Viewing entries tagged
Civil Rights

A brief soapbox about freedom and spirituality. Feel free to tune it out.

For several years I’ve listed my “Religious Views” on Facebook as “Appreciate and wonder at the beauty all around us.” I have more precise views than that, but that’s basically what it boils down to for me. And since I believe there are a lot of different doorways into the same room, I haven’t felt the need to be any more specific. Surely there’s common ground for us somewhere, right?

Similarly, I’ve listed my “Political Views” as “Teach responsibility and then trust people.” I’ve got other axes to grind, and certain issues and candidates hold my attention more than others, but that phrase sums it up.

But oh my! If it were only that easy! This morning as I look at the news and the commentary surrounding it, I’m reading a lot of concern about recent events in North Carolina and Colorado, and on the other side of the coin, a lot of passionate justification for it. 

My own feeling is that the biggest obstacle to a better world isn’t evil — it’s apathy. It is in that spirit I write the following.

I’ve been on a spiritual journey for quite some time. My 40 days in the desert have lasted a lot longer than I thought they would, and have encountered some setbacks and wrong turns. Perhaps the best way to say it is that sometimes life events (like this and this) obscure your view at first, only to provide clarity later. Some of the experiences that have been the most confusing to me have later become the most enlightening.

And so, I feel like I’m close to reaching a spiritual destination. My journey hasn’t been a specifically religious one, but in the context of spirituality, one eventually decides to at least explore that avenue. As my dad liked to say, “Organized religion is the only kind.” True enough. Thus I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately exploring the connection between religion and spirituality, and what it means for me.

In that exploration, I’ve found a lot that has resonated with me. More than I thought I would, to be honest. And by the same token, I can’t find one single thing that justifies, in a moral sense, the authority of one group to subjugate another’s ability to let their hearts decide whom they love and how they do it. And I certainly don’t believe for one second that any group has the political authority to do it either. In terms of the hierarchy of things, I believe God works for good, and vice versa. And I believe the government works for us. 

We become quickly spoiled by what we have worked for, particularly when others do the work. That brand-new HDTV you waited a year to afford looks gorgeous when you first set it in the living room. Six months later, you can’t remember what you were so impressed with. And if you get the TV as a gift? Two months.

But we must resist that same complacency when it comes to issues of justice. It is all too easy to forget that less than 200 years ago, humans were bought and sold; objectified, manipulated, dehumanized. It is all too easy to dismiss that less than 100 years ago, women were not permitted to vote because others felt anatomy somehow dictated superiority. Less than 60 years ago, a whole generation of Jews was nearly wiped off the earth forever. And for those thinking “But that won’t happen anymore,” I direct you to exhibit A, Rwanda, and exhibit B, Kosovo. Which happened … in our lifetime.

Equality is not HDTV. It doesn’t have a shelf life. And it isn’t a product meant to be accessible only to those who can afford it, or who can mobilize enough resources to argue on behalf of it. 

From what I can see, the right to love and be loved is as fundamental as it gets. It transcends the will of any one political entity and any one religious dogma, and comes, in its entirety, from the Spirit that has breathed us all into existence. 

For values to be real, whether political or spiritual, they must apply to everyone. Otherwise you don’t have values — you have a members-only club. Freedom, love, justice, and equality do not require an application. 

In 40 years, our children will look back and wonder what all the fuss was all about; and hopefully, they will shake their heads at our ignorance, and hide their shock at our bigotry, the way we do when we consider slavery and genocide. 

But between now and then, you have to live with yourself. Are your “shared values” meant for you alone? Shouldn’t you share them with everyone?

When I read “God is love,” I don’t see an asterisk next to it. 

Zeitoun

Yesterday I traveled home from a fairly long trip to Washington, DC for the 2011 NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference. The conference itself was three days, but we added on several days of team meetings and so when it was all said and done, it made for a six-day trip. That’s a long time to be gone in any person’s book, or at least, a long time to be gone for a trip that doesn’t involve a beach. 

In any case, the conference was fantastic, but by Saturday night the Event 360 folks and I were feeling a bit punchy and spent the better part of the evening shuffling around Dupont Circle. There are far worse places to spend a Saturday evening, particularly an evening involving a Supermoon, and we had a lot of fun stopping in various places around the neighborhood and trying to decide if the moon was larger after all. 

One highlight was the fabulous Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe & Grill, which I’d heard about but never set foot in. It took all of ten minutes for me to be juggling a pile of six books — I’m not so much a reader as a book acquirer; I seem to have far more books than time to read, and since my recent disavowal of the Kindle (a post for another time), I’m piling up pages quickly. Luckily one of my Event 360 Voices of Reason talked me down to three books, one of which was Zeiton by Dave Eggers. 

For years I’ve had a copy of  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which has been recommended to me by so many people that a while ago I began actively resisting suggestions to read it. Not that I don’t trust all the recommendations; I suppose I just have enough of an anti-establishment streak that the more I hear the less I want to go along. (Or am I just stubborn?) Plus, I understand the theme involves the death of parents, and I’ve had enough of that for the last several years, thank you very much.

In any case, I know of Eggers and the book looked interesting. A true story, it involves two of my many hot buttons: Hurricaine Katrina and civil liberties, or the lack thereof; and more broadly, the reason you might want to adopt a healthy anti-establishment streak yourself. So yesterday afternoon, tired from the week and with thoughts of nonprofits, technology, and making a difference mulling around my head, I boarded my plane home and turned to page one.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Harrowing, haunting, and ultimately hopeful, the book in simple but heroic, subtle but compelling turns tells a vast story on a small canvas, like a faded postcard from a distant trip you might frame and hang in your guest bedroom, a tiny reminder of a much larger experience you can’t fully explain. You will find yourself wondering how and why this could happen here, in America, only a few years ago, and then — if there’s any hope for us — find yourself angry and troubled that you haven’t heard more about it. 

The absurdity of bureaucracy, the mechanized degradation of personality, and the progressive devaluation of individuality are all important themes in the story. But unlike me, Eggers is a powerful writer, and doesn’t need to specifically call out those themes at all. They tap themselves on the head and step forward for you. 

It is a story of vast consequence told with almost no pretense. It will leave you with many questions, and yet also with a reminder of the power we each carry within us. Worth reading.