Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Would Jonathan Do?

It goes without saying that as elated as I am at the landslide election of Barack Obama, I am depressed and disgusted with the passing of Proposition 8 here in California. It's not only the fact that those who typically squeal the loudest about freedom are the first who want to deprive others of it that repulses me; I would expect self-professed "Christians" to at the very least tell the truth. I receive a daily feed from Transgendered News which includes the positive with the negative, and I regularly see in the propaganda of the "Christianists," a wellspring of half truths, chop-logic, and outright lies. Being in the group that is on the receiving end of this barrage of flung feces is bad enough, but when it comes from groups that profess to believe in a doctrine of love, I am sick unto vomiting. And it was a vomiting of lies spread primarily by the Mormon Church with (I am told) out-of-state funding, which pushed Prop 8 through by a narrow margin. The Catholic Church was also instrumental - for which I'll take a cheap shot: given its problems with pederasty over the years, one would think this church would stay the hell out of the fray. There are times when I am tempted to write modern Christianity off as simply another hate group.

And yet...

Many of my friends are Pagans. My faith hovers somewhere between Christianity in its earliest forms and Zen Buddhism. When I hear certain of my friends lambaste Christianity in general for historical excesses and abuses on the part of inquisitors, grotesquely corrupt popes and cardinals, pathological monks, and hypocritical TV huckster evangelists, I try to remind them that these are aberrations. They did not and do not practice what Jeshua Ben Joseph of Nazareth taught. I've read and taught the Sermon on the Mount many times, and at its core is this: forgive others if you want any hope of being forgiven. So a true follower of the teachings of Jesus does not condemn; s/he forgives. Or (since I've got major problems with forgiving anybody who has done absolutely nothing that has caused anyone harm) try this : Treat every person you meet as if that person is in a state of grace. In other words: Have humility.

I believe I've mentioned elsewhere the little card that I found on a sidewalk in college and which even now is mingled amongst the clutter on my desk. It reads: "If you think you know what's going on, you're probably full of shit." In other words, once more: Have humility. Part of that humility is not being so all-fired sure that your hot line to the Deity is any more static-free than the person's next to you.

OK, so this is what I try to live by, and I've (ahem) exhibited a tendency to expect others to live up to certain codes which I have espoused. So it looks like I've got a pretty big plank in my eye when I expect so-called Christians to follow the teachings of their Messiah: Love, Forgive, and Don't Judge. Oh, and while you're at it, Don't Tell Lies.

You know where I am seeing these qualities? In my hedonistic high school students. My 99% Latino students overwhelmingly supported Obama and opposed Proposition 8. And they did so on moral grounds - they felt that the war was obscene, that it was time for more responsible government, and that a committed relationship, regardless of the gender of those involved, should be honored and supported. I had reason, then, on Wednesday to console one of my 11th graders who is Lesbian. The future is with her and her peers. Obama was elected because of the impetus of young voters who have abandoned the prejudices of previous generations. A black president? About time! And while we're at it, how about a Latina governor? About time! And these attitudes are not the attitudes of my students alone. I've seen it in young people across the board. I reminded my student of all this. I told her that she must take her power and her rights and have faith in the future. She left my room with a smile. She's been trying hard in class the past couple of days.

A few minutes ago, my landlady called me to say there's a big protest going on at the Mormon Temple in Westwood. It was the Mormon Church that pumped the most money into the Prop 8 campaign. It also told the most lies and tried to extort funds from businesses that contributed to the Anti-Prop 8 campaign. I've read that there's a movement afoot to strip the church of its tax-free status. There was a time when I would come to the defense of Mormonism when my fundamentalist (and now former) brother-in-law would refer to it as a cult. Now I'm not so generous. But it's 7 pm on a school night, the week has been exhausting, and I just don't have the energy to get made up and drive over there. (I may be protesting, but be damn sure I'll look presentable.) I may join in tomorrow or on the weekend. Then again, other than letting our anger and disappointment be known, I don't know what can be accomplished by an overt demonstration. It may be gratifying to vent, but the winning of hearts and minds is accomplished more slowly, gently, and subtly.

I believe that the very same values which the proponents of Prop 8 are supposed to display and don't are those which will bury it and all hateful thoughts. I'm thinking of my friend Jonathan, who used to teach chemistry at my school and is now a principal. He's a black man, he's gay, he's one of the most dedicated educators I've ever known, he exudes love at every pore, he's been in a committed relationship for years, and he is a devout Christian. So WWJD? What would Jonathan do? He would do what he's been doing for years: teaching by example, forgiving, loving all who comes his way, working quietly within his craft for the betterment of all. I haven't seen him in about a year and a half. As I said, he's principal at another school (an out gay principal!!). When he was on campus, though, he was one of the people to whom I was out. I expressed my admiration for him more than once. He was quiet in his acceptance of praise. But then, he has humility.

Advising patience, perseverance, love, and humility, however, is mighty cold comfort for the countless people who are effected by this hate-based legislation here in California and in other states. My friend Abby writes of her personal heartache. But I see in her and my friend Jonathan and my 11th grader the eventual change that will come. Forgive me for being an English major, but I feel a quote coming on, from William Faulkner's Nobel acceptance speech in which he spoke about the "old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice." He's talking about writing. I'm writing about living. And I'm saying that the best way to nullify hatred and fear is to consciously, mindfully live these verities, and, through our lives and actions, prove the haters wrong. And perhaps we can help certain Christians learn the lessons they should have learned while they were so busy paying attention to what the person in the desk beside them was doing.


Abby said...

Yes, Gillian, if we want love and acceptance, that is what we must live, and give to others. Meeting the haters on their own level only increases the energy fed into the conflict and blocks any attempt to find common ground. Every time we are able to respond in a loving way, regardless of what those around of us may be saying or doing, we triumph over fear and ignorance. It is fear and ignorance that are our true enemies, not those who know no other way to live.

Mormons Are Christian said...

If you yearn for Christianity in its original form, check out

No other church as the theology or organization of Christ's original church.

Heathercam said...

It's tricky to have contempt for self declared "Christians" while respecting and cherishing the heritage which they, by their actions, contradict and defile. As I recall even Ghandi had this conflict.
Personally, I was raised Catholic and learned many important things. I also saw many disturbing things that never shook my faith in the divine, but caused great misgivings about the self-proclaimed shepherds. I continue to wrestle with the question "when does a community become a mob?" when do we abrogate our own conscience and responsibility and join the pack?
I've heard some interesting theories about the Prop8 issue. I'm not swallowing them whole, but it does make one think. Most concerned neocon political alliances and claimed the religious issue was a maguffin. So the flock was used for the gain of the shepherds? Isn't that the destiny of sheep?
Meanwhile, innocents suffer as pawns of the "players".... another all too familiar outcome.
What would Jesus think?

Gillian said...

Hi Kids

There's a line in Woody Allen's (admittedly not a paragon of virtue but what ya gonna do) "Hannah and Her Sisters": "If Jesus could see what was being done in his name, he wouldn't be able to stop throwing up." In the car I'm listening on CD to William Manchester's book on the middle ages and renaissance, "A World Lit only by Fire." By 14th and 15th century standards we are living in an age of saints.

I admitted yesterday in a comment on Radha's blog that I HAD made a few questionable gestures at pro-8 types by freeway onramps. Of course, I was a lane away from them and in the guise of my alter-ego, but I suppose I am just as hypocritical as they.

And as long as I'm in this mood, what the heck is this "mormons are christian" comment? I, for one have never disputed the Christianity of Mormorn (nor Jehovah's Witnesses, nor a good many other sects), but if this individual had read my posting, it should be obvious that I'm not looking for the reinstatement of first-century ritual, but an honest adherence to the forgiving spirit of Jesus' teachings - a coin of which the Mormon Church seems in depressingly short supply.