Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Try A Little Tenderness

i love to watch british detective shows.  i remember growing up with several american detective series on television, shows like mike hammer, peter gunn, seventy-seven sunset strip, dragnet, and columbo.  as a pre-teen, i read every hardy boys book i could lay my hands on.  when i was older in my teens, and later as an adult, i devoured sherlock holmes stories.  there don't seem to be any great american detective shows on tv any more, except the law and order offshoots.  there are a couple of pretty good police series, but the british seem to have a corner on the market for quality detective shows.  i could sit and watch midsommer murders, the oxford-based police collection that follows inspector morse and his successor inspector lewis, grantchester, vera, and shetland for hours.  it's not so much the ingenuity of the plots, though those are always good, as the interesting leading characters that have me hooked.  they are real human beings with quirks and faults, often living messy lives that are sometimes uncomfortably close to home.

i'm particularly fond of sidney, the detective-priest in grantchester.  i feel for him as he tries to interpret his role as a clergyman in a time of changing social mores in the period following the second world war.  his assistant, leonard, is a gay man who is under pressure from his superiors to marry and avoid the stigma of being homosexual in an era where being gay is considered not only immoral but illegal.  sidney is in love with a friend of his sister who has been forced into an unhappy marriage by her father.  after leaving her husband with their small child, she moves to grantchester, and sidney struggles with his love for her and hers for him when divorce is not permitted by the church of england.  they both know that he would have to give up his vocation in order for them to be together, and, at the point in the series where i now am in my viewing, their love relationship is an on-again-off-again affair.  sidney's partner in crime-solving, police inspector geordie, is having an affair with a woman who works in his police station, while his wife stays home raising their family.  trying to maintain their friendship while prodding geordie to end his dalliance with his co-worker, sidney is having difficulty figuring out how to counsel his friend without coming across as a judgmental member of the clergy.

by now, i've become so involved with the lives of these characters that the mystery-solving aspect of the show has become secondary for me.  while i can't condone geordie's behavior, i feel for him as he tries to sort out his feelings.  he finds that he loves both women and can't bring himself to break off the affair with the younger woman or to admit to his wife that he is being unfaithful.  my heart aches for sidney and the woman he loves, knowing that to give their feelings for one another full expression would end his career in a vocation that he enjoys and is good at.  i watch with sympathy as sidney's assistant tries to deal with his homosexuality in a small rural parish where his every action is under scrutiny, as sidney counsels him with a sensitivity that is lacking in most of the others in their society.

life can be so messy, and i am grateful that there are some television shows and writers on whose stories these shows are based that remind us that there are real people out in the world struggling with difficulties that are hard for many of us to understand.  it's easy to condemn the geordies of this world for having affairs outside their marriages that end up hurting all those around them, but these geordies are human beings with complicated emotions that it's hard to fathom from the outside looking in.  it's easy to say that leonard should be true to himself and live life as a gay man but there are so many leonards who feel trapped in roles that don't allow them to express their homosexuality openly because doing so would cause great hurt to their families and careers.  it's easy to say that sidney should abandon his position as a member of the anglican clergy to be with the woman he loves, but there are many sidneys who love their vocations as much as they love another person and who cannot figure out which is the more important love for themselves or how to reconcile the two.

may we accept the messiness of life and love the human beings who cause that messiness.  may we not be so quick to judge and condemn.  may we learn to deal with the suffering that is a part of life as we stumble down the path.  may a deep sense of lovingkindness, compassion, and respect for the difficulties that others experience fill us, and may we extend the same to ourselves.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Thorougfare of Freedom

we've returned from our travels.  as usual, we have been reminded that wherever we go people are very much the same.  they may speak with different accents, may live in homes that are of a different type of construction, and may have mannerisms and expressions that are unfamiliar to us, but they have they same struggles to make sense of life, want the same things for themselves and their loved ones, have the same needs, and are in the most essential ways just like us.  we saw only one genuinely angry person, a man who was filled with rage about what he seemed to believe was the desire of too many motorists on the four-lane highway to impede his progress, and he ranted about the stupidity of the drivers who surrounded him to everyone who would listen at the service station where we had stopped for gas.  as soon as we could fill our tank, we left, hoping that we would not encounter this driver on the highway.

what i want to write about today, though, is not our experiences with people we encountered on our travels or the beauty of nature that we witnessed.  instead, i write about a short trip i took with several family members to a nearby amusement park.  one of those relatives was our great-nephew, a sweet young man of about 13 who attends a "christian" school.  he sat between my wife and me in the middle row of seats in the van in which we rode, and we engaged him in conversation about school and his plans for the day at the park.  he is a witty kid, with an off-kilter sense of humor, and a delight to be around.  we were disturbed, though, when he began to talk disparagingly about public schools and those who attended them.  we knew that he was repeating what he had been told at home and at his christian school.  he told us how awful the public schools in the small community in which he lives were, though he had never set foot in one of them.  he told us how dumb the students that attended those schools were, because students who transferred into his school from them were ignorant of many of the things that he was being taught.  one such student, he went on, couldn't even tell time using an analog clock because public schools didn't bother to teach that skill.

as my wife and i talked later, we lamented the narrowness of his education and upbringing.  he will most likely go through life believing that those outside his circle of evangelical christians are inferior to him and his kind.  he will look on these "outsiders" with pity and condescension.  he and his siblings will have only limited contact with people of other cultures and will experience little to none of the diversity that is our country at large.  it will be easy for him to accept the philosophy of the make-america-great-again crowd and hope for a return to a u.s.a. that never existed where everyone was the same skin color and was a born-again christian.  this gentle child won't hate those who are different from him, he'll simply pretend that they are not there, since he'll seldom see them in his closed world.

his mother has the same sweet disposition, loves her family and provides a secure environment for them in their home, while her husband goes out and earns a good living for them all.  she listens primarily to "christian" music and watches "christian" movies and television.  she delights in "christian" comediennes.  even her ringtone is "christian."  her oldest son attends a "christian" university, where, after twelve years in a "christian" school, he will be surround by students and teachers who are just like him.  as he and his siblings marry and raise families of their own, they will probably perpetuate the myth of a "christian" america founded by devout founders that never existed except in the minds of people who think like them.  maybe some glimpse of the outside world will break in and awaken one or more of them to what life is like outside their "christian" bubble, as it has with other children raised in this environment.  one hopes that will be the case.

i want to dislike these evangelicals but they are kind, generous people.  their hearts are not filled with hatred.  they are not angry like the man we tried to keep away from on our trip.  they don't want children who cross our borders to be kept in cages.  they tolerate trump and trumpism because they believe it is better than the "socialist" alternative, but they don't wholeheartedly embrace it.  they are just people like me, but they've closed their minds to the wider culture that surrounds them, isolating themselves from it by worshiping with, doing business with, attending school and cultural events with, and as much as possible only associating with people who look and think like them.  in their view, they are the "real" america; the rest of us are an aberration.  if we are white like them but not evangelical christians, we have been led astray by left-wing politicians and the media.  if we are non-whites, we are not part of true american culture, unless we've separated ourselves from our ethnic identities and become like them except for the color of our skin.

their lifestlye and philosophy frighten me.  polls tell us that their numbers are diminishing but for now their politics is ascendant.  i fear that it is from their ranks that radical right-wing terrorists will emerge, as this us-against-them way of viewing society becomes more threatened.  i worry that it will be too easy to go from tolerating the broader culture while maintaining their isolationism to attacking those they now disdain and pity, fearing that the rest of us are a threat to their way of life.  they are part of the "they're coming to take our guns" movement, the "they're going to send christians to concentration camps" movement, the "it's ok to say merry christmas again" movement.  theirs is a way of viewing themselves as victims who are being forced to live with same-sex marriage, women's rights, and a diverse society that the see as violating their religious freedom to discriminate against and control these "others" that are not true u.s. citizens like them.

may we never give in to this way of thinking.  may we learn to love those who think in this way without endorsing their ideas.  may we promote the multiculturalism and diversity that is america, the america that the declaration of independence envisions.  may all of us, whether we live in this country or elsewhere, see the basic sameness of us all and have compassion for one another as we struggle together along the path.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Stopping By Woods

my wife and i are traveling in new england for the next couple of weeks, so my posts will not return until the middle of october.  may all be well, may all be happy, may all be at peace.  shalom.