Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Until I Can Exert My Will Telepathically, This Will Have to Do

I remember having a sense of dread on the night Barack Obama was first elected in 2008. I saw all the people in Chicago celebrating and weeping as they watch Mr. Obama take to the podium and give a hope filled speech about what America could be. The dread was not because I believed that Obama was dooming America to a reign of terror for the next four years. In fact, Barack Obama was precisely the guy I wanted to take office. It would be a refreshing change from the previous eight years of a president that had profoundly disappointed me.

What I dreaded was not that Obama would be a bad president. It was that people expected him to be a perfect president. People had such high hopes in him that it was going to be impossible to fulfill it all. The president is only one piece of the American political machine. It's just as ridiculous to believe that Washington would all fall in line with Obama's hopes as it is ridiculous that every problem in America is because of Obama. I believe that for the most part, Obama has been a really good president. He's made decisions that haven't been the greatest, yes, but I admire the his push to bring about universal health care which I believe should be one of the least things that a Christian nation should have.

However, I knew on that election night how democracy works. Change happens slowly and often too slowly and the reason to blame always comes down to the guy trying to make the change. If Obama's vision of America would come true, I would be on board, but it won't happen.

I don't believe that government and laws really do much. Thinking that the world will right itself under the right leader or with the right law change and getting caught up in that too much is a waste of time frankly.

Right now in Manitoba, a bill is being presented that addresses the issue of bullying. It seeks to protect children from bullying and mandate that schools should allow for gay-straight alliances in the school. From my reading, it's not that they have to have it, but rather if people want to put together one in a school, the school has to allow it. This has caused a bit of a backlash in some conservative circles that fear that this is a step in taking away the authority of Christian schools. They claim the bill is too vague and that it could be used to attack religious schools. Some towns have rejected the bill and it has rallied the conservative Christians. In reaction to that, proponents of the bill have gone to defend the bill and has accused the opponents of being bigoted.

My perspective on the whole thing is that regardless of whether the bill gets passed or not, it won't really change anything. At best, it highlights the ongoing discussion of homosexuality and the progression of society towards being accepting of the GLBT community. However, there are many things in life that just because it's some rule, doesn't mean you should just turn off your thinking and go along with it blindly. Rather, it is important to know why or why not you do things you choose to do.

I was talking with someone at a church and they were lamenting that their church was no longer supporting the choir. She genuinely wished that the choir would still get together and have a place in her church. I felt for her and I know some people would love it, too. However, is it the church leadership's responsibility to make sure there is a choir? If you wish to have a choir, then why don't you start rallying people to get a choir together? If other people share the love of choir, then you can get together, practice and make a night of it. If others don't share it, then try and convince them to see the benefits. If it works out, great. Maybe you can make it a regular thing. My point is that I believe that many things you wish to see just need to go out and be done.

Whenever I wanted to do a comedy show, I asked the church to use their building and I did one. When I wanted to do a "24 day", I planned, recruited and did it. That's been my general philosophy. Don't expect to be helped and if you are helped, then be grateful for it. If the church did not want me to do one, then you look for a different venue. You determine how much a given action means to you.

If you will excuse the clumsy "stuck on an island" scenario: Let's say I was stranded on an island with the person I loved and it seemed like we may never leave and I knew this is the person I would marry. We then decide to exchange vows in front of the survivors (or failing that, various sporting equipment that happened to be on the plane that we've painted faces onto). Are we married or not? No government recognizes it. We've decided to stick by each other's side forever, but I don't have legal documents. Is it a "pretend" marriage?

Admittedly, once we get back to the mainland, we may want a "real" ceremony when we get back, but why? Isn't it so that our loved ones can join in the celebration? However, that "real" ceremony will not change the minds of the family on whether they support you as a couple or not. When things are "official" it doesn't really affect people's hearts in accepting it.

I may make it seem like I'm just ignorantly sweeping away the political process out of the way and that I don't want to participate in society. That's not what I'm saying, I'm saying that legislation and rules are not the things that change the hearts and minds of people and ultimately culture. If you force people to go to church every Sunday and make them declare that Jesus is Lord, that doesn't mean there is any change in those people. That is the kind of approach that the Roman Empire had and it didn't work. It was the Christians who didn't depend on legislation being in their favour and rather focused on living like Christians that led to a cultural impact.

It's nice when the law of the land is always in your favour, but that doesn't matter that much. If you believe that there should be gay-straight alliances allowed in schools, why are you waiting for the government to give you the go ahead? You may say, "But my school won't let me." How? How are they preventing you? Are they coming in a disrupting the meetings? Are people coming around to beat you up there? Are they tearing down the posters? Are they calling you names? It sucks, but do you really think the attitudes will change once you have the law on your side? They will still continue to berate you and belittle you. And if it's truly the cultural change you wish to see, you will continue to take it on the chin.

If you think that I unsympathetic to your cause, it's not that, but rather that is the reality of cultural change. It's the persecution that the Christians faced for a long time before it became accepted. It was (and still is in some places) the persecution that black people face in America as they fought (and still fight) for equality. One of the best examples of this comes from this kid who would be affected by Bill 18. What I appreciate is that he initially started without the aid of the schools. He just did it. He's facing the consequences and it would suck to be in his position, but it's an approach like that that ultimately works. Legislation will not be the answer.

For those on the flip side of the argument, do you think rules are going to change anything? If you are opposed to what this bill because you believe that it will force the hand of the school, do you think that your Christian school is going to bring about the change you want to see from your fortress?

Cultural change has to start in the hearts and minds of folk and has little to do with government. I think one of the reasons that protesting to get the laws changed or not changed is because it is hands off. Yeah, protests might get you arrested or banged up or ridiculed, but it's also at a distance and you become a hero in your own camp, but it changes no minds. To see change in people it requires for us to have relationships with people. It requires for us to continue to be near people that maybe we disagree with.

The hard thing about changing the minds of folk in this day is that it's easier to find people who think like us and to block out the other side (except in anonymous pot shots across the internet where the enemy is a carefully chosen avatar of a sports team or movie character). When the person is summed up as faint-hearted liberal or fear-mongering conservative, then it is easy to dismiss their point of view, even if their journey to that point might be more nuanced that we'd like to believe.

Relationships demand for us to be present. Relationships require us to see each other as whole people. One of the reasons that racism is such a hard obstacle for society to get over is because for some individuals, they've never known a person of another race beyond his or her occupation. They see other races from an arm's length to keep them from attempting to understand what it's like to be the other race. If all people know of me as a Christian, they fill in all sorts of blanks without getting to know that perhaps I'm a little more complicated than that.

Fighting for or against laws and rules does have a place, but in the midst of it all, remember that it's really a tiny part. The hard part is in the actual living it out. The hard part is remembering that other side are human, too. The hard part is relationships and it's the only way anything will change.

"Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'."
- Title track from Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'"