Thursday, September 24, 2020

Learning to Talk About Not Talking About Things Today

 We need to return to a time when we don’t ask who you’re voting for…to a time when we just don’t talk about these things.

I nodded with my friend, who was perceptive enough and dear enough to come up to me this morning to see if I was okay. You seem sad somehow, a real difference in you, she said. Her perception was accurate, after all. I’m all over the place emotionally these days, entering into a news-social-media-fast for the next long while so to live in the present, with what and who I can be right now. Being for people I love and those whom I see are suffering (whom I know and don't know), loving people I cannot understand, refusing to live in fear while I practice welcoming my own healing, being a healing presence, staying grounded with the Sacred I know deeply and well. Love today is costly, and if you’re not suffering love every day, then I invite you to dig more deeply…for the grounded joy, peace, and ease of body that is right here for you, for me…even with all that is burning today.


As I drove home, energized by a longish but steady workout, fun banter with friends (except when we were nasal breathing, to strengthen our capacities for CO2 and lowering our heart-rates!), I began to sit with a dissonance that was in me about what she said too. Something in me also disagrees with her words, though I remain deeply connected with her, her heart, her wisdom and tenacity. The more I sat with this exchange between friends, me and her, the more I’m convinced that part of our civic-communal growing curve right now is learning to talk about not talking about these things. Perhaps learning to talk about things that matter so deeply might come next, later, soon?


After all, in the last week, two of the exchanges that meant the most to me have been with friends who were willing to lower the veil a little bit. To ask me questions about politics and to actually listen to what I said. For me to actually listen to what they said, and deeply appreciate the real challenges facing all of us regardless of who is inaugurated in January. I cherish these friends and I am aware my fear can prevent me from seeing their fear, their own good-hearts facing so much I cannot imagine. The challenges will be different as we all act, depending on how everything unfolds in these months, but both sets of challenges are terrifying everyone—economic threat & despair with safety-nets and community-care deeply in question; authoritarian rule and uncertain global shenanigans; violence in the streets, which is not new for many of us over the decades, just now more visible; failure of the American experiment with democracy…? In this sense, the presidential election is not even the focal point, but the instigation. The challenges are facing us all, in different forms. But back to her words…


I immediately nodded in agreement with my friend because I do think voting should be a private act, an act between a person and his/her conscience-situation-securities-and-family traditions. As I’m volunteering for a campaign in a cool thing called a text-bank (which I never knew about before…it’s very cool, actually), I avoid the pointed-direct-questions about supporting the campaign candidate and focus on the “are you registered to vote?” and “what is your voting plan for this election?” questions. My urgency is about healing our democracy, not about one candidate, per se. As I've been shaped, I am willing to relinquish and lessen my own aims/needs to allow a robust democracy to increase, to heal. So if there is a response to me that suggests a leaning, then I will follow that lead in the campaign-volunteering goals. The ‘other’ decides, in his/her exchanges with me, how our text-strand-chat will go. Of course, I try to be charming and elicit a leaning as we go, but I honor the line of privacy, respecting what I think are strong democratic principles of right to vote and privacy of vote. Why else do we have all the curtains in the voting booths anyway? Because it matters and should not be coerced.


Should not be coerced. Now there’s an American value that arises unexpectedly in my words (which is often why I write…I learn things I didn’t know I was thinking!). Vote-choice should not be coerced, in any way, even today, facing a candidate who spoke his desire to coerce a result. If anything is coerced, the principles of freedom get bastardized into becoming what freedom professes to prevent.

Slippery slope here, of course, which all partisans are exhibiting today. Liberals have often decried religious or Republican fundamentalisms. I was well shaped in that chorus from my earlier years and my parents’ political stance and citizenship. The reality so often hidden from liberals today, however, is their/our own fundamentalisms on display, ruining our civic discourses from that side.


Liberals are renown for being for the under-dog, for the changes we/they wish to see in the world. The hidden wound comes in when the urgency for that change becomes so narrowed, so intense, that the love and compassion and kindness at the heart of transformation are completely overshadowed, even absent. When the policy or political gain becomes more important than the personhood and dignity of those before or around them. Thomas Frank was the one who woke me up to the hypocrisies and fundamentalisms in the liberal-Democratic streams right now. A party that used to be "for the people" now only "thinks it is for the people." It is actually mired in a meritocracy-fundamentalism, pursuing an individualism and identity-politic blind to the dignity of other human beings. Ironic. Unconscious. Disdainful.

In government, and in the national church bodies today (which I am more familiar as a leader in), we have both conservative and liberal fundamentalisms run amuck, unable to see one another in dignity or hear the very human grief, pain, fear that are part of our human journey on the planet right now. We have leaders in both parties running over all those who will not conform to the new identity politics or Trump-era-loyalties or whatever…


To pull it out of immediate politics for a moment might be easier to say what I'm seeing. Consider peace-activists who become militant about peace. This is a classic liberal fundamentalism that Pema Chodron talks about, smiles wearily about. How can peace activists enforce peace? Ironically. Unconsciously. Losing their own integrity for the sake of seeing now what they yearn so deeply to see. Coercing peace is not peace but political power for an impatient now. Or to look in another direction, considering ourselves Pro-Life when all our political attention is on anti-abortion politics, focusing on conception to birth, refusing monies for welfare, child-support, safety-nets for home-health-food and more. This fundamentalism is Pro-Birth, not Pro-Life (to quote Joan Chittister). This fundamentalism refuses the life to be lived after, the safety nets for school lunches, child-support, homelessness, health-care, and more.

I’m getting better at sensing hidden fundamentalisms within myself, within my worlds, by paying attention to the energetic field of it all, noticing (but not judging) the seeds of disdain expressed about Trump supporters, or “those who are so stupid in our electorate today,” or “those who don’t care for small businesses” or “those willing to gamble on a Democratic “puppet” who threatens “socialism.” No matter which one speaks in you … What is the quality of our own souls to degrade one another in that way, “for the cause of liberation or religious freedom or…?” Such disconnection. Such disrespect, fueled by fear, anger, grief, hatred…on all sides. So therefore in me too. It happens in me without thought, rising up in me though I wish it would not. One invitation then is to become adept at feeling this irony arise in us, this paradox of urgent-passion and dignity of personhood in all, held gently and without coercion toward any outcome.


Of course it seems wiser and easier to simply not talk about these things, to return to a time of not talking with one another about politics or religion.

But what if the invitation is for us all to grow the fuck up as adults who can hold one another in love and ambiguity, adults who can hold our own pains and fears honoring all those of people around us, honoring the dignity and beauty of each of us, particularly those we do not understand? What if our calling is to grow communally into a more robust democracy, well-aware of its imperfections and paradoxical histories, one valiantly healing from its fissures and its increasing gaps? What if we strive instead for the American experiment with democracy to mature through these ‘growing pains’ moments of pandemic, political gridlock, and authoritarian power grabs?


The nay-sayers amongst us will shake their heads and say there's nothing we can do but choose between the best of two bad choices, focusing only on the local. That's not completely true, of course. We must love the folks in front of us, but healing our democracy by doing the hard inner work of growing up is a third way to hold out hope for a collective on this planet, a commuanl all of us, for every one of us. Even (or maybe especially) those who want to grasp the American Ideal through force and violence.

Such naysayers do have a point for us to hold with them. Just observe throughout history how every democracy has become either an oligarchy (rich ruling class decides) or has failed, becoming an empire (emperor/authoritarian rule). Think Greek Republic into Roman Empire. The “democracy” remained in form, but the real power was driven by the sword, by the familial grabs for power by those willing to kill beloveds in order to hold onto power. [Watch I, Claudius, PBS series for a detailed view. Dawns on me that the one who eventually became a benevolent emperor (best the system could hold at the time) was Claudius, the one with a speech impediment, who was underestimated, considered not worth paying attention to, so was therefore neglected in all the political machinations until he was the only one living, standing.] Consider the long-renown voice of Dan Rather, journalist for decades in our country, posting today (Look for his post from September 24th, for reference here).


I guess it’s just not in my blood to be a nay-sayer. This third way of healing our democracy together is where we learn together...weary as we may be inside, outside. I want to reconsider citizenship with those who are willing to learn alongside me, to make mistakes, to be misunderstood, to even be disdained and dehumanized (as will happen in our public domains today). I want to learn how to talk about talking about these things, even if the first step is simply talking about not talking about these things. I hope to find out whether even this foray into soul-musings could count as learning with my peeps...who remain my peeps as we disagree on so many things politically.


Here I’m setting the intention to dive back into civic-learning, refreshing my own awareness of our distinctive form of government and the significance of the Constitution over any particular candidate. I'm going to watch small videos crafted by Free the People, offering a 'line by line' review of our Constitution. I’m inviting my friends, those who are willing, to be in conversation with me about how we’re not talking about things that matter, deep down…and listen for new ways to begin to talk about things in our public spheres that matter. [I'm also fine with not talking about these things when I see my friends, of course. Life is to be lived and not constantly reflected upon--something I've finally learned in the last decade! Part of the gift here is being able to reflect, be heard, and then let it all go too... Continue to have fun, laugh, tease, and more...] All the while, though, I am rooting out the seeds of disdain that come with my family lineage and my profession in higher ed. I am learning to stay present in the moment with a desire to learn, to listen, to heal.


So now you know. This is what I want this blog will be about…

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