Thursday, March 01, 2012

Forgiveness is Acquiescence, Part 1

"To know all is not to forgive all. It is to despise everybody."
-- Quentin Crisp

I caused quite a dust-up yesterday with my comments about forgiveness.

A lot of it still doesn't make sense to me.  I understand the concept that I should not carry around with me some desire for vengeance.  Even on the edge of understanding that justice is not guaranteed.

But why should I forgive?  Why should I say to myself and the world that some injury perpetrated on me is forgivable?

The argument is that forgiveness is not about saying that what has been done to you is "all right".  Well, what is it then, if it's not an acquiescence, an acceptance, a capitulation? 

I made the point that Grace is also a fallacy. 

Grace given from a position of absolute power is a trivial act.  Someone in power is not harmed by any injury, there is no 'need' for forgiveness.  No damage was done. The worst is that some intent was expressed against the powerful person, even if the result is nothing.  What's the point of forgiveness at that point?  No blood, no foul?

On the other end, grace given from a position of abject poverty is futile.  An impoverished person has no means to pursue vengeance, retribution, justice.  Forgiveness from that position is a formality, and not even that.  It's a futile gesture that lends an air of credence and acceptability to a condition of impotence.

What's missing is contrition. 

An offender who offers no act of contrition is no more deserving of forgiveness than a rabid dog.  The dog is rabid, the dog attacks, and will continue to attack, because it is not in its right mind, knows not what it is doing, and will eventually die but not before infecting others.  That dog is worthy of pity, maybe, but not forgiveness.

But it's not it's fault, I could say.  True, but that takes the idea of forgiveness even further away from the consideration.  If the dog has no choice, then it has no ... need... appreciation... value in forgiveness.  Grace given to a dying dog is meaningless.  Comfort and assistance, maybe, but there is no forgiveness here.

Maybe I'm totally missing the concept. 

I keep going back to my understanding of what it is to forgive. 

Person A harms Person B in some manner.  Person B chooses two things.  First, Person B chooses to remain civil, neutral, within himself.  Person B chooses non-retaliation.  Person B absorbs the injury into himself and does not demand recompense.  Second, Person B announces to the world that the actions of Person A are without consequence.  That is either arrogance or impotence. 

Forgiveness seems to have these two components, each of which I find abhorrent on their on and together are anathema.

Non-retaliation, the obviation of justice, recompense, and consequence is choosing to be a chump.

Public admission of no-harm-no-foul is an admission of impotence or power so absolute that harm is irrelevant.  As near as I can tell, that's about the only positive path through this.  The only way to "forgive" is to possess some personal power so great that harm to one's self is irrelevant.

Without that kind of power, forgiveness is an act of weakness or self-delusion.

Any yet, I'm not talking about carrying around a loaded gun the rest of your life with the intent to kill the offender and that becoming the all-consuming life's work because of some perceived harm.  If that were the case, of course, then we would all be on the short end of someone's stick.

If I had the chance, though, I would exact revenge of some sort on a few people who have harmed me.  I freely admit that.  I will not forgive them to the point of letting them "off the hook". 

My desire for compensation may be ultimately irrelevant, but I'm not going to say that it doesn't exist.  It lives in a cesspool of other negative emotions with everything else that I feel.  If I could make someone else suffer to the extent that they made me suffer, I would take that chance.  I would do it.  So would you.

So would you, unless you were either in the position of Absolute Power or Abject Poverty.  Arrogance or Impotence.  Anything in between is a matter of degree.

Do these things consume my thoughts?  Only in as much as I can't understand why I seem to be "the only one" who thinks "Forgiveness is the first step to healing" is all a bunch of hooey.  I am here because of the choices I made and the things that people have done to me.  I take responsibility for my own choices.  I demand retribution for the things that have been done to me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Zealots and Buddies.

A friend wrote about the different ideas of what a Christian should look like.  Now, I'm not talking about visual appearance.  This is in the more broad sense of how does one behave in the world as a Christian.  That's a fascinating question to me. 

I was raised as a Christian, in a Calvinist denomination that has a great history.  I did not get as far into the training and indoctrination as some of my friends have.  Because of that, I am not familiar with some of the more intricate aspects of Calvinism, except to say that I understand the concept of predestination and how Calvin incorporated that into his Reformation.

Nevertheless, here we are in present day.  Christians, non-Christians, agnostics, and atheists all view each other with a great deal of skepticism, trepidation, hostility, and even hatred.  This is stupid.

People who know me personally know that I mostly gave up on my Christianity a long time ago.  I self-identify as Buddhist, but I'm not really that either.  It's just the closest thing, the most accurate label, I can find from a collection of labels and ideas that are all ill-fitting.  I say that only to relate some context for the rest of my thoughts.

Frequently in discussion threads, I see Christians of two types: Zealots and Buddies.  In a discussion thread the other day, a Zealot was making a lot of noise about how Christianity was under attack by others.  I'll avoid the nonsense accusatory labels he threw around.  This Zealot was supporting an argument that any one or any group that has anything negative to say about Christianity in any way should be shunned.  The specifics are irrelevant, but the end point is that he wanted to punish a group and threaten their existence because of perceived attacks against Christianity.

Later in the discussion, a Buddy Christ came along and tried the other phrase I see frequently that asserts that being a Christian is not only a thing you do on Sunday.

And that's where I get stuck.

I assert that the Zealots take the idea of Being a Christian All Day, Every Day, very seriously, and rightly so.

I'm concerned that the Zealots are trained on, indoctrinated into, and believe in an active, activist Christianity wherein it is the duty of the believer to take action towards making the world a Christian place according to their interpretation of Christianity.

I suspect that some Zealots even get worked up over the idea of "Interpreting Christianity".  So many of them, as far as I can tell, do not allow themselves the idea that what they believe is an interpretation.  They see it as the Word of God, Divine and Infallible.  Interpretation is Blasphemy.

To these Zealots, every day is an opportunity to be a Christian, and that means, to them, spreading the Word, and Defending against Evil.

OK, so far, I'm with you.  I may not believe the same details as you, but I'm all for the idea of making the world a better place.  But once we get into the discussion of what is, and is not, a "better place" then we start to have real problems.

Personally, I'm one for real examination of history and ethics as they relate to the concept of morality.  Christianity, especially New Testament Christianity provides a fairly good, mostly consistent, loving and inclusive guideline to morality.  It's not perfect in its message, and it's not perfect in its interpretations.  But, it's a good start.

Mostly, though, I do not want it codified into my society and culture straight from the page.  I believe that is a dereliction of our duties to determine our own fate and instead rely on the sketchy translations and interpretations of allegories, legends, and parables from two thousand years ago. 

This is a difficult topic for me and you, Dear Reader, can tell because I'm all over the place on this.

Let me try to regroup as I near the end of my etude.  I find it exceptionally difficult to interface with a Christian who has taken to heart the idea of All Christianity All The Time.  I want to be able to ask questions and challenge beliefs, but this Zealot type of Christian does not allow for that, intellectually nor culturally.  And the Buddies who spend Sundays telling themselves what good Christians they are because they were an example of Buddy Christ all week long are failing their responsibility to expand the nature of Christianity by allowing each to find their own way to happiness.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Case For Difficult Art, Part 2 of ???

I watched the conversation unfold yesterday on the newspaper's web site about Actors' Theatre.  One guy was most upset about money being spent for something was purposely offensive.  I know that there are people who feel that way, and I allow them their point of view that the artistic world is out to offend them in some way.

One comment I found particularly offensive was the assertion that artists are all liberal-minded elites who hide behind the notion of artistic freedom in order to fire some sort of destruction at society and culture.  I think this is part of the same argument about free speech, and whether or not free speech is a matter of individual, public, corporate, or governmental interference. 

Part of the argument is that the libs get to produce offensive plays all they want while ostensibly using taxpayer money to do it.  The cons assert it's a violation of their free speech that tax money supports something that is offensive to them. 

OK, so I'm generalizing here.  I know that not all conservatives feel that way, or even care about this issue.  I believe that most conservatives are more concerned about tax money being used for, well, anything more than they are about specific arts related issues.

And, I know that this one guy doesn't speak for a whole movement, segment of the population, or even a group.  He's one guy who stubbed his toe on something some time in the past and now takes out his anger and frustration on people who disagree with him for whatever reason. 

The argument for governmental support of the arts is thin, and I know that.  It's all based around an interpretation of the "promote the general welfare" clause of the Preamble to the Constitution.  In good times when the money is flowing freely, governmental support for the arts is less of an issue.  When money is tight, things have to get cut.  Arts groups complain about that as much as anyone else who is in fear of losing funding.  But, arts is seen as a luxury item and not a requirement.  Plus, it is somehow built in to the way we do business that the ones who are usually most offended by the arts are the ones who control the money.

Perhaps it's built in to artistic expression to poke at those in power.  So, by definition the artists are going to bite the hands that feed them.  One goes to a therapist to work on mental and emotional issues and it's not easy.  If you want to spend therapist kind of money on someone who is only going to make you feel good about yourself, then you might as well be hiring a prostitute.  I can give you numbers of some very good ones.  Therapists and prostitutes.

So, there is my hook, I guess.  I, as a member of the artistic community, am not out to bring down your religion, offend you personally, or denigrate the precepts of Christianity (or Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster).  My brethren and I translate the world around us into brief moments of interpretation.  For the record, we don't hide behind anything.  As I suggested yesterday, you put your name on a piece of creative work for production or publication, and then tell me how that worked out for you.  Putting yourself out there with something that you've created is an inherently difficult process open to all sorts of criticism, blow-back, brickbats, and shit-storms.

I am not your prostitute.  I am not your friend.  Actually, neither am I your therapist.  There are times that I will make you feel good, and there are times that I will make you very, very angry.  But you need me because I, on occasion, get it just right for you.  There's that moment when your eyes open to something new.

Shut me down today because I've done something to offend you, and you lose the voice I provide forever.  Arts organizations, theatre companies, writers, directors, producers, technicians, these are the people that make art happen (as well as musicians, painters, dancers, and so on).  Close an organization and these people go away somewhere else or into other professions.  You cannot and will not ever get them back.  For every Corpus Christi there is a Godspell, and so on.  If you want one, you get both.  That's just the way it is.  Arts are not committed to one point of view.

You need us.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Case For Difficult Art, Part 1 of ???

Once again we find ourselves in a situation where a small arts company is being threatened with money partly, if not solely, because of the company's choice of material.  Specifically, Actors' Theatre Grand Rapids faces a challenge from a Trustee of Grand Rapids Community College.

ATGR receives money directly from GRCC's annual budget as well as various in-kind types of support including the theatre space itself and offices.  Further, ATGR is not the only organization that this particular Trustee is challenging.

Let's start with a few basics.  GRCC does have money problems of its own.  This Trustee is doing his job by 1) looking for places to cut the budget and 2) openly voicing the nature of his objection.  ATGR is always facing money problems, but they are also doing their job by being true to their mission. 

There is no way to monetize creativity and art.  The closest we can come to it is to monetize the experience of that art.  We can (literally) pay the people who transform that art from idea to representation.  And, we as consumers can pay for the opportunity to witness, to experience, that representation.  There is a money chain that goes directly from the mind of the original artist to the person who is witnessing the result.

Between those two endpoints are layers of transformation, each represented by people, individuals, who expressly or indirectly support or assist in the process.  Those internal layers are the ones who allow creativity to flow, who make it possible for a great idea to become a great experience.  Those internal layers never get the spotlight, that's not what they're there for.  Those internal layers don't care about the "meaning" of the art.  They care about the process of getting an idea from concept to realization.

Threatening to "kill" (or at least harm) an organization because of the nature of its work is valid, to a point.  But most of the time those who are doing the threatening fail to realize that it is the process that is more important long term than the product.  Without an army of people who know how to perform those internal steps between idea and experience, the next Great Idea stands a good chance of being unheard.

Every time someone pulls the plug on funding, for whatever reasons, the ice upon which you and I skate gets a little thinner.

There is a balance, of course, and you Dear Reader knew I was going to get to that at some point.  Money makes the world go 'round, after all, and it is not in unlimited supply.  Individuals do need to make choices about what's important to them and how they are going to pay for it.  Support between corporate organizations does get complicated when the people inside the organizations disagree about what is and isn't important.  That's fine.  That's normal in any inter-organizational relationship. 

Remember though, that all those people referenced above that stand between idea and result don't care about the message.  It is disingenuous to categorize them as malcontents, unbelievers, infidels, dangerous, solely because of the process in which they are involved.  I know that's a statement that can be taken to extremes in pretty much any direction. Do I blame the workers at a munitions plant for making the weapons that kill innocents?  Maybe.  Maybe not. 

Similarly, the arts organization itself has to understand that they do not exist without community context.  It's all well and good to bill yourself as the "edgy" outspoken one, but that is going to limit your reach, limit your audience, and self-select the way in which the experience can be presented.  It's a choice, and if the choice is to be offensive to someone over and over again, then you had better be prepared to go on without them.

The GRCC Trustee wants to cut support to ATGR and cites two shows, one in the past and one in the future, as an example of why GRCC should not support ATGR.  I suggest that he is being short sighted and disregarding the value that even difficult material brings into the society.  The professionals who work in the organization are part of the community and their work, their experience, contribute to the health of our culture. 

Difficult and challenging art makes the audience consider their own place in the world.  One does not have to be happy about everything creative.  But one should celebrate that creativity is happening at all.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Killing Someone's Pet.

There's a disturbing story in the news about a teenager who, in the course of robbing a home with another kid even younger than himself, killed the dog in the home so that it wouldn't disturb them.  The kid found a hammer in the home, a trailer really, and hit the dog on the head.  The kid says he only wanted the dog to stop barking.  When the dog stopped moving, he put it on a bed and covered it with a blanket so he wouldn't have to look at it while he and his accomplice continued the robbery.  The owner caught them in the act and the kids are now in the system.

The mother has said something to the effect that she doesn't understand what the big deal is about killing the dog.  "Dogs don't go to heaven," she says, "People do."  Well, ain't that just dandy.

Yeah, that makes me mad.  That makes me very mad.  In my Short List of Things I Believe, I have two items related to this.  First is the one that says "All death is tragic.  Not all deaths are equal in their tragic value."  The second is that cruelty to animals, especially killing them, is only one short step away from killing humans. 

My sensibilities are offended to the point of outrage about this whole thing.  I normally don't like to play with suppositions and speculations, but in this case I can't help but think what the kid might have done if it had been a baby left behind for any reason.  One that was crying and wouldn't shut up.  Yes, I have to start with the assumption that this kid probably would have left the baby alone and would have either left the trailer before committing any robbery, or would have taken some stuff and fled quickly.

The threads of details, though, continue to add up to weave a picture of a family that has no respect for life, no respect for their neighbors, and no understanding of cooperating with themselves or their neighbors.

I don't know if this is an indication of any sort of larger problem in society.  This kind of crap goes on all the time.  I wish it didn't.  Animals, pets, are generally not able to defend themselves against a determined human predator.  We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves.  We have a responsibility to take care of those who rely on us.  To kill a dog because it's in the way is deplorable.  Despicable.  Disgusting.

What sort of punishment should be applied for this killing, I don't know.  We start to get into a gray area of moral relativism when we make the argument that killing an animal is worthy of greater punishment than harming a human.  Except that I do believe that anyone who would kill an animal, someone's pet, would more readily kill a human in the right (wrong) circumstances than others who would not kill an animal.  It is an act that demonstrates a generalized lack of respect for life.

Is that different than killing a spider?  Or a mouse?  What about a mole that is digging in the garden?  Do the lives of more complex animals have more moral value to us than the simple ones?  Do domesticated animals mean more to us as individuals, or as a society, than the rodents and predatory animals?

All death is tragic.  Not all death is equal in its tragic value.

Higher-order species, the more complex animals, are not sentient in the way we consider ourselves to be.  But, they are aware.  They understand the world around them in their own limited ways.  Consider the possibility of a species more developed than ourselves examining the way we perceive the world around us.  They would be fascinated (I hope) or disgusted (I fear) by the way we operate with our limited perceptions as compared to their own. 

That is a sort of relativism maybe.  But we have to consider that it's only by a trick of fate and evolution that the ancient ape-like creatures developed cognition in the way we've come to understand it, and not the canine- or feline-like ones.  Plus, evolution isn't done with us yet.  The roaches may take over the world yet.

We kill for food.  We kill for sport.  Somehow we've come to a social agreement (mostly) that certain animals are OK for killing.  That's fine.  We are a predatory, carnivorous, omnivorous species.  But we betray the trust placed in us, and fail in our responsibility, when one of us kills a pet.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

DADT, Communal Showers, Socialization and Bullsh*t.

I'm thinking again today about willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty.  I have to accept that some of the ignorance isn't willful but is, instead, just unfortunate.

One of the things I'm confronting in my head is a situation were a friend tried to make the case for what it, in essence, a stall tactic.  I usually am comfortable with letting events play out on their own time line.  I dislike those who chant "Change!  Now!" with utter disregard for the context in which they demand change.  In this case, though, I have to face the reality that if the change is not implemented soon, if not immediately, then the political reality is that the environment will prevent any sort of action in the future.  Change has to happen now or it won't happen at all.

I am reminded of a child being told it is time for bed.  "Five more minutes?" the child keeps asking.  If the parent gives the child another five minutes, then another, and another, soon enough the child will have achieved his goal of staying up as late as he wanted.  Someone in this relationship needs to be the parent.

In this case, the "Five more minutes" bullshit is over.  There's no reason for Five More Minutes, and the request for Five More Minutes is disingenuous in that it's intended not for the stated case of examining the situation but is instead intended to delay action until any sort of action is impossible.

I call Shenanigans.  I call Bullshit.

I'll be clear: I'm talking about the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  It was a stupid law when it was written, and it's a stupid law now. 

In that same Five More Minutes conversation, I was asked a good question: if it's no big deal for gay and straight men (or women) to shower together, then why not have coed showers?

Well, OK.  First, I think, one does not join the military for its accommodations.  Second, we need to examine human nature and cultural socialization. 

In the Human Nature part we have to keep in mind that some things are hard wired into the human brain.  We all have a sexual nature of some sort.  Perhaps I'll get into the discussion of Gay to Straight being on a continuum and not a binary.  People are naturally sexually aroused by *something*. 

The Socialization part is that we are trained while we are children and into adulthood that sexual behavior is most widely accepted only in certain circumstances.  It is beyond rude, it is socially unacceptable to express sexuality in an inappropriate, especially unwanted, manner.

So, why not coed showers?  Mostly it's because of that social convention.  The majority of humans are on the Straight end of the scale and, as such, would experience some sort of sexual reaction to a coed shower.  Our social conventions do not train us for this situation and as such the nature would be un-checked by training and conditioning.  Would it be anything more than awkward?  In most cases, no.  In enough cases, though, the fragile constructs of personal and sexual identity would be challenged enough to cause problems such as unwanted attention, harassment, or in worst case, assault.

So, then, wouldn't this happen between gays and straights in a single-sex environment? 

I don't think so.  Same-sex socialization is very different than opposite-sex socialization.  Children are trained and conditioned to be together, separated by biological sex, from a very young age.  Even as children are developing and discovering their own internal nature of their sexuality, they learn that the environment in which they operate does not allow for, and will not tolerate, unwanted sexuality.  Guys, think of how terrifying it was to even consider the unfortunate situation of "popping a boner" in the gym shower during high school.  Misery.

Will there be any sort of unwanted attention, harassment, or assault?  Of course there will be.  There always will be.  For a small portion of the population, the socialization is incomplete, ineffective, or plain old wrong.  Those people in those situations will always be present in some manner, and their behavior will always be unacceptable.

Here's where the ignorance plays in, I think.  A lot of people still think of homosexuality as some sort of perversion and still consider it in the same category as sexual predatory behavior.  They think that a gay person is more likely to commit some sort of assault than a straight.  I suspect that if the crime statistics carried that kind of information we'd see that's not the case.  Nevertheless, because some people think that the Gays are Out To Get Them and are Deviants and Predators, they should be segregated. 

That's Bullshit.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Rainy Morning.

The day begins with rain coming down as if to wash away the sins of the night before.  Rain with a purpose.  Rain with an agenda.  Not judgment as such, but it knows that some things need to be washed into the gutter with the rest of the debris. 

Clouds block out the sun.  No light will shine on this day until it has been cleaned up.  The sun is judgmental.  The sun does not wish to illuminate the dregs, the detritus, the damage.  The sun feels shame.  The sun sends the clouds to shield its own eyes, and to remind those below that the sun it not a given, not an absolute.  The sun sends the clouds to bring rain, to cleanse the world.

Rain falls on the houses, on the yards, on the fields, in the streets.  It soaks the ground where it can be absorbed and runs quickly off the hard surfaces where it doesn't appear welcome.  Even on the hard surfaces the rain find small purchase, small niches in which to hide, in which to assert its presence.  It will not be denied.

Rain gathers itself in the gutters of the houses and of the streets.  It gathers its individual force into a collective rush of pressure.  It sweeps up what it can find and carries it out as far as it can go.  Innocuous items, leaves, branches, dirt travel with the rain's collective force to redistribute the resources.  They fight for position in the rushing rainwater with the leftovers so offensive to the sun.  Used condoms and wrappers, baggies still stained with heroin, crack, meth, drift aimlessly down the impromptu river as if nothing was wrong, as if their life had brought no harm or dismay to anyone.  The baggies, especially, belie little evidence that they are a part of a person's personal destruction.  They are neutral and vehemently so.  The rain cannot change that fact, it can only carry it away.

Other trash falls into the rushing water.  Bags, paper and plastic, letters once carrying important news are soaked and illegible.  The ink that once represented life changing information, a tantalizing offer of success or pleasure for only $29.95, a sad explanation of failure, declarations of endless love, and of course, the admission of that endless love now gone forever, is all soaked and washed clean from the paper that was once its conveyance.  The ink dissolves into the rainwater, the paper pulps itself into a mush, and the ideas they once represented are lost in time. 

All the while, the sun directs the clouds to continue blocking its view, dispensing the rain to provide the cleansing.  It will restore its power and its energy, but not until this is done.  The sun goes from sad to angry and back again.  It withholds its immense power at times for lack of belief that it will be put to good use.  At other times in a punitive measure so as to remind its children that they are nothing without it, would not exist without it and its brothers.  It is the factory in which all things it cares for were made.  And, like a parent watching over willful children, feels exasperation when they go astray.

Clouds obscure.  Rain washes.  Sun waits.

The rain doesn't care.  It lives a life of constant change.  The sun picks it up from one place, gives it a certain amount of freedom it doesn't feel that often.  The sun has a cleansing process of its own that the rain appreciates.  It has its own impurities removed from it regularly.  It's not a perfect process, of course, but the rain appreciates the effort. 

The sun picks up the rain, gathers it together where it is needed, and puts it to work.  That it the life of the rain.  A comfortable meaningful process of movement, evaporation and coalescence, food and waste.  Rain is simple.  It is simple in its needs.  It can exist on its own, and can even adapt to any space in which it finds itself.  It does better when it is with more of its own kind, and even better when it's with others, but still it's a simple thing with simple needs.  Clean.  Feed.  Rest.  Repeat.

Rain falls with meaning, with purpose.  The day starts with its cleansing.  The day will go on with or without it.  But today, anyway, will be cleaner than it was last night.  And soon enough, the clouds will part and the sun will return.