Complicit

Complicit

Anne Applebaum’s essay, “The Collaborators,” was a good read for me. The subtitle frames the topic: “What causes people to abandon their principles in support of a corrupt regime? And How do they find their way back?” It’s well worth your time to read, and can I even go so far as suggest, contemplate.

I’ve thought about complicity quite a bit over the past several years. My career employment in a religious system that categorized humans other than males as unworthy of leading or even participating was the precipitating environment leading to my confrontation with complicity. For many years my tribe of Baptists didn’t allow women to teach or hold any leadership positions over men. I cleared this hurdle by finding a new tribe in which to work. This new group at least taught that women could serve where ever they were called. While the teachings and practice never really lived up to these aspirations, it was refreshing.

However, my new tribe didn’t accept LGBTQ people as entirely acceptable to participate fully in the life of the community of faith. I grew to understand that this was opposed to everything I knew and valued in my experience with human beings, relationships, and my years of teaching the Christian scriptures. I avoided these inner conflicts, teaching and preaching around them to keep the peace and remain employed. Complicit.

In recent days, it seems that our society is beginning to reckon with race and racism that feels different to me. We all come to these moments at different times and with various precipitating events. I know that this particular moment for people of color is simultaneously welcome, hilarious, and rage-inducing. The punch line being, “WHERE THE ACTUAL F&$K HAVE YOU BEEN LIVING?!?” Where we have been living is very comfortably in our complicity. We can face it or not. But when faced with our collaboration in this unequal and unjust system, one must decide what their actual values are.

Our ACTUAL values are the ones by which we make our everyday decisions. They are the ones that happen automatically, by habit. When the automatic comes in conflict with our espoused or aspirational values, we can count that as uncomfortable or as an opportunity for growth and change. Mere discomfort produces rationalizations and then status-quo. However, our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to dive into the growth and change. It’s hard. But it’s not impossible. We will mess up. And we won’t know what to do. We will stammer and use the wrong words and stumble. But like learning a new language or negotiating a dark room, we’ll adjust. We’ll get more proficient. We’ll find a light switch. These values will become more automatic.

This new place in which I find myself living is simply beautiful. I feel more connected with other human beings every day. That experience expands my world continually, and that is always rewarding. Always. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a LONG way from arriving. For years, I preached that the minute we think we’ve arrived somewhere is the minute we stop learning and growing. It’s at those moments that the seeds of complicity sprout. My goodness, this world I’m beginning to see, is so much more rich and fulfilling. I’m so thankful to be in this new, scary, uncomfortable place.

Only Human?

Only Human?

Nice Human cropped

It seems to me that the more we have divided ourselves up into smaller and smaller ideological groups, the more anxiety and conflict we have experienced. Ultimately, there is always a smaller box to draw and defend. Eventually, this practice merely leaves us alone in a little box of our own making.

One thing that is becoming evident during our social distancing experience is our coming to share something that crosses so many of the lines we’ve drawn of late. There are still attempts to describe this crisis along some of those old, tired, and disruptive lines. I’ve heard Republican responses and Democratic ones. There have been racist attempts to explain this circumstance. Others are claiming moral superiority. I’ve observed every narrow and highly defended box we have constructed in our efforts to define ourselves of late contorted in attempts to bring some meaning to all of this anxiety and disruption.

But, without fail, the best responses—the ones that have resonated with me; the ones that have moved me—have been human beings responding to other human beings. I’ve watched home learning live feeds that have evoked a huge, lingering smile on my face. I’ve seen celebrities open up their homes via Instagram. I’ve seen people taking care of people. Those responses have been wonderful. The more we step back and broaden our boundaries of who’s in and who’s out, the better the stories become. Even at a “social distance,” expressing and recognizing our shared humanity, without fail, becomes life-giving and light-giving.

Be an excellent human today. You can do this from your COVID-19 bunker. Make a phone call. Check on an elderly friend by phone. Write some letters. Send some texts. Use Facetime. Post human stories rather than political ones. Post helpful information that keeps us all safe and dispels the misinformation and divisions. I came across a beautiful little meme from the amazing Brené Brown this morning:

“This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid, our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind.”

THAT sounds very human in the best sense of the word.  We can do this! Hell, we canceled the NBA, March Madness, Spring Training, and the NHL! Zero riots! Come together (at a safe social distance). We got this!

Broad Views, Mutual Boot-Straps and Strong Foundations

SanFrancisco
1906 aerial photograph by George R. Lawrence/Library of Congress

 

I read an interesting story in the New York Times by Thomas Fuller, Anjali Singhvi and Josh Williams entitled “San Francisco’s Big Seismic Gamble.” What most captured my attention as I read it was the different interests described and how those interests could either conflict with each other or work together to provide a more unobstructed view of the whole. The synergy of a society/community/nation allows us to live much more fulfilled and secure lives than we might alone. As Aristotle first observed, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

If one subscribes to any singular “interest” described, they would be blinded to other significant points of view. For example, if everyone subscribed singularly to the “fear of The Big One,” San Francisco wouldn’t exist as the world-class city it has become. However, if we only subscribe to “unlimited economic/business/development” as the highest good, we see codes relaxed to promote such development without looking to the broader good.

I’ll admit from the outset that I’ve never lived in the Bay area and I didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  I’m not making a statement here about who should or shouldn’t live there and what they should or shouldn’t build.  I’m not qualified.  Being from Louisiana, it always frustrates me when people who know little about an area ask why anyone would rebuild where another hurricane is likely to occur.   The answer is, “because it’s my home.”  A quick response to that has often been, “then don’t ask me to pay for it (via taxes, government assistance, etc.).” The facts are, as citizens of an actual country with actual people from all points of an actual economic spectrum who live from actual sea to actual shining sea, we ALL pay for it. We are all in it together. Or at least we should be.

There are many interesting things about this Times story: The rebuilding of a city following a catastrophic natural disaster. The fading memory of history. The change from “low-rise” to “high-rise”. The science of earthquakes. The fact that the AVERAGE price of a home in San Francisco is $1.2 million. The hubris of “we saw that as a symbol of the new San Francisco and we wanted the building to be at least 1,000 feet tall.” The fact that the building across the street from this “symbol” has “sunk a foot and a half and is leaning 14 inches toward neighboring high-rises” in the 9 years since it was completed. Most of this “new San Francisco” is built on ground that has a “very high risk of acting like quicksand during an earthquake, a process known as liquefaction.” All interesting. Much of it terrifying.

Ultimately, NONE of us actually “picked ourselves up by our boot-straps”. Someone made the boots and the straps. We are all standing on someone’s shoulders. Usually, this is solid support and foundation on which to be and become the people we were created to be. But also likely, we are standing on shoulders of people whom we are simply holding down. If we fail to recognize the instability of such shoulders—if we fail to realize that ALL of us are in this together and we must pull our entire community up by all of our boot-straps— I’m afraid this great society might just find it is built on a foundation that is at a very high risk of liquefaction.  That is a catastrophe that could actually be avoided.

Aleppo, Rolex, BMW, & Light

Aleppo, Rolex, BMW, & Light

20161217_ldd001_0
The Fall of Aleppo (image from The Economist, Dec 17-23, 2016 issue)

The cover was pretty striking. The image to the right with the headline: “The Fall of Aleppo: Putin’s victory, the West’s failure”. I tried to imagine what it would be like to care for this child in such a place. Then, what was maybe the most disturbing point about this issue…I turned the page. 3 times.

 
  • First page: 2 page ad for “Rolex, The Cellini”: retail value $15,200. “It doesn’t just tell time. It tells history.”
  • Second page: 2 page ad for BMW 750Li xDrive: beginning MRSP $98,000. “Sheer Driving Pleasure”. Has a remote control key to park the car for you into tight spaces. So you don’t have to actually drive it yourself.
  • Third page: Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator: retail value $3500 (had interior cameras for “food management and direct grocery ordering). Comes with app for your phone so you might look in your refrigerator from your phone…rather than the annoying practice of opening the door.
 
The tragedy, and the irony printed in the first 6 pages of this magazine was a gut shot for me this morning. And it will haunt my Christmas. This isn’t a guilt trip post for the holidays. It’s not intended as a political statement per se. But, for me anyway, its my morning meditation on the closing of Advent 2016…the coming of the Christ…the hope and savior of the world. Where have we who call ourselves the “Christian West” gone wrong? How do we return to be the light the Christ showed us how to be to this hurting world? We are chosen by God not to be singled out and special. We are chosen to be witnesses to this light.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. —John 1:5 (NRSV)