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The Cloak You Should Have Mended

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A world in which you are allowed (and increasingly expected to) publically opine on every issue whether you have expertise or not is going to perforce lead to radical generalizations.The ongoing debate over the Park 51 community center has shown the currency of the concept of Islam not as a different religion but as the diametric opposite of Christianity in the roster slot that was held by the very very mythical Satanism in the 70’s, transitioning to “New Age” in the 80’s and neo-Paganism in the 90’s. Every angel needs a devil for context.

Folks build systems of belief (and unbelief) to give their lives structure and to give their lives meaning.

Let’s start there. Let’s start with what I consider an unassailable position.

It is good for a life to have meaning.

Most of my current friends and acquaintances do that through creation of some sort of art.

Most of the friends in my older life did that through devotion to God.

My circles have always been composed of people trying to make more out of the breath they’ve been given.

In the age of self-selected media and underground tunnels between philosophical enclaves folks never come into contact with others that they disagree with except on the battlefield. And my old friends and new friends largely do nothing but lob bile grenades at one another. The grossest characteristics of any given ideology of belief set are applied in full to anyone exhibiting the smallest scintilla of a group identity.

To the standard pinko commie artist there is no such thing as a normal every day devout Christian… “they” are all gun waving Tea Party Birthers with Thomas Kinkade paintings of Jesus Riding a Dinosaur over their fire places. To the average charismatic evangelical Bible-believing Spirit-filled born-again there’s no such thing as a patriotic, conscientious, neighbor-loving, other-focused, everyday Joe liberal artist. Just the perpetually wasted, tree-hugging, America-hating, orgiastic abortion monkey.

Oddly, there is some wiggle room in the middle. There are also behaviors that could perhaps ratchet down the tension in the country,

My primary goal is Light Most Favorable.

The law of the land decrees that in certain instances the evidence presented be held in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, in others to the defendant. Action item number 1: Hold the presented statements of the opposition in the light most favorable to them before lobbing a brickbat. Or maybe in the words of my wife, you could, just for a minute, pretend that there’s the possibility they could be right.

Remember that there is a difference between an  actual devout practicing Christian and a cultural Christian, just as there is a difference between an authentic working artist and a hipster at a gallery opening.

Action Item #2: stop assuming that just because I don’t have faith I’m a gleeful god hater.

I love people of faith. TRUE people of faith. I love authentic devotion to anything really.

My problem with religion was generally lack of devotion and asceticism. I felt from an early age that if you professed to love the Lord Thy God mind|body|soul that you should be willing to… I dunno SHOW it somehow. You don’t need a hair shirt, but maybe you don’t need the spinning 18 karat gold rims that say JESUS SAVES when they spin. They’re not an evangelical witness. Yes I’m serious.

I thought that the practice of faith should be

a.) a process that

b.) set you apart from a world trying to make every dollar it could and

c.) be hard.

I never lived up to my own standards. I never succeeded at the faith I believed I should be living.

And then I lost it. It’s one of the great disappointments of my life.

Why would I be a god hater? I no longer believe that I can know whether he exists. But he hasn’t done anything to me. I often hate religious people but that’s because I don’t like YOU not your faith or your God. I think that YOU are a hypocritical, narrow minded, weak-faithed bigot. When I hate religion I hate it like I hate guns. I hate guns because of Dylan Klebold, not because of Smith and Wesson.

Anyway.

Action Item 2 is for the believers, stop assuming that my rage at the worst of your kind means I hate all of your kind. I am not a gleeful God hater. Quite the opposite. I miss him. If you’re out there? Call.

This video is a little dated. It’s Steve Taylor’s “Harder to Believe Than Not To”.

From the liner notes:

[the] song takes its title from a line found in the collected letters of Flannery O’Connor, acclaimed short-story writer and novelist from Georgia. Her literary friends in New York had a hard time believing that a writer of her caliber could profess to be something as common and unfashionable as a Christian. She reacts in her letter to the criticism that Christianity’s primary function is as a crutch for the weak-spirited, writing how they don’t understand the cost involved in following Jesus, that “it’s much harder to believe than not to believe.”

The quote stuck. The cost of discipleship–the ideal of taking up your cross everyday and following Jesus–makes it hard to believe, because Christianity demands things from us that we don’t naturally want to give. In the words of playwright Dennis Potter, “There is, in the end, no such thing as a simple faith.”

Action Item Number 3 is for non-believers. Stop assuming that the devout are all simple minded and that every talking head who claims Christ means it.

There are millions of Christians trying to legitimately live God-centered lives while providing for their families and you aren’t better than them simply because you sleep in on Sunday, The desire for ritual and higher purpose is a real thing and you don’t get to mock it because you chose a different ritual and a different calling.

Action Item number 4 is for everyone. Engage with “The Enemy”.

Actually go somewhere with someone who disagrees with you.

Hang out with the Godsquad or the Odinist down the street. Hug a hipster (is you can find one).

Make fun of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and latter day reactionary Rev. Al Sharpton but have a real life reference for the real lives that their rhetoric parodies. Stop negating others’ humanity out of a need for expedience.

And Action Item #5 is also for everyone.

Pray for each other. In whatever manner that prayer exists for you.

Sincerely, authentically wish nice things for others. Whether you use a spiritual intermediary or not the sooner we stop defaulting to hate and spite the sooner we get to the healing and ice cream.

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