Archive for May, 2015

Black & White

BlackWhite

What issues or concerns are truly black and white? Of those, which ones do we actually treat as such? Some people tell me many things are cut and dried, and we humans mess it up by introducing our own gray areas through weakness and a lack of morality, not to mention basic subjectivity. That may be true, but I am hard pressed to find anything so cut and dried that upon careful examination doesn’t need some room for a medium shade according to context and circumstances. Commonly the black and white crowd (at least the ones I know) are conservative Christians, or at least look to that set of beliefs as their guidance in life. Let’s look at an example.

  • Conservative Christian doctrine posits that marriage is the requirement for ethical sex.
  • Progressives tend to believe that consent is a required element. But they don’t hold that it is always sufficient.

When pushed on the issue, conservatives struggle with the stance that consent is vital and is considered required by progressives. They feel it ignores or at least de-emphasizes the marriage aspect they feel is so important. This highlights one of the faults of the black and white thinking, as much of the world ends up being viewed through that type of binary prism. To conservatives marriage is the key component, and because of the black/white, right/wrong mindset it is often considered sufficient when pushed in the context of doctrine.

Many others struggle with the conservative Christian views in part because they don’t necessarily treat consent as a vital component. Conservatives don’t always recognize a major difference between any type of sexual act that falls outside of the basic criteria of marriage. All those acts are deemed wrong, and to some they are equally so. Adultery is in some ways not different from raping a child. If the issue is black and white then there is by definition no room for any moderation or qualification.

But it’s more than just that. Conservatives often do not agree with the progressive’s consent criteria because the default understanding through doctrine is that there is only the one simple black and white choice. Since conservative doctrine bases it all on marriage then they incorrectly may assume that the consent camp bases it all on consent. The black and white thinking produces a lack of understanding of the nuance that there are multiple criteria, each of which is important, but maybe not equally important, which means there can be a range of how bad of an offense it is to falter. Progressives may hold consent AND marriage as important, but with the greater focus on consent the misunderstandings are exacerbated.

The notion that things are black and white stems in part from the pressure that the text mustn’t be questioned. The rules are laid out, if unclearly at times, and faith promotes a semi-blind following of them that contributes to the fundamental chasm of mindsets and ways to interpret things.

Now at most practical levels I’m aware of in the conservative Christian community (people I know) something like child molestation isn’t seriously considered to be the same as adultery (although a sin is a sin, no?). They seem willing to allow some room for interpretation. Adultery between consenting adults being wrong because it is outside of marriage. Raping a child being wrong because…(of something more?).

So Christians take a black and white doctrine and then apply certain interpretations to it, with the result being to make it less than absolutely black and white. And in some cases making it or allowing it to be uniquely personal. Is it up to the individual to believe in his/her interpretation of the bible, or should he/she follow the letter of the law? How much grace or deviation is allowable? How much comfort and forgiveness permissible? This gives rise to so many subtly different and potentially incongruent beliefs based on all of the interpretations that it seems almost laughable to me that one would cling tightly to any absolute bad/good, right/wrong view of the world. And yet a black and white attitude is often taken after having applied the very judgement, context, and often some personal perceptions to it that render it no longer absolute, if it ever was.

This is just one of the ways religion, as it is commonly practiced in our culture, fails us.

Definitely not saying anything goes here (that would be another kind of black and white). Best to acknowledge that it’s all shades of gray, and you’re just trying to figure out which shades you want to believe and live by. Don’t expect others to see it the same way, considering they weren’t part of the same programming you experienced.

Finally…because of the potentially volatile nature of a post like this I feel I should make it clear to any conservative Christian acquaintances of mine that I am not poo-pooing their beliefs or way of life, or even their thinking. I grew up in church and know the story. I have written about things like this before. I advocate tolerance and open mindedness, allowing room that we’re all flawed, and none of us lives in a house so rigid we can’t be wrong. Feel free to read back through this blog and you will see that there are other views presented from time to time. Because I don’t have it all figured out either.

Crumbs

Ghosts

The leftover scraps that aren’t used. Not always actively discarded, just not cared for or even noticed in many cases. Think of projects started, but not finished. Photos taken, but not looked at more than (maybe) once. Ideas (poems, songs, papers, letters, thoughts) written down, but not revisited. Slowly turning to dust in an attic or on a shelf somewhere. Pieces of our history and makeup casually brushed aside in favor of the urgent and riveting moments of now. Like film frames on the cutting room floor these annals of our lives succumb to entropy and become trivia, or are completely forgotten. What story would they tell about us?

And what of the people along the way? Some, perhaps important at one time, now relegated to mere acquaintances, or lost to time altogether. Or truly gone. Even the unimportant ones had a story. We could have connected.

And we must know that even though we’re each our own little sphere of awareness in the world, we hold a place of unimportance for others, with the relatively few notable exceptions. Of course, many times it is unnoticed because the process/status is mutual. But sometimes we do see it. There’s that moment where we begin to realize that we’re the scraps of someone else’s life. Our existence may be acknowledged, and maybe we even get a smattering of quality time, but it becomes obvious we don’t really have a place. Even though we may want to, it is not our choice to make. We are discarded. Not in a mean or callous way. Just a thoughtless one. Just like crumbs, we disappear under other footsteps into the pile of the carpet of life and will not be noticed. Quite a hollow feeling when we care enough to recognize it.

So many stories unexplored, like ghosts passing through one another without feeling. We’re too selfish or afraid. What could our lives be if those connections had been made or maintained?

Nurture.

Structure as Wisdom

Girder1

When we lack the maturity or day-to-day wisdom to guide ourselves properly it can often be compensated for by providing structure.

This is the role of policies, as well as our attempts to remove temptations from our lives. We make rules, rituals, schedules, lists, and even track our actions all to funnel ourselves down a preferred course while trying to hold ourselves accountable to it. Accountable to something tangible. Something that requires a little less thought, or whatever that inner quality is that provides wisdom to us in a way that keeps us content.

Structure is often a valid tactic for managing ourselves as well as others…in the short term. Good habits can be formed. Setting a standard communicates something about ourselves, to ourselves and others. Adhering to one also does. But we mustn’t fool ourselves. Structure can appear as maturity, but it isn’t. It denotes a modicum of it. That one has the foresight and wherewithal to deploy a workable structure is meaningful. But the end game is to not need it.

To live a life where the wants and desires are reconciled with the needs is the real goal. That harmonious balance is the place from where peace and happiness come. Put your structures in place if you need to. Obey the rules where it makes sense. But don’t let them become a crutch for real growth, because they will ultimately hold you back. It would be better to graduate beyond that, to a higher plane of awareness.

Note: this doesn’t mean doing what other people, or society thinks you should do or any conventional wisdom (those are just rules and structures in disguise). It’s a matter of figuring out your real Self, what you really want, and then accepting it and living consistent with it while unburdened from the rest.

Baby Maker

stressed1

A not so subtle illustration of our culture at work

Men dying on the field of battle – that ultimate moment of truth – often cry out for their mothers. There is something inherently amazing about mothers that builds a deep bond within us.

Building a person. It’s one of the rare miracles we are able to see in our daily lives. A mother made each of us. And paid the price. Wear and tear physically, chemically, and most insidiously, mentally. That’s just to build the physical child. Then the care of a live human being begins, and it never really ends. It’s unbelievably taxing. I mean…well, I wouldn’t really know, but I have observed. I know the things I did to my mother (that I remember). I’ve observed lots of mothers with hair disheveled wrangling with kids through a store, attending boring events they don’t have time for, learning the nuances of sports, music, or other activities they don’t care about, getting them to doctors, haircuts, and handling emotional breakdowns (their own as well as the kid’s) while picking up after them, making meals, and generally feeling expected to keep the house and themselves looking good.

It’s a lot of physical and mental work, and the emotional sacrifice is staggering. The intellectual sacrifice of dealing with those little minds day in and day out is hard to imagine. Just as bad is when they become ‘know-it-all’ teenagers. And then the mothers suffer through their child’s adult life when it finally hits them in the face.

Sure, there is a lot of joy a long the way. In many ways it’s surely the most incredible journey one can take in life.

But the sacrifices…  Careers are put on hold or given up. Entire ways of living and enjoying life are put aside and never experienced for the sake of being a mom. Things not seen and done, people not met. To pull it all off while also maintaining something of a life outside of that context is almost considered super-human, yet, most women feel that’s what they should be able to do, and not doing it makes them feel like a failure.

Is it really appreciated? Yes. It is. We love our mothers deeply. There is no one who can totally and completely replace all that a mother is to us. I realize other women sometimes step in to the role and do a fantastic job. I don’t take anything away from them, though there is something about that biological connection I’ve heard many mothers speak about. We love them. We depend on them. We wouldn’t be who we are without them.

Women are culturally trained that this is for them. That to fully realize themselves they must bear children. And in certain religions that expectation is further distorted such that they grow up expecting, even desiring, to have numerous kids. Some may want and can handle two, but end up bearing the burden of five or more. Obviously these days it’s possible for a modern woman to have a fulfilled life without rearing children, but there is a bit of a stigma to it. The role that feels right to most, the one that is supposed to fill you up and make life complete and happy almost no matter what else is in that life, is the role of the baby maker. There’s a lot of subtly applied pressure from somewhere deep within, some of which is biological. Add external pressure of family, a husband, friends, and religion, and the fate is virtually cast in stone. The appearance of choice belies the real feelings taking place underneath it all.

So here is the deal people. Women get it from all directions. As a society, as husbands and friends, we need not pile on. We need to engender an attitude that women are 100% of everything they need to be just by being. Just like men. I know some who are brilliant, stimulating, vibrant, compassionate people. It’s a real honor and privilege to be in their presence, whether or not they choose to make a baby.

Happiness, Part xx4, The Numbing

Numbing

Happiness is startlingly elusive sometimes.

One of our techniques for achieving happiness is avoiding potentially painful or at least threatening situations, or to even run away from them. It certainly works to some degree. When we change the environment, and find ways to mask or otherwise distract from the symptoms, the load lifts and we feel more free to be happy. We fill up our lives with people and things that do this. But in some areas in some ways we also know, down deep inside, it isn’t really real. It’s a perception worked to create for ourselves. Contrived.

This is one of the traps of alcohol. It’s good at masking pain, but oh so temporary, and it comes with very disruptive side effects. As is the case with many drugs. But there are drugs that provide an answer.

Clinically depressed people are prescribed drugs. Bi-polar disorder is treatable with drugs. The symptoms can be taken almost completely away. The problem is, those individuals often believe that the happy, medicated version of themselves isn’t really them. One could argue it’s them revealed through the correction of some chemical imbalance that messes it up, but those arguments ultimately suffer from the logical fallacy that you can’t introduce something artificial and believe that what it produces is more real than not having it introduced. After a time the underlying nagging of the lie robs them of the idealistic visions of joy, and it becomes harder to trust one’s identity, or to engage in intimately satisfying ways. In some cases it makes it very difficult to stay on the drugs. In one of the more cruel jokes on a large portion of humanity, we refuse to be happy even when we are actually, clinically and controllably happy.

Drugs do provide a good solution for many, but the dark corners of our humanity can rise to the occasion no matter how good we have it.



%d bloggers like this: