Monday, December 28, 2015

Conversations kill

Mix Bakeshop
Decaf Americano
Almond Croissant

After Roseburg, my sister sent me a message asking how I was doing.  I told her that it hurts every time, more when it's close.  Roseburg is only a little bit north of here.  One of the survivors from UCC was here, yesterday, lighting the menorah on the town plaza for the first day of Hanukkah, and speaking about peace and bringing more light to the world.

Planned Parenthood - been there for each of my pregnancies, getting the confirmation I needed to apply for assistance to raise each child.

And just a few days ago, San Bernardino - even closer to home.  I've driven those roads.  I know those landmarks.  The shooters lived in Redlands.  I grew up there.  I was up late into the night scanning Facebook for any mentions of family or friends killed or hurt.  One of the names of the victims is similar to an old classmate's.  Her little sister, maybe?

And the rest of the walls of social media are papered with their usual fluff.  Life continues amidst such horrors, and it always seems perverse and strange to those close to the hurt.  But I don't feel any resentment.  This is just the moment for lolcats.  This is the moment the Kardashians fulfill their social purpose.  I have zero interest in them, personally, but I don't hate them.  The Kardashians, and all the other celebrities under the media's relentless gaze, are there for those who care to care about them... when you need a mental palate cleansing, especially after being overwhelmed by all the distress of the world.

It's okay to be interested in other people's stories.  It's very human, and it's actually very important.

After Paris, many people pointed out the huge amount of media attention that terrible act of carnage received compared to the terror attacks in Beirut, just the day before.  It occurred to me that, for Americans, Paris is close.  Paris is a place many Americans have traveled to, and for the rest, Paris is a celebrity, that familiar stranger from a multitude of stories that have become part of our lives.  From the vantage of the stories of our lives, Beirut might as well be the North Pole.  But even the North Pole get's more press these days...

This is exactly why the lack of diversity in our stories and our news of the world allows horrors to repeat, again and again, without a blip in our newsfeed.

Mix Bakeshop
Caramel Cider
Morning Bun

And now it's the 22nd, and almost closing time.  Much has happened in the last couple weeks.  So much of it the expected noise, but I am remain concerned.  So much free-floating hate...  It's expected that a salesman would try to exploit a market.  The great blustering moron would obviously try to stoke the fear and propose something as monstrously unAmerican and deeply dangerous as a religious registry and a ban on any incoming Muslims.  "Until we can figure out what's going on here."  You fucking asshat.  We KNOW!  The grown-ups have been having the earnest conversations about how these different groups have evolved, what ideologies they accept or reject, and, mostly, what NOT to do about it.  There are many people in many areas, from government to military to academia and journalism, who know a great deal about "what's going on here."  And they know that Islam is not the fucking problem.

But the used car salesman is still not worse than the tragic number of people willing to buy that bullshit.

In case anyone who happens to be reading this is inclined to point to San Bernardino as validation of their mistaken notion that Islam is inherently violent and nothing like Christianity, you have been lied to.  The fearmongers have made their case, made it sound very convincing, and it is tragic that you have cut yourself off from anyone who could counter that hate.  That is not the world as it is.  First, all these religions are religions of peace.  I can find you the quotes.  Also, these religions are guilty of long histories of violence and oppression.  I can find quotes for you of some really, not subjectively, terrible stuff in the Bible that I guarantee many Christians have never committed to memory.

It really doesn't matter the name of the group, or the policies they are supposed to obey - people are people.  Terrorism, hate, violence - they are not the domain of any religion or people or ideology.  They are a reflex of the human mind.  They are age-old.  They have been with us a long time and have been brought out of us and directed toward anyone of any convenient label.

But alongside the history of our violence is the history of our love and compassion for others.  Within any of these religions you can find the tension between the teachers who compel you to embrace the Other and those who demand you "purge" the Other.  That is where the hazard of religion lies.  If you start from a premise that there is a divine authority behind these teachings, it makes it difficult to refuse to do what one of these teachers says.  Which one of these teachers do you follow?  Questioning can be deadly, so choose wisely...

Downtown Grounds
12oz Soy Fireside Spice Latte
Berry Muffin

And here we are on the 28th.  I'm never very productive around the holidays...

This season, friends and family celebrated their traditions in their own ways.  One friend observed the winter solstice by keeping a fire lit through the longest night, for friends to come and go, share food and stories, reflect on the past year and look forward into the next year with positive intention.  Another friend mentioned his Muslim family had matzah ball soup for Christmas.  And some of my Jewish friends donned their obnoxious Hanukkah sweaters and watched the new Star Wars flick (again).

We observed our Christmas morning traditions, as well.  Beneath a living pagan wreath, beneath a miniature wrought-iron Saturnalia tree, beneath cards of well-wishing from family and friends, our little family gathered and exchanged gifts and sweet treats.  The first, the Santa Gift.  The one gift we give to remember the importance of kinetic lovingkindness, given in the name of a bishop, a teacher of the kindness of Jesus.  Though the bishop has come to bear more resemblance to the myth of Odin with his flying eight-legged horse.  So sayeth Wikipedia.  The point - the reason he's worth remembering - is the kindness.  No matter what religion or tradition you keep, no matter what land or people you hail from, kindness and compassion are found everywhere, and, in the end, they are the only things that can save us.

That sounds like an airy-fairy platitude.  Right up there with, "Love is all you need."  Tell someone without food or shelter that all they need is "love."  Tell someone who has just been mugged that "kindness" is their best defense.  And yet... if we turn to anger, or fear, or hate after we have suffered, if we put that into the world... how can we expect to have someone open their doors to shelter us, feed us, and share stories through the darkest nights of our lives?

I've decided I don't believe in retribution.  I don't think there is such a thing, because we can never go back and "correct" a grievance.  Our actions only go forward.  If we want peace in the future, we have to act in peace now.  Be kind.  Now.

When I began writing this weeks ago, I chose the title from a line from a Stone Temple Pilots' song, in remembrance of the passing of their front-man, Scott Weiland.  I see, in these acts of violence, the conversations behind them.  The conversations we are having, and those we are not.  We are hearing so much conversation about who to hate, not how to stop hate.  It's that human reflex again, fear being twitched, repeatedly, until the hate muscles spasm violently.

I have a cousin I haven't seen in years.  When I catch his Facebook posts, they almost always break my heart.  One particularly virulent anti-Muslim post actually caused me to rest my head in my hand and weep.  All I could think of was how my uncle was probably the kindest man I have ever known.  But my cousin was robbed of his voice, from a young age.  I can not believe, if my uncle had been around to counter this nonsense with his compassionate voice, that my cousin could have gone so far down a path of hate and unreason.

I chose not to comment on my cousin's post, not wanting to throw down the Dead Dad Card.  I should have said something, though.  There has to be pushback, if only to remind our loved ones that the ideologies they are being sold are not universal.  At the time, I felt weary and overwhelmed, because the walls between my cousin and I, the walls between real conversation taking place, are brutally fortified.  But leaving the conversations as they are, those turning victims into villains, and villains into martyrs, that's what gets people killed.  Even the casual verbal violence, stereotypes, repeated falsehoods - they promote the Us versus Them mentality.  That leads to "good" people making bad policy, and to crazy people finding a violent purpose.

I worry for Muslim friends, my Jewish friends, my gay friends, my black friends, my female friends...  I worry less for my white Christian friends (no matter what Starbucks is putting on their cups), but that doesn't mean I somehow don't care about them.  I worry less about their safety (except my friends who live too near to tornadoes... or blizzards... or wildfires), but I worry about those who embrace their skin color or religion as a group identity.  I worry about those who embrace these false distinctions, or who trivialize or dismiss the wrongs other people have suffered, who think they're whining or playing martyrs.  I worry about my gun-owner friends who do not fight for better gun regulations.  There are so many obvious fixes, so much data we can discuss...  I worry about anyone who wants to keep our conversations separate.

If you disagree with any of this... come sit with me by the fire.  We can share food.  We can share the stories that show how our different names and skins, religions and opinions, are the same story of our different journeys bringing us together today.

Time to wrap it up.

Please, enjoy your holy days... and in your every days, may you give kindness and find kindness given back to you.

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