let’s (actually) talk politics

Thursday 20 August 2009

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.

a sabbath mentality

Sunday 19 July 2009

In many religions, there is an idea of a day set aside for rest from work and labor, and usually it entails some kind of worship or ritual as well.  It’s oftentimes called the “Sabbath.” Every religion does things a little bit different, as do the people within that religion.  For some, it may mean just a trip to a church, mosque, or synagogue, others may have a family meal together, and still others may refrain from riding in a car or turning on/off electric lights (among many other options!).

A few weeks ago, I had a good conversation with a friend about honoring the Sabbath.  We were walking around a lake, far away from her home, and she was reminded how good it would be to get away from home and work in a place such as this one, as to more easily refrain from the temptations of cleaning her room, doing dishes, or undertaking other chores and activities that “needed to get done.”  I told her I thought it was a good place to start, and maybe a good way to begin the practice of ritually honoring the sabbath, but I hoped that soon she might become more confident in herself and able to resist those temptations to take up “work” that seemed to be beckoning in other places. While getting away can be helpful, it can also be limiting in the scope of allowing for what the sabbath might entail.  Or maybe that time away is exactly what you need on your sabbath.

For me, sabbath is about doing things that bring me joy and pleasure and release, things that bring me rest from the labors of things that I don’t necessarily want to do but must do anyway.  I try to attend a worship service each week, as it’s a ritual that helps me step aside and recognize the holy, but I also like to fill my day with other spirit-filling activities.

I’ll play my banjo, write letters, or go for a bike ride, but I don’t restrict myself to that which others easily see as leisure.  It’s really about how what I’m doing affects me that is important, isn’t it?  Doing laundry, when I’m able to hang the clothes on the line outside to dry, is soul-restoring to me, so why not do it on the “sabbath?”  Today, I plan to pick some blueberries, which to some might be seen as work.  But if I find enjoyment in it, I see no reason to refrain from it on my sabbath.  And if I pick for a while and it gets cumbersome, I’ll stop.

It’s all about a sabbath mentality.  What brings you joy?  What revives your soul?  What restores you after a week that maybe brought you down?  Take a day to do that, even if others might see it as “work.”  For truly, that’s what the sabbath is all about.


Wednesday 21 May 2008

After being linked by a few other blogs in the recent days and seeing my numbers just a bit, I figured I should maybe write a new post, since I haven’t written one (at least for my blog — the reason here) in a while and have done only a few in May. Before I get on, though, I’ll point you to one of the blogs that pointed to me (and maybe how you got here).

When I started discerning doing the work I committed my time in April and May to, I was a bit worried. I was worried about my safety, some, but probably my biggest worry was how my parents would react and whether or not they would accept and support what I was thinking of doing. (Mind you, this was way before I had a concrete date in mind and things were much more abstract — think November 2007.) Shortly after Thanksgiving, I visited the church in Chicago where I still hold my membership and discussed with my pastor (and friend) my concerns about the future but also the call that seemed to be getting stronger to really take another step in working toward peace and justice. I shared my concerns about possible estrangement if I felt a call but my parents wouldn’t support me for whatever reason, but also that I knew if I was feeling a call, I should be following that, right?

A few weeks went by and I returned to my parents’ house knowing I had to have the discussion of where I was at and what I might expect in terms of support from them. It was an emotional and tearful conversation as I shared how I was still discerning at this point in time but that I was truly concerned for my parents’ feelings, too, and was worried about fracturing our relationship and the possibility of having to choose between doing something I felt called to do and the relationships I held so dear. In the end, my parents affirmed that, though it might not be the easiest thing for them (and I might mention for me either) to accept, I should prayerfully continue to discern my call.

I think it was during that conversation that I told my mom that I knew, if worst came to worst, she’d share my story in a way similar to Cindy Sheehan, but I’d of course pray that wouldn’t be the case. I shouldn’t be surprised that even before I returned home, my parents were already sharing my story in a way that makes me more proud than I know how to express in words. I think they would say it’s an honor to have me as a son, but I certainly feel it’s an honor to have them as parents and am reminded even more so when I read words like those found in the blog mentioned above:
“Pastor Dana Bjorlin serves as a chaplain at St. Vincent and St. Anne hospitals in Toledo, and I have come to know him as a generally steady fellow. When he came to the microphone to share his son Eric’s experiences as a peace worker in the Middle East, he was overcome with emotion. When his wife, Peg, whom I’ve come to know as a generally cheery lady, observed a Circle of Truth exercise in which people role-played various folks in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she was overcome with emotion.”

When I think back on it now, I question whether it was ever really “support” that I doubted or feared would be there. In 26 years I should know better, I suppose, than to question my parents’ love and support for me and my path, wherever it may lead me. I guess sometimes things need to get a little complicated for us to be reminded that there are certain guarantees in life. For me, one of those guarantees is loving and supporting family members, no matter what.

I pray the same for you.

breadth of information

Friday 8 February 2008

So this could probably be classified as the “random blog of the month” if there was such a thing, but I figured “why not.” Anyway, I was starting to read this short article when I read the author and it reminded me of the boss I had @ the Transportation Library where I worked while in college. So I went to their website, and sure enough, on the staff page, there was his name, still working in the same place I had left him four years ago, after four years of working in document delivery.

Thinking about my days there got me thinking about these things called Environmental Impact Statements, which really don’t have anything to do with transportation but we had become a repository for some years earlier when someone donated a lot of them to our collection And thinking of those triggered in me the time when EISes had somehow come up in conversation with someone (it took me brushing my teeth to remember exactly who — a librarian friend of mine in Chicago).

And all that, then, got me to thinking how fun it is to have a breadth of knowledge about many and varying things. I like to be in the know about things like waterboarding as well as who’s with or not with who on Grey’s Anatomy (or currently what exactly is up with the writer’s strike) — which is maybe why I don’t feel bad subscribing to Entertainment Weekly! I really enjoy talking to people (once we get started), and being able to discuss topics we both have knowledge and interest in makes for successful conversation. There are, of course, things I really enjoy and love to talk about — like socialism, the movies, and Ohio — but getting around and being able to draw from a large, sometime random, base of knowledge and experience is no only fun, it’s helpful.

So next time someone gets on you for gaining knowledge about something they deem inappropriate or unworthy of your time, just think of it as research for that next unknown conversation where you’ll be able to bring it up. (But watch how much time you spend on any one thing — unless it helps you win a game show or it’s your job, no one needs to be a snobby savant.)


Sunday 3 February 2008

So this past Saturday evening was the “Bjorlin Bash.” The guys I stayed with (in their dining room) this past fall hadn’t really asked me for any rent or payment, but I decided to give them a little money (nothing even close to what I would have normally paid) when I left to do with what they wanted. Anyway, after discussing it, they decided to use the money to throw a party, and the facebook listing (well, at least one of them) was named for me, so I decided it would have been irresponsible if I didn’t go, so that’s how I spent about 4 hours Saturday evening.

Now I wasn’t expecting to know anyone there, really, and I surely didn’t. The only person I really knew was my friend from college Jason who I had connected with in the first place to stay there. Then I knew his two housemates from living there, and I also lucked out by knowing this other couple I had met in the fall when they came over for a small Indian food party. But I’m guessing there were possibly 50 people there (it was happening, I must say — I was impressed), and I didn’t really want to follow Jason around all evening, so I had to get extroverted. And as surprising as it is to me and to you, I actually did!

Well, not at first. I did find Jason, and he was was the couple I knew and 3 other co-workers, so I hung around with them for a while, but I knew I couldn’t last the whole party that way. But luckily I had a few other things going for me. First, my picture being attached to facebook invite helped a few random people come up to me and say hello, and they also just introduced me to others, saying, “Do you know who this is? It’s eric bjorn (I corrected them eventually), the dude who got this party going.” So, as is good for me, I was introduced to others, which made it easier for me to talk with them.

Secondly, I wore my “Ohio Love Me” shirt — now for some people this shirt has been played out, but in this group, it was new and definitely a hit. A great conversation starter and reason for someone to strike up a conversation. And, as someone said, “I bet you’re happy you wore that shirt — you’ve probably had all kinds of girls touching your chest all night, right?” Which is probably true, and more apt to happy the longer the night goes on. So that was fun to have, and an interesting way to connect with people.

But — but — I also actually just went out and started random conversations with people! I figured there was nothing to lose, and it surely beat being bored for the whole night, so I started chatting up people, asking who they knew that invited them, and just that initial “get to know you” kind of thing that has never been my forte — and not that it is now, but I definitely surprised myself. And after meeting some fun people to chat with, I continued to mingle, but this way I had other people I could return to throughout the night that I could reconnect with if desired. And it was nice, too, as I had some people to walk to the Metro station with when I left, and I even got connected to some people who might be having a party themselves in the near future, so that would be a fun, thing, too. So is this how people do it?

I remember parties in college and even one this past September where there were maybe a few people I knew, so I hung with them and didn’t really meet anyone new, but it was actually kind of nice to not have that safety net this time. I think a lot of the people I did end up talking with were largely talking to people there they knew before the night began, but it was really fun meeting new people, which I’ve come more and more to realize I enjoy, a lot. I may not be extroverted, so it’s more of a challenge, but I think this was a good step for me in branching out and taking the next step of meeting new people in new ways. Who knows what the future may bring!