The Controversial New Post
September 13, 2011

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This is the part where I write an apparently shocking statement, preferably about God or religion. And this is the part where I try to explain how it’s really not all that shocking unless you’re really narrow-minded.

At about this time, I begin to experience a bit of writer’s remorse about what I just wrote, or the image I posted at the top of the page, and start to back-peddle so as not to totally alienate any or all potential audiences. And then I wrestle with thoughts of how one must risk alienating one audience in order to appeal to another, because that’s just how writing goes.

And here, well, this is where I get honest. I really try to do that, but I have a habit of endlessly questioning my motives, and want to make sure I’m not just being “honest” just so you’ll perceive me as more “authentic” than someone else you could be reading. You may think a habit of examining motives is honorable, but for me it borders on compulsion. So maybe that sort of trumps the whole honorable thing. Not sure who determines that.

Anyway, I was going to complete a post I started months ago about the origins of the pledge of allegiance to the Bible, which I grew up reciting in my Christian school, along with the pledge of allegiance to both the American and Christian flags.

I was going to call out how the guy who wrote the Bible pledge  included it in his creation of the original manual for Vacation Bible Schools for the Southern Baptists, back  in the 1920s. I would point out how he dedicated his words specifically to the “…white children of the South,” and mentioned how proud Southern Baptists are of their pure “Anglo-Saxon blood.” And that he explained in his preface how white children’s souls were going downhill, but that the spiritual conditions are “far worse among the negro children.”

I would say how I was shocked but not surprised to see for my own eyes actual proof of how racism mingled with religion, proving yet again the pattern of hypocrisy in Christendom. And I could state how some little children may have been, through no choice of their own, indoctrinated into that hypocrisy. Left to carry on the “honorable” traditions of those forebears who protected the purity of the Chosen culture that pledged allegiance to God’s Holy Word.

While all that may be true, of course, it makes no difference.

It makes no difference if I can regularly display proof after proof of the problems with religion. It makes no difference if the religious can provide proof after proof of the problems with doubt and disbelief. It makes no difference if any of us can justify our angst toward the other.

It makes no difference because it does not make us different.

Religious scholar Dallas Willard — a Southern Baptist, by the way — once wrote that, “We talk about leading a different kind of life, but we also have ready explanations for not being really different.” I’ll take inspiration from wherever I can get it, and that rings true for me.

Through the last several years, I’ve been learning that, for me, “being really different” does not happen through me trying to change others. Like I’ve repeated before, in the words of St. Michael, it starts with the Man in the Mirror. While we can inspire others toward positive change, we cannot change others. We can only change ourselves.

I don’t think I always need to be changing. Often, we interpret the need for change as saying that we are not good enough as we are. I am, as a person, good just as I am, but I think I can be better in certain situations, in my interactions with others, for example. Or trying to be less selfish as a husband. Or not wringing my dog’s neck when he pees on the carpet. That does not mean I must perpetually see myself as “almost there.” It just means that growth is usually good.

At this point in time, growth, for me, is in learning to be more true to myself. Learning who I really am, deep inside. Learning what I really want out of life, not what I think I should want. And for me that means making my own pledge of allegiance. Not to just another philosophy or system, and not even to some goal. Rather, it means constantly being honest with myself and others. Because when I’m not honest, I’m not at peace. With that in mind, I think my pledge could be best summed up in the words of the Temper Trap song, “Fader,” which mentions in one line:

“…I pledge myself allegiance to a better night’s sleep at home.”

So in the midst of all the provocative writing or imagery, the “authenticity,” the personality, the branding, the voice…whatever… in between the lines, my aim in the words I offer to you here — at least in this post — is to simply help me sleep better. To be more at peace. And that’s my wish for you.

Not attention-getting controversy. Not point-proving. Not trying to change others. Not fashionable philosophy. But honesty, and peace.

* Original image credit/link here.

Do You Know Your Enemy?
June 30, 2010

Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels that you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him he would no longer be your enemy.

Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weaknesses of men.

Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God, for it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice, your mediocrity and materialism, your sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.

–T. Merton

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When I first read those lines a year or two ago, I had other people in mind. I envisioned myself saying those words to them, calling out the error of their ways. It’s easy to do that, especially when I’ve been on a journey away from the established traditions that raised me. It’s easy to take every opportunity to snap at those who I may see as hypocrites in religion or those that I feel may be holding us back from “progress.”

Now I’m trying to envision someone saying those things to me. Yes, I’ve had many call out the error of my ways. It’s sort of been a theme of my life for some time now. But this is different. It doesn’t deal with belief or doctrine. It deals with behavior. It deals with the ways I choose to  see the world and others around me.

So instead of “convicting” others of such things as “coldness and avarice…mediocrity and materialism…sensuality and selfishness,” I’m trying to recognize where those elements might have a home in me. Instead of assuming people see me or my views as the enemy (although that may be the case), I’m trying to recognize when I see “them” as my enemy. How do I speak of them when they’re not around? How do I speak to them when they are around?

There’s a balancing point somewhere in all this. What’s the  optimum tension between staying quiet with a humble, open mind, and not hiding my own truths? (To be sure, there’s a difference between “not hiding” and “asserting.”) And to be honest, I’m tired of trying to find the wrong in others, and looking for holes in arguments. It just takes too much energy.

And in that sense, my enemy is often myself, sapping my energy for the sake of an endless war.

So maybe I can try not “knowing” the weaknesses of my enemy, and instead try to know them as individuals. Which just happens to be what I expect of them.

My spiritual exercise for now is to just go with the flow, staying content in my own truths, assuming no ill of anyone else, and remaining responsible for my own words and actions.

But that’s hard.