Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is it a world to hide virtues in?

"Conceal me what I am; and be my aid
For such disguise as, haply, shall become
The form of my intent."

When I was in my teens I started collecting the writings of countercultural figures of the 1960s. I was fascinated by their hope, their optimism, their rhetoric. Especially the concepts of peaceful living, sharing, community, love, respect, freedom, reverence, joy, and so forth.
As time passed I learned more history which changed everything in regards to how I viewed these ideals. First, I would hear from my father about the 1960s as he would spy me reading some brightly colored Yippie tract. My father was a Quaker in the 1960s and a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. He had a very different view of the 1960s than the mainstream media's rewritten version. It was hell for him. It was a nightmare. He told me that those countercultural figures I was reading and putting up posters of, the ones who the media throw up on the screen with every 1960s montage, represented the thoughts of a few thousand people in the whole country in the 1960s, and they were mainly in two or three cultural hubs (which were not the cities where my father lived.) The bulk of the country was all gung-ho for the war, no matter how they try to rewrite it. And my dad has horror stories.

And then there were bits that leaked into my consciousness like Abbie Hoffman offing himself with a bullet in his brain; Jerry Rubin's Growing Up at 35 and death on Wall Street; Timothy Leary's CIA file where he very well may have fingered a few Weather Underground folk; Allen Ginsberg's kind of obvious self-promotion and lack of greatness in his work post, say, White Shroud (I have The Ballad of the Skeletons within arm-reach to prove it!); Hunter Thompson offing himself with a bullet in his brain; The Grateful Dead in the year Jerry died making more money than IBM (plus the Grateful Dead sounding like they did anytime after, say, about 5 years after Pigpen died. Who in their right mind even owns a copy of Go To Heaven?) Add to that my going to Dead shows and Phish concerts and taking trips to the Bay to try to find some of this wonder, loving kindness, energy, and instead finding some of the most self-absorbed and self-serving pessimists I've ever met. Where was the love? Where was the peace? Where was the community?
Where indeed.

The best and most abiding thing to come from the 1960s counter-culture is Sesame Street.

Then, Laurie and I watched Twelfth Night the other night. There is a sub-plot (which I think actually takes up the bulk of the stage time) that largely revolves around two polarized characters. The two in question are Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch. Malvolio is a Puritan (not exactly overtly although at one point one of the characters likens him to one. It is clear that Puritans were the group that Shakespeare meant to lampoon with that particular character. Bear in mind that was very timely and modern in that day. And perhaps today but I will come to that in a moment.) Sir Toby Belch is, as the name may lead you to assume, a drunkard, carouser, and generally the character that we come to love and side with (with perhaps a few reservations) because he is the fun one. Malvolio comes out to repremand Sir Toby and friends as they are having a loud, drunken, song laden party. Our strongest reservation toward Sir Toby comes because the rest of the sub-plot comprises sort of a vendetta against Malvolio for being a killjoy which at times falls very much on the bad side of cruel. I am thinking of one bit in particular at the beginning of the revenge where they trick Malvolio into thinking that a lady is in love with him through a forged note where the "lady" tells Malvolio to show up with cross-gartered bright yellow socks and to smile a lot. At the hint of a young lady's love, Malvolio casts aside all of his puritanical trappings and, indeed, we all get a chuckle at his yellow socks and ridiculous smile. All it took was the suggestion of love. On the opposite side and I venture to guess a wink from Shakespeare to the audience comes when Malvolio is speaking ill of Sir Toby, he says of Sir Toby that he has “no respect of place, persons, nor time.” Sir Toby is ribald, bawdy, drunken and foul in front of beggars, priests, lawyers or kings, but he is consistently so. No circumstance leads him to be untrue to that aspect of his character.

Which lead me to think on a few other subjects including my own spiritual path.

There was a Youtube video that my sister sent me this week from a Rainbow Gathering in Wyoming last year. The sheriff's department decided to invade and then, for no visible reason whatsoever (no violence, no rocks thrown, no reason at all), the cops start shooting hippies with beanbag guns and mace balls. Well, I assume the reason largely had to do with the good ol ' boys not wanting hippies feeling welcome in their jurisdiction and getting a little carried away. These things happen. I remember them vividly from my protesting days. But one of the unexpected (and I suspect unintended) aspects I noticed from the video was how enraged (although I hasten to add never violent) the Gatherers became at the violence. Understandably to be sure, they had every right to be there and doing what they were doing. But what struck me was that the violence was not being matched... but just barely.

I began to think of having a changed life, being a changed person. Because life and circumstances often turn on us in such a way that the universe seems to be playing a wicked game of "see what it takes to make the Quaker hit you."

And I rather think this may be near what James had in mind when he wrote "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." I was remarking to Laurie how for my entire adult life God has provided for me and yet now two months into being laid off I am a ball of worry over where my next job is going to come from. Why should I doubt? And what does this mean for my walk. I said "You know, Laurie, I look at that in myself and wonder what I would do if I were at the end of the row of Christians who were one by one being beheaded." And she very wisely replied, "I actually think the harder one would be being at the end of the line of people denying Christ so they don't get their heads chopped off and what do you do when they get to you."
I do think it is very good to look at one's self every once in a while and think "What kind of man am I?" Especially when you are in a fairly comfortable time in your life.

Also, I think that we really ought to be marked by our love and our grace. We ought to be the people that people go to for love and grace. I told Laurie that so often I have found that the doctrinally flimsy churches are the most loving and accepting while the supposedly doctrinally sound churches are the most forbidding and legalistic (let me take great pains to say that I am not talking at all about my own church. I love my church very much.) Which rather suggests to me that they are not actually doctrinally sound because if they were they would be marked by their love and grace. Yesterday, I had to explain to my atheist neighbor about how my religion has nothing to do with picketing people's funerals. Because that is increasingly what people associate with Christianity! I have some frustration in wanting to show radical grace, preach the scandalous freedom that is in Christ, reverence for life (in the many ways that can be interpreted), compassion, joy, the fruits of the spirit and love love love for my dear neighbor whoever they may be as a fellow human no worse than I, no matter who they may be. It is difficult when the bloody ghost of Jerry Falwell looms over the label like a deflating dirigible. What to say to my out-and-proud-gay friend from college who posts on Facebook about people protesting a funeral of a loved one, and those people are also calling themselves Baptists? And so I am left holding a bag again. So often I feel so alien in my own religion, especially from those in my religion loud enough to make it onto the news.

(At least, historically.
That may not continue to be the case in this brave new world. I don't know if you've caught it, but there seems to be a very vocal group calling for the downfall or repentant restructuring of the major news sources {I'm looking at you, CNN} after the Iran Election Coverage Debacle. Who knows! Maybe we shall finally all be free of sensationalism as the driving force behind our news sources. Wouldn't that be a lovely surprise?!!?)

Because the truth is that I don't hate anyone and I don't think there is one scrap of good doctrine that would lead me to. I want to let everyone know that honestly, in my heart of hearts, I love everyone just the way they are, and that I am probably more rank of a sinner than any of them, and that God forgave me anyway in the midst of that. One of the key points of our beliefs is that we are no better than anyone else. Do we really believe this? This ought to make us love everyone, but it doesn't. I am so weary of a set of wonderful ideals becoming a thinly veiled excuse to hate, for self-righteousness and pride.

Really I guess in a way I am still that strange lost and very lonely child who wants to love everyone and love God. At least I like to think so. I hope that I am. I know that I cannot do it by my own steam and that getting hit in the face with a mace ball could rile me toward hatred. I have no hope without Christ.

And in the end I said to Laurie that I naturally find myself associating far more with Sir Toby (and got a laugh when she asked "Which one was he again?" and I said "the fat, drunken one.") I would like to have “no respect of place, persons, nor time.” I really would hope that when the rubber meets the theological road I find that I really do believe what I claim to believe.


  1. I grew up in the 60s (in the Midwest) and was pretty oblivious of the Hippies other than what I saw in the news. My classmates and family were too busy getting jobs, hoping not to be drafted, serving in Vietnam, marrying, etc. I think I figured the Hippies were dreaming Utopia which I knew for a fact did not and could not exist. As for loving everyone? I wish I could. There have been too many times in my life when I've had to draw the line in the sand to protect self and family. Does that mean I hated the person on the other side of that sandy line...I don't think so. Might have to think harder on that one but I don't think so. I believe I was protecting the ones on my side of that line from neglect, damage and destruction...even if it meant being brutal in my admonishment to that person not to cross over to my side again, ever again. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between discernment and judgment. And sometimes (as sinful critters) we protect as well as we can. I do highly respect and admire those who seem to love better than I do. But I also remember the righteous anger of Christ as he cleared the temple and as he admonished those who hated him. And certainly remember His righteous judgment to come.
    P.S. I will continue to pray in regards to your job search. Bless you.

  2. Hi Judy! Fancy meeting you here.
    I've often - very often - been told by Paul that "sometimes loving someone means wanting and doing everything in your power to STOP them from continuing in their bad behavior."

  3. Thanks for commenting, Judy.
    Yes, like Laurie says, I should probably define love a little more precisely. I think of the homeless problem we have in our neighborhood with illegal camping and people smoking crack right on the street curb. We have single women living on either side of us, one with small children. It is not exactly loving to our neighbors or even the indigents to allow that behavior to go on. Sometimes it is loving to call the police on someone.

    Or, put another way, if we were pastors at a hypothetical church and we had a fully, earnestly repentant child molester come through our doors we absolutely forgive them and restore them to the congregation. We do not, however, allow them to work in children's ministry.

    Thank you for the kind words. Your prayers are certainly appreciated.