My Kingdom Come

City Walls, Dubrovnik Croatia

“How are you?” I asked
“I’m blessed,” she said.
“We’re all blessed,” I said.
“I am living by the word,” she said.
“Good,” I said.
“I am a kingdom child,” she said.
I didn’t say anymore.

This was the repartee that passed as a greeting between the grocery store cashier and me on a recent Saturday morning. I am sure she was sincere, but her greeting offended me nevertheless.

It was self-righteous.

It felt as though she was saying that she was a Christian and I was not, or that she was ‘born again’ and therefore truer to the faith than me if I was one. Inherent in her tone was the declaration that she was right, and all the world not in her kingdom was wrong.

I am a Christian, by which I mean that I am a believer in the message of unconditional love as represented in the words and life of Jesus Christ. My beliefs are more closely aligned with liberal theology.  Many of the positions taken by Christian conservatives are diametrically opposed to my understanding of the practice of love. Since moving to Florida, where the conservative evangelical influence is more prevalent, I sometimes find myself embarrassed to identify as a Christian, and I find this distressing.

I also took offense for people of different faiths, including those of no faith, for whom such a greeting could have been disrespectful.

This encounter highlights the larger issue of  how to communicate in ways that show respect for the other person’s cultural or philosophical differences.

I do not know the answer, though I believe it is there to be learned. Our failure to do so in the past was at the center of many of our conflicts, intertwined with issues of injustice, and our failure to do so now will be the cause of future contentions.

One difficulty is that fundamentalists usually believe that their understanding represents the only true expression of the divine. And no one is as right as he who believes he has God on his side.

For me the broad brush of the Spirit of love overrides the details of any legalistic rule. Faith can only be judged by how well it helps to create an environment that affirms the dignity of all. Deed is far more meaningful than word.

As we interact with each other it is well to remember our common prayer which is,

‘Thy kingdom come on earth,”

and not,

“my kingdom come.”

IMAGINE THE IMPOSSIBLE

Image.

Imagination is the greatest feature of our human character.

Some scientists believe our ability to imagine represents the evolutionary distinction between humans and all other living things.

In the Judea-Christian tradition, God imagined creation into existence. He spoke it and there was light.

In similar vein our ability to imagine makes us co-creators. There is nothing in our own existence that was not first someone’s thought. Everything must first be imagined before anything can ever exist.

We are in crisis as a nation and a world; an economic crisis of unacceptable levels of unemployment; a crisis of too many conflicts, violence and wars; a crisis of hunger and the lack of affordable healthcare throughout too much of our world. And yet at the same time we are richer, more technologically advanced, produce more food and have the knowledge and capacity to solve our problems far greater than at any prior period in human history.

A young man told me recently, still unemployed a year after graduating from college, that he saw no future for himself. I saw a news report where a leading politician declared that he saw no hope for peace in the Middle East.

The real crisis we face is that we suffer a lack of imagination. Our idealism has been overrun by cynics burdened by a myopic view of history, and the weeds of negativism, greed and selfishness have taken root in our cultural narrative. We have become focused on materialism and detached from the Spirit of the dreamer.

This is the spirit that inhabited icons of dreamers through the ages; Galileo, Einstein, Gandhi, and Martin L King, are but a few of those who in the words of Bernard Shaw, ‘dreamed things that never were and ask(ed) why not?’

The first step in conquering our fear of scarcity is to imagine the impossible; a world of plenty, where we live in peace committed to the cause of affirming human dignity.

What we are able to imagine today, will be our reality tomorrow.

My First Gay Wedding

Last weekend I attended my first gay wedding. It was a splendid affair, sophisticated and elegant, played out in the faux Gothic surroundings of a chic East Village Hotel in Lower Manhattan.

One groom, my play nephew (I have been a close family friend from his childhood) exchanged vows of commitment with his partner of 23 years, whom he had met in college at Yale University. The ceremony was witnessed by family; mother, father, sister, cousins, uncles, aunts, friends and colleagues. The event was memorable for its haute cuisine, entertainment, dancing, tales of friendship and love, memories of loved ones past, and inspirational for its stories of personal growth.

It was marvelously similar to any celebration of marriage carried out in our cultural traditions down the ages. And, that for me was its greatest triumph.

It is unfortunate that the well meaning folks who oppose gay marriage on religious or other ground, who view it as breaching the most basic rule of our social fabric, never experience first hand that it is the thread that stitches together one of the holes in our social compact through which our marginalized members have been falling.

Gay people are people too created in the image of God.

I can attest that nobody chooses to be gay despite what fringe propaganda may claim.

Affirming gay unions through marriage equality supports and sustains the institution of marriage. It is a statement that society supports committed relationships, and those relationships foster the development of healthy lifestyles, attitudes, and examples that benefit us all.

Gay marriage could only threaten heterosexual relationships if somehow it made being gay attractive to heterosexuals.

The moralists have charged for years that gay people were promiscuous and bereft of traditional moral values and yet they make every effort to deny them the opportunity to adhere to the most cherished moral value; commitment to the one you love.

For some, it comes down to a sincere literal reading of some sacred text which condemns homosexuality. But all texts, sacred and otherwise, are subject to interpretation based on context. To my knowledge God has never dictated a script to anyone.

The essence of all sacred traditions is love, manifested by living in a way that affirms the human dignity of everyone. In the Christian tradition, that is the true spirit of all ten commandments and the golden rule.

The realm of the spirit is one of art, not science; and it is filled with mysteries of faith, not mathematical equations. Its purpose is to support abundant life rather than to condemn lifestyle, and its mantra is one of love not of hate.

My first gay wedding was truly a spiritual experience.

What’s in a Name?

The excitement in Washington, DC these days surrounding the fortunes of the Washington Redskins, its beloved football team and the stellar play of its rookie quarterback, is  more palpable than that for anything playing out in its political arena.

Nothing, including the deficit, matters as much to dyed-in-the-burgundy-and-gold Washingtonians, which makes it all the more ironic, that years of protest by the Native American community regarding the offensive name of the team passes as unnoticed by the ownership, as the protesters at each home game being avoided by the revelry of fans.

It is undeniable that the name is a pejorative viewed with equal anathema by the Native American community as the infamous ‘N’ word is by blacks. George Preston Marshall, the founder and owner of the team from 1932 until his death in 1963 was such an unabashed racist that his legacy to his foundation had the qualification that none of it could be used “for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration.”

It was this history that caused many black Washingtonians for generations to root against the team.

Nonetheless, the current owner and management steadfastly refuse to change the team’s name. The fans appear notably unconcerned. Many share the sentiment that the name is racist, but few are willing to allow the issue to get in the way of enjoying their favorite past time.

This attitude is disturbing. Even more so, where it is present among those who have suffered similar discrimination and injustice. It is easy to become cynical about what change anyone can bring about, and we are all beset with problems that at times overwhelm us, but it is regrettable when we are unsympathetic to the plight of others.

There are any number of ready excuses to avoid the discomfort of having to give up one’s identification with a familiar team name and learn to use a new one. However, where the name is justifiably offensive to a group of fellow citizens, it is unconscionable that those not directly targeted by its ugliness do not find our shared humanity sufficient reason to be equally offended.

For, to paraphrase the Bard, ‘that which we call The Redskins, by any other name would smell as sweet or stink up the joint as much on any given Sunday.’

Family Value

My father and I lay on the bed together looking up at the ceiling. He was on the left side, I was on the right. He was a young man. I was an older man.  We talked. It was the longest conversation that we had ever had, and although I don’t remember most of what was said, I felt good; very good. And then he remarked ‘why are your nipples so hard? You must be popular with the girls.’

My father’s love was never ingrained in me the way my mother’s was. It flickered and went out like candlelight in my childhood before I ever knew its warmth. I knew his religious conservatism would have made him cautiously proud of my professional achievements. He would have hated the person I am.

Family Values is one of those principles we all claim, yet to each it often means something different. It has become an ideological intersection of social collisions.

There was a time when it represented dad, mom, daughter and son; a white picket fence and a white steeple church. All things white and beautiful.

But, it was never really that way. In communities black and brown and yellow and red; in communities white that also struggled to buy bread, the notion of family had a more fluid edge. People in need, people needing help, those among us without and those of us alone; the young, the old, the sick , the hungry; the abandoned and the forgotten. They were taken in and given names; bound up, helped up, comforted, fed, visited, cried over, buried and remembered.

Generations of slaves untimely ripped from the womb of their motherland survived their despair because they defined family by a limitless definition of love.

My dream of my dead father gave me peace that he loved me, but reminded me that it was important to love myself. It also reinforced for me that family value has far less to do with blood and much more to do with love.

ACROSS WALLS

It is my hope that ‘Newtonology’ will become a space that contributes to finding a common language for us to communicate with each other.

Although Newtonology, a play on my name and that of my lesser known namesake, Sir Isaac, is being undertaken for personal enjoyment, the underlying spirit will be one of peace, that searches for ways for us to share our dreams and burdens across the definitions that separate us, and affirm the dignity of our shared humanity.

It is my opinion that one of the great needs of modern society is to develop a common language to communicate with each other.

I have had the privilege of traveling the world, and one of the recurring themes evident throughout is the amount of energy that has been wasted in human history, building walls, fences, and a variety of other barriers to protect us from each other. The arc of history shows that while these might have sufficed a short term need, they rarely worked long term. For a variety of reasons, including a lack of understanding of the other, those barriers were inevitably breached through conflict at a great social cost to everyone.

Today, our walls are defined, not only by nationality, culture, generation, gender, but by everything in our daily lives, from political party to niche television programming. We travel in  separate worlds, listening only to voices that sound like ours, inevitably developing a real and emotional language that only those similarly jaundiced understand. We no longer speak a common language and when we try communicating it devolves into a contest of wills as we try to impose our ‘values’ on each other.

In the past there were oceans and deserts to cross and escape from each other, but those alternatives no longer exist.

We must finally stand and deal with each other; figure a way to live together as a human family or needlessly destroy everything in a narcissistic need to have the world reflected in our own image.

I am under no illusion that ‘Newtonology’ will foster anything that contributes to the great cause of peace. However, I am certain that this must be its spirit. In the final analysis, it is not for us to know the end result, just as it is not for us to count the cost of love; because then it’s not love, it is a transaction. It is simply for us to act and let the gods do their thing.