So I was visiting St. Luke’s, this (new to me) church in Brooklyn, and look over and see a professional camera operator! Unfortunately, it wasn’t a positive reason for their visit.
This was an interesting article I came across a few days ago:
Dad Pleads Not Guilty on Violating Court Order For Taking Daughter to Church
The mom’s Jewish, the dad was Catholic but apparently converted to Judaism when the two were married (though according to sources from the article, he remained connected to his Catholicism). The parents get divorced, the mom has custody with the dad having some visitation rights, and one weekend the dad goes and has the child baptized in a Catholic church. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the mom gets the judge to order an injunction so the dad was forbidden from “exposing his daughter to any other religion than the Jewish religion,” as stated in the court order.
Was the judge (state) overstepping its rights of separation of church and state? How is this to be dealt with, especially when the religions are as different as Jewish and Christian (as opposed to something like Catholic or Lutheran)? Does the mom have to accept this, or do her legal rights of custody grant her other rights in what her child can or cannot be exposed to?
I doubt it will end here, but I wonder how far it might go.
Written last week, but I think still very timely:
It was an innocuous breakfast table comment to start the day: my grandfather simply mentioned that, as is happening across the country, people were out in full force at a local town hall meeting to declare their views on the current health care reform situation. But then he took a breath and showed sympathy for one side, saying he, too, disagreed with a plan that called for euthanasia.
I spoke up, a little too quickly and rashly, and said simply, “That’s not true.”
A few more sentences were exchanged between the two of us before he declared, “That’s it. I’ve always made a point to not talk religion and politics.”
And that was that. No more opportunity to share thoughts and ideas. No time to see what beliefs we shared in common and how we differed. No chance to try and separate truth from fiction. We left the table carrying the same beliefs, opinions, and likely some falsehoods, that we had held minutes before. Did he understand that I, too, have issues with euthanasia, but it was his facts I was questioning? We never got far enough for me to find out.
I know my grandfather isn’t the only one to avoid the topics of politics and religion. Every Thanksgiving, we are reminded that a civil gathering will include no mention of the recent election, the new Supreme Court justice, and whether God ordained marriage to be only between a man and a woman (just to name a few taboo topics). Everyone knows that it never ends well when people “talk politics.”
And that’s just the problem. We don’t talk politics; we scream them. The recent congressional forums are just the latest example of groups staking out their ground and shouting their beliefs to anyone who will listen, or at least so that no one else can be heard. Everyone is talking, but no one seems to be listening.
When I moved in with my grandparents this Spring, I decided to attend a discussion at their church that connected current events to the Bible. Religion and politics, all in one place! The first week I attended, I quickly discovered that many participants held political convictions contrary to my own. As I listened to them talk, I thought to myself how easy it would be to simply not show up next week and find some people who felt like I did, who “understood me.”
But as I thought about it, I realized just how much we needed each other.
In our current society, we insulate ourselves with people who think just like us and believe exactly what we do. We watch talking heads or listen to radio commentators who reinforce our beliefs, who reassure us that it’s not we who are crazy, but it’s “those people.” Religious figures either avoid anything that could be called political, so as not to alienate any of their followers, or preach loud and long a particular ideology to tap into one group or another. And because we cannot choose our family, we simply avoid hot button issues with relatives altogether.
Should we really wonder why the political divide continues to widen and people become more entrenched in their views and ideologies?
I decided to stick with the current events discussion group, and it became the one place where I can have civil discussions with people I disagree with politically and still leave with no hard feelings. We talk and we listen. We make no commitments that we’ll agree with one another or change our minds about topics, and that’s OK. We respect one another, recognizing that while we might not hold a similar view or opinion, that doesn’t make it any less valid for that person to hold their particular beliefs if they have the facts straight.
If there is hope for this country (I personally remain unconvinced), it’s not going to be found in one “side” taking power over another and imposing their will upon the minority. Instead, it’s to be found in people sitting down with those they disagree with and openly listening to what others have to say. Nonviolent communication is a practice where you engage with others, recognizing that you each hold some piece of the truth, listening for what exactly that might be, and moving forward with newfound insights toward a positive outcome. If our communication continues to be the violent yelling of fundamentalists unwilling to listen to those who believe differently, we are doomed to fail.
We face many intricate and difficult challenges as a country, but they have still not reached insurmountable status. Instead, we find ourselves at a turning point, all the more reason to put down our sandwich boards and get off our soap boxes right away and engage in some constructive conversation.
The fate of the country depends on it.
In lieu of any new writings (there is one, but I’m trying to get in into a newspaper first, so you’ll have to wait a little longer for that one), I went back to the archives for a short little piece I wrote about 3 and a half years ago. It’s not as powerful as it could be, but I’m not in the revising/editing mood today (and it’s a Sunday, so I’m not going to do more than I feel like). Enjoy!
I rode with a pigeon on the El today. I don’t mean “pigeon” as some slang that may be out there – I mean the kind of pigeon my mom finds so cute. The kind of pigeon you find in big cities, strutting around, eating food scraps, and disregarding all the “NO LOITERING” signs. ((But let me start again.))
Now, because I live in Evanston, a little bit north of the Chicago city limits, I have to catch a train, the Purple Line, so I can go about 8 blocks to catch another train, the Red Line, that will take me the remainder of my journey. On this particular Sunday, I was about 8 seconds from making the train I need to get to assure myself that I’ll arrive at church on time. But as it was, I saw the train pulling away as I ran up the stairs. I had to wait, reading some Anne Lamott for the 10 minutes until the next train came. Usually this meant I would get to my final El destination at 10:00, just the time church was starting, but as it worked out, I arrived to the front of the door of the church about 8 seconds before the service began. So in the end, it all worked out.
But let’s not forget about the pigeon. I missed my normal train, so thus I had to take the second, arriving at the Howard El platform and changing to the Red Line, looking at my clock and hoping I would be able to make it on time.
Now, you might find it weird when I say this, but it happens to be an integral part of what occurred this Sunday morning: Whenever I ride the El and will be stopping at a familiar location, I try to position myself on the train so that I might be as close to the stairs or escalators as possible as to limit my time of walking up and down the platform after arriving at my location. In this case, it meant walking a little bit back before boarding an empty car on the Red Line train. I decided to sit facing backward in the middle of the train, but I soon moved a few seats away so that I could have some more legroom. And as I sat there, doors of the train still wide open, waiting for departure, the pigeon walked in.
Now, I have heard of a few instances where a bird had somehow flown into the open window of a train or bus and then struggled to get out, but this was nothing like that. The pigeon simply walked onto the train and looked around, as if making sure this was the right train to get it where it needed to go. And when the train’s voice bellowed, “Doors closing,” the pigeon didn’t even take notice, instead strolling over to investigate some interesting bits of nothing on the floor across the way.
All I could do was sit and smile, not able to decide what I wanted to do more: laugh or cry. This was one of those moments where you realize, as it is happening, that you’re experiencing something that will probably never happen again. The pigeon was so nonchalant about it all, too. It had pretty much taken over the back half of the train car, the portion I was facing, pecking away at whatever caught its attention. I glanced behind me to see if anyone else was enjoying this once in a lifetime event, but the only passengers behind me, two men, were busy reading, something I couldn’t yet bring myself to do with the excitement of the pigeon.
Both then, in the moment, and now looking back, I have to liken my experience to the scene in the movie American Beauty where we get to see a video of an ordinary plastic bag doing its little dance. Ricky, the character who recorded the incident, proclaims, “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.” Ricky is actually showing another character this video because it is so special to him and he wants to share that with this other character. And as the bird pranced around, taking ownership of the train as if it were its new home, I wished I had brought my video camera with me that morning. But as I think about it now, I’m actually glad I didn’t.
One of the things that made that experience so special was knowing that, no matter what, it was a finite experience that would not last forever. Even if the pigeon held its ground and refused to leave as more and more people entered the train, eventually I would arrive at my destination and leave the pigeon behind. Or if I decided I would continue to ride with my new friend, the train would sometime reach the end of the line and I’d have to get off then. There was no way to make this experience last forever, though I was enjoying it so much, I probably wouldn’t have minded if it did.
And if you think about it, isn’t life full of those types of moments? While not every moment may be exciting and delightful, many are. But we usually don’t care to realize just how amazing our experiences are, not when we’re in the moment and not even when the moment has passed. We’re so concerned about what’s coming next, we choose not to live in those moments of joy and bliss. But that doesn’t stop us from living in those moments of sorrow and agony.
My pigeon experience didn’t last forever. In fact, it couldn’t have lasted more than about three minutes. As we approached the next stop, the pigeon started to mosey over to the doors of the train. The doors opened, and the pigeon slowly crept toward the cold air that was rushing into our car, into an area of the train where my view was obstructed. I didn’t think the pigeon was walking fast enough to get out in time, but as the doors closed, I looked out my window just in time to see this bird dart from the train and fly away in the direction from which we had just come. The pigeon had had its fun, and it didn’t even have to wait until the next train to get back to the Howard stop. For all I know, that pigeon does this kind of thing a few times a day, taking a little joy ride to keep life interesting.
I stared in awe at the floor where the pigeon had been wandering, enjoying my thoughts as I pondered why that crazy bird had wandered onto the train with me. Once again, I almost wanted to cry.