Thursday, April 22, 2010

Minority Views and Majority Realities

Throughout the whole of my life, I have felt outside the norm. The Methodism of my boyhood preached that, as a devout Christian, I should expect to be frequently misunderstood, feared, and at times distrusted by the rest of society. Based on my Southern roots and the political convictions I grew to espouse, in addition to the company I kept, I continued to feel out of step with the majority point of view in all kinds of ways. If this was supposed to be an essential component of living the Christian life, then it was not a difficult one to adopt. When, years later, I became a Quaker, it wasn't hard at all to accept that many would not comprehend what I believed. Shortly before I converted, I read a book front to cover which stated that Friends were used to being thought of as peculiar and eccentric. Those words cemented my decision to become a Convinced Friend. For years I wore a nonconformist's identity like a badge of honor, though my secret desire, barely even vocalized to myself, was always that I might find greater acceptance and understanding. Having achieved this, I believe that I would find the comfort granted to those not consistently marginalized and discounted by the majority.

In Ephesians, Paul writes about the difference between a life led by the Light and one led by darkness.

You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Do not let anyone deceive you with meaningless words, for it is because of these things that God becomes angry with those who disobey. Don't participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.

Progressives frequently feel taken advantage of and passed over, and for good reason. Still, I believe ours is a deeply moral movement, and it is often not difficult at all to reconcile my religious convictions with my political stances. One of the reasons I work so hard at what I do is in the hope that someday none of us might have to feel isolated, lonely, and ignored. The comfort, guidance, and wisdom upon which I am blessed due to a close relationship with the Light is something I wish others could experience for themselves. My ultimate hope is that through our love for each other and our own diligent struggles that we will ensure our deeply held beliefs are no longer considered politically inconvenient, a bargaining chip, or a trump card.

To me, this begins with accepting each other as we are, where we are. The more I examine all of the identities I claim for myself: Quaker, Christian, Feminist, Activist, Progressive, the more I recognize that seeing each in terms of its own religion rather than any other distinction is a better way for me to understand the unique dynamics of each. Each has its own belief system, its own language, its own orthodoxy, and any number of other metrics. Even if we are not people of faith, I find it often instructive to note that our own zeal for our own causes frequently rivals that of religious expression. A particular passage cited below amazes me in how applicable it is to the current day.

Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it's all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don't. And those who don't eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.

Who are you to condemn someone else's servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord's help, they will stand and receive his approval. In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. So let's stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. For then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

If we do not build strength within ourselves, who among us will? In that case, we will be like the person who built his/her house on sand. The floods came, the storm raged, and the house was destroyed. If, however, we build our house on solid ground, it will stand in spite of the conflicts and metaphorical storms that are inevitable, yet need not be destructive. Our home would not be merely a temporary coalition with its fault lines patched up with caulk due to the presence of an inspiring, gifted orator. One person can begin the process, but it is up to us to finish the job. We were not led to dream an impossible dream. Rather, we were inspired to dare to set our sights high again, and if we were out of practice, that is certainly understandable. Those who have come before us in their own time spied an ultimate objective, one that they observed was tantalizingly within their grasp. Their memory implores that we continue build on their own toil and sacrifice.

In the Gettsyburg Address, Abraham Lincoln noted,

It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…

I have observed the recent anger, the anxiety, the fear, and the embodiment of each. It is a sentiment as true with liberals and as it is with conservatives. Moreover, my own thoughts are not dissimilar from your own. Yet, I know that we are never guaranteed that good times will last forever, nor stick around for as long as we hoped they would. I am not particularly concerned with finger-pointing or directing disappointment and disillusion towards a scapegoat, else it be directed inward at us. Those strategies do little to provide real solutions and they are a band-aid when clamps and sutures would provide absolute resolution and true healing. What I do know is that from here on out, we should consider coming together as one---refusing to resort to the kind of reactive behavior that always exists within those who feel perpetually taken for granted or ignored. Our anger is justified, but sometimes our response is not.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

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