-change surgery, we can tell ourselves that it isn’t a “real” penis, so it isn’t really powerful or dangerous.

If we have any hope of developing a more peaceable world, of achieving greater equality and justice in all our institutions and relationships, we need to move away from this masculine model of power and develop a model that includes the feminine.

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