Classes have started again, and I have been busy planning, preparing, writing and going. I try to blog about once a week, but lately the words have not been coming.
Or rather, I should say, the words have been all the wrong ones. I wanted to do a blog about Glenn Beck's flagrant linguistic cheapening of the concept of slavery, which he compares it to government regulation of the insurance companies (meaning this regulation is metaphorical slavery of the middle class), and states that slavery actually ended with the Civil War, perpetuating a myth. I wanted to write that blog, but even thinking about it just makes me angry; the words would have been wrong.
I wanted to write about Jon Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity, and how it is weird that one of the most level voices in American media today is a comedian who is not even a journalist. This may have included musings on how television news itself tends to be a bad format as it moves so quickly and runs only in soundbites, so it shouldn't be a surprise that stuff gets edited, cut, and twisted to fit a narrative. But that just made me tired.
I wanted to write about the concept of gender and contemporary literature, and why boys aren't reading, but that took me too far afield of what I feel at least a large part of the narrative of this blog is.
And that got me thinking: What is the narrative of this blog? What is, by and large, the narrative I run my life by? I like to hope that this blog has become a space for a Christian response to the world at large, particularly America and American politics, because those are the things that can affect how I love my neighbor. But as much as it is about the big things, it is about the small things as well. We need to be thinking about how we love our neighbor in our own daily lives, as much if not more than we think about how to create a system that keeps our neighbor from oppression. We need to look not just at the narrative of the bigger picture, but of the individual blocks that create the quilt. And vice versa - if we concentrate on too many individual blocks, we lose sight of the entire picture, and importantly, what the other blocks are showing us.
For example, this video has been making the rounds on Facebook and various social networking platforms. I was pointed to it by a pro-choice friend who wanted to know my thoughts. As my position on abortion is heavily nuanced (as I believe it should be), watching this video was hard. Not because I was moved emotionally or anything, or because of any particular effect of the speaker, but because there is so much of the narrative left out. For those of you not inclined to watch the video, it is a 16 minute speech by Gianna Jessen, a woman who was born alive from a third trimester saline abortion in 1977, given in Australia on the eve of a vote about abortion. Her position is clearly pro-life, as is understandable for a woman in her position.
But I cannot help but think that there is a lot of the narrative that is left out. A little research will tell you that her parents were 17 at the time of her birth, and they gave her up for adoption because of cerebral palsy and various other complications Jessen had developed (likely as a result of the attempted abortion, but there's no real way to tell and I don't have enough information here). Jessen tells us that "she was hated from conception," but apparently not enough not to be carried through 7 and 1/2 months of pregnancy. She claims that neither the doctor nor her parents understood or knew the love of Jesus Christ (implying, by proxy, that all pro-choicers are atheist, a narrative not borne out by the statistics, or even, the demographics of women who get abortions every year).
There are many holes in the story and many questions left for the skeptical listener. Jessen has created a narrative in which she is the hero and her birth parents, the doctors, and even most of the nurses are the villains, because every good story needs a villain.
But what if? What if we saw those villains as the real people they are? What if we widened the lens of our story, the lens of the narrator, to include the backgrounds of all the characters? Do we find a scared, confused 17 year old mother in 1977 who wanted this baby but was possibly told bad information by her doctor, leading her to seek out a likely illegal 3rd trimester abortion? Do we find a doctor who listens, empathizes, and keeps young woman from doing such a procedure themselves (illegal at home abortions killed thousands of woman in the years before Roe v. Wade, and this birth happened just four short years after the legalization)?
Do we find human beings, sinners, flawed and trying to live their lives as best they can? Do we find real people?
When we skew the narrative, when we allow certain people, races, religions, classes, or, indeed, sexual orientations, to become either villain or hero, we do a disservice to all the humans involved in the story. We do a disservice to our neighbor.
In the recent rash of suicides as a result of anti-gay bullying, bullies have been skewered, vilified, and all but roasted on a spit above a fire lit from their schoolbooks. Now, before this gets taken wrong - I am not defending the actions of the bullies. I think they are wrong, despicable, cowardly, and very much culpable in the deaths of their classmates. They have committed an injustice against people who are just like them. Believe me, these past weeks have found me thinking "Lord, save us from your followers" more than once. But before we get too rabid-foaming-at-the-mouth-persecute-the-religious-right liberal here, we also must remember that they are people. The bullies are people inasmuch as their victims are people.
The narrative that the evangelical right has developed, in which the nonsensical "love the sinner, hate the sin" reigns, [a concept I am afraid is espoused even by my beloved CS Lewis (but he's a dualist too, so I actually disagree with him on a number of levels)], has created a world of inequality, a world in which children bully children for even the perception of being different, and these same children feel so much despair that they feel the need to take their own life.
But in the same vein, we cannot let the pendulum swing too far the other way - the religious right is a frequently vilified, scorned, and outright abused group of people. While I feel that the religious right (exhibited especially in the abortion and gay marriage debates) tends to skew the narrative so that liberals are quite literally conspiratorial villains hellbent on taking our "hard earned" money and jobs, the left tends to do similar work in skewering the religious right. Too often the narrative is filled with the Fred Phelps', Terry Jones's, and anti-gay bullies of the world, while ignoring the Jim Wallis's, the Mother Teresas, the Jon Foremans, Stephen Christians who are so prevalent in giving Jesus a good name again.
The narrative on both sides of the aisle fails to see the forest for the trees.
One of my favorite songs right now is "The General" by The Dispatch. While I was visiting the Korean War Memorial in Seoul, I walked amongst the tanks, planes, battleships and guns that stood as reminders of a war that tore brother from brother, and thought of reunification, and I listened to this song. The song tells the story of a decorated general in combat, who wakes up on the morning of battle and announces to his troops that he does not ask his troops to follow him into battle, saying, "I have seen the others, and I have discovered that this fight is not worth fighting. I have seen their mothers, and I will no other to follow me where I'm going. ... Go now, you are forgiven."
The General in that song has filled in his narrative. He has finally personalized the Other in his story - he gave his villains a face, a name, a story. He filled in those mis-imagined people, and realized that he could not ask others to walk into such a fight without allowing them the same benefit of knowing who it is that they are fighting. He refuses to allow young men to sacrifice themselves without having the full story. He knows that the only fight worth fighting occurs only after all the gaps in the narrative have been filled in, after the Other has been given a name, a face, and a voice, and it is then that a fight seems downright ridiculous.
It is only when we consider our enemies as human beings - with a story of their own to tell - that we can learn what it means to love our neighbor. Because your neighbor is the gay kid who hanged himself in his own backyard. Because your neighbor is the bully who harassed him every day in English class because he feared what was different. Your neighbor is the abortion survivor, the woman who tried to abort her, and the doctor who helped her do it. Your neighbor is both the man who wants to burn the Koran, and the man who sees the Koran as the holiest of books. Your neighbor is also the man holding a [ironically] rainbow striped "God Hates Fags" sign, and the grieving father of a soldier killed in Iraq whose funeral is being picketed. They are all human, all people with a past, a present and a future. And they are all your neighbor.
At the risk of a potentially blasphemous statement, committed in the name of poetic license:
"Go now. You are forgiven."