Fact-based faith

A few days ago, I saw the documentary “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” It was filmed in 2006 before Obama became president. One of the profiles is of a family that goes to a mega church (and they spend a fair bit of time filming that church’s pastor preaching), and at one point, the family visits the Creation Museum (yes, there is such a thing).

One thing that continually strikes me when I hear fundamentalists talk is that it seems that they have completely turned off the critical thinking switch. Maybe, there never was one in the first place. My favorite part of the film is when they are filming in the museum, in the exhibit that talks about creation. From what I can tell, the exhibit only details the Genesis 1 version of events, and not the Genesis 2 version of events.

The thing I can never get is how people can believe in the literal truth of the Bible, enough to insist that a hundred and fifty years or so of scientific research is fatally flawed, and the world is really only 6,000 years old, and yet completely miss the fact that the two versions of the origin story in Genesis are mutually exclusive! The creation events come in a different order. For instance, in Genesis 1, God creates the plants on the third day, and humans on the sixth day. But in Genesis 2, God creates humans (well, Adam) before God creates plants. At the moment, I don’t actually know anybody who believes in the literal truth of the Bible, but if you come across one, ask them, and tell me. (Actually, I found this extremely convoluted explanation. Oh, and then there is this one. Um, really?)

I’m not a Wesleyan (nor a Methodist), but I have to admit that one of my favorite theological methodologies is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I think it’s really cool. Wesley had this idea that one should look at four things in order to make theological conclusions: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I know that he’d likely lean more heavily on scripture and tradition, and a bit more lightly on reason and experience than I would, but I agree with him that all four of these are critical to our faith.

I believe in God, which I (loosely) define as the creative being or force behind the universe. And I’d bet that at least for the time being, science is not going to be able to prove or disprove God’s existence–that existence is not amenable to the scientific method. And I’m not a materialist – that is, I think that there is more to the universe than just observable matter and energy, and that there are some things we may never be able to explain or fully understand, due to our limitations as human beings. That said, if a phenomenon is amenable to the scientific method, and that method tells us some stuff (like the Earth is really four and a half billion years old, not 6,000) I’m going to accept it wholeheartedly.

The Dalai Lama said once: “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

That is fact-based faith. In Christian terms, one might say, God gave us brains for a reason: to use them.


What if we all owned our own work?

You all already know I’m not a fan of Capitalism, or at least how it is practiced in most of the world at present. And, I’m not a fan of Communism, either. As I’ve said before, I’m basically a libertarian socialist (or a social anarchist, I’m not sure which of those two phrases I like better, even though they basically mean the same thing.)

But one thing that is very good about the current state of things is that it is easy for people to work for themselves. Of course “easy” is relative. In practical terms, if one is unemployed, especially in a field were jobs are really hard to come by, it would probably be as easy to spend all those hours figuring out how to make money on your own, than looking for a job that isn’t there. Of course, if you are already employed, then making the jump to work on your own is harder.

And working on your own is risky. There’s no weekly/monthly paycheck. No health insurance guaranteed, no nice retirement benefits automatically accruing. It can be hard imagining living that way, especially if you have kids. But you can start out slow. Start out part-time. Put your toes in the water, as it were.

Some business ideas (like massage therapy, or acupuncture) take training or degrees (and that means money.) Some business ideas take working capital (like opening a restaurant, or a store.) But many business ideas don’t need either. And I’m not taking about those manifestly exploitative “work from home” schemes you see in advertising. I’m talking about working for yourself, really for yourself.

One of my heroes is Bo, a Vermonter, who, with a clever idea and a silkscreen printer made a business for himself, and even has employees now. For every Bo, there are thousands of other people who’ve made similar ideas grow.

I’ve been working for myself for over a decade, now, doing technology work, in a varied number of configurations, but all of which have been me, and sometimes a few others, working for ourselves, owning our own work. Technology work, if you have the inclination, is actually one of the easier fields to break into as a self-educated person. And there are lots and lots of resources to get you going, and learning. (Email me if you want some tips.) And I’m not talking about high-faluting start-ups. I’m just talking about regular Janes and Joes, working at home (or in cafes or in co-working spaces,) churning out code, technical writing, or advice, and getting paid for it.

If we really want to change the world, owning our own work, and doing ethical work that people need would be a great first step, and a step that is very doable now. And, of course, the flip-side of this is that we all need to prioritize our spending on people who own their own work. Need a t-shirt? Buy one from Bo. Need soap? Buy some from the local soap-maker you know. It’s more expensive, but if everyone did it, it would make a huge difference.

If by buying small and local as much as we can, we create local markets for goods and services people provide, it makes more and more room for individuals to own their own work. The more people there are who work for themselves, and the more people buy from those people, the less hold corporations have on ourselves, and our country.




Fear, Hatred and Delusion

We heard, yesterday, about one horrific act of violence. And we all weep with the families of those who have lost their little ones (and older ones, too.) It is something that is hard to understand, hard to even fathom. Yet… yet… it’s not, really. It is simply an inevitable result of our culture.

Nerf Machine gunChildred grow up in a culture of violence. Letting kids play video games where they can kill whatever they come across, or watch an action movie is considered much, much better than letting them watch people making love on the screen. Nerf guns and super-soaker guns look more like assault weapons than anything else.

We live in a culture that is dripping in real guns, too. There are almost 90 guns for every 100 people in the US. Far higher than any other country in the world. Most people who own guns own more than one.

So this is what happens: There is a mass shooting. The press reports it nonstop. There are vigils, memorial services, stories of the heroes and heroines who saved lives. There are the inevitable questions about the motivation of the killer, and hand-wringing about security. There are calls for tougher gun control laws. The NRA and others spend a lot of money fighting everything, so nothing happens. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Earlier this year, after another tragedy, I blogged about following the money. But it isn’t just the greed of the gun manufacturers, or those who are so afraid of their fellow human beings that they fall for the delusion that a gun will keep them safer, or the militia who stock up on weapons because of the hatred of the emerging diversity of this country. It’s all of our delusion that living in a violent society doesn’t have inevitable, tragic results.

The way out of this isn’t more gun control (or bullet control, even.) Really, we need a cultural change – a big one.




Men in picket lineI quickly read over the headlines this afternoon, and caught site of the phrase “Right to Work.” And I read a few of the snippets there for what was happening in Michigan, which is yet another attempt by a state to limit the power of unions. I find it fascinating that this phrase has been used completely unironically by people wanting to limit the power of unions.

In 1948, George Orwell wrote his famous and iconic dystopian novel, 1984. I read it first in the early ’70s, before I really understood much about the world, and the way it works. I read it again around 1984ish, I think just to remind myself of what it said, and assure myself that dystopia hadn’t come true. It’s probably about time that I read it again.

And of course, it hasn’t come to be reality, although many would argue that many parts of it have. In broad strokes, the major oppressive forces in the book of mass surveillance and constant war have arguably come to pass, although quite milder in form and effect. But we are awash in doublespeak. We don’t quite hear “war is peace” but we do certainly hear “we assure peace through military strength.” So much so, that many people who call themselves progressive agree with that statement. Of course the only thing we assure with military strength is… military strength.

“Right to Work” is another one of those un-examined examples of doublespeak. “Right to Work” laws are supposedly meant to prevent “forced unionization” – that is, an employee “gets to choose” whether or not to join a union. But what does this mean, really? It means a weakening of unions, and when unions are weak, there are always fewer jobs at lower wages. Hmmm, really? “Right to Work?”

We live in a soup of doublespeak, and it’s not only in politics and government. It’s in everyday life. We hear it in advertising constantly (heard the “clean coal” commercial?) And we get so used to it, that it doesn’t really bring us up short when someone uses it. We are inured to it. And therein lies the problem. Every time we hear something that is doublespeak, it should surprise us, even shock us, but does it? News media should call it out for what it is, and we should demand that people use real, plain language for something like “Right to Work” laws. What would that language be? “Union Weakening laws?” And, even if I was being generous, “Employee Union Choice laws”? But we all really know what this is about. Maximizing profit by minimizing labor costs. So they really should be “Labor Cost Minimization laws.” That’s plainspeak.


Now that we almost have gay marriage, can we get rid of it?

I came out to myself in 1982, and to everyone else in 1985. You remember what that was like, the early 80’s right?   It was just beginning to be OK to tell people you were gay or lesbian, or bisexual. That is, if you lived on one of the coasts. (I lived in Cleveland, OH, at the time, which basically almost counts.) It was the beginning of a long, tragic period of dealing with the AIDS epidemic. For lesbians, it was the middle-to-end-ish of the lesbian separatist movement.

I was being a good graduate student, I was only really observing what was going on for lesbian separatists at the time. My personal philosophy of life didn’t quite fit, anyway. But there were a lot of them around me in Cleveland Heights, where I lived. And it was interesting, for sure.

I remember having discussions about monogamy, which is something I’ve never thought was an especially good idea for human beings to aspire to, even though personally, I’ve yet to have more than one romantic attachment at a time. And lifelong monogamy… human beings are not birds. None of our closest relatives are monogamous at all, and only about 5 percent of all mammals form life-long pair bonds. I have no earthly idea why people think humans should do it. (I’m not saying that no one can do it, people do. I am saying it is absurd to generally expect it.)

Anyway, back then, among lesbians, marriage was considered something between unnecessary, and, well, you know, aping the patriarchy. It just wasn’t on the agenda. The right to freely live one’s life without discrimination – that was on the agenda.

But, you know what happened? People got older, they settled down into mainstream life. They had kids. They got Subarus. The reality of living life as a couple without the benefits and assurances of their straight married neighbors rankled. Understandably so. But I have to admit, since I’d been busy doing other things, I kinda got whiplash when I realized it had become the agenda (along with gays in the military. But that’s another blog post.)

If I had been there, at whatever meeting it was at the Task Force, or the HRC, or whatever, I would have stood up and said that our agenda should be to get the state out of marriage altogether. Let any number of adults make contracts with each other, and the state should not be in the business of sanctioning what is basically a social and religious thing.

And, of course, I would have been laughed out of the room as being unrealistic. But I think that in the pursuit of the practical, we lost sight of the big picture. Many people find nuclear family life to be satisfying. Kids playing in the den, their husband or wife by their side – that’s satisfying to them. It brings them joy. But not all of us are like that. Some of us would find that life to be stultifying, or just simply not the right life. There are many reasons for this – each person who feels this way has their own reason. 

One of the things I remember most about that period when I was first coming out was the sense of possibility. The possibility to live in a way that was different than the norm, without apology. That sense that we could force the dominant culture to accept us on our own terms. But that’s not what happened, is it? We’ve been forced into fighting for the right to become just like everyone else. And what’s even worse is that sometimes people feel pressured to get married. And I’m darned sure that gay marriages are not likely to be much more successful than straight ones. Even when everyone can get “gay married” there still won’t be a whole lot of social affirmation for people who choose other options than nuclear family life (i.e 2 adults and 0+ children).

I do think that the relatively imminent demise (OK, I’m being a little optimistic) of the restrictions against gays and lesbians marrying is an opportunity. An opportunity to have the conversation about what is marriage for, anyway?

I know, you’ll say “to raise children”, “or to provide companionship.” That’s not what I’m talking about. People will always form romantic and child-rearing relationships of one type or another. We’re human beings. We do that sort of thing. But why on earth should the state be in the position of telling people who or how many adults may do this, and under what circumstances? That simply doesn’t make sense anymore.

I know. I’m not holding my breath.







Making Mistakes

As a black queer woman, I’ve experienced my share of racism, sexism and homophobia. Between having some class privilege, and what I’ve chosen to do, and where I’ve chosen to live, these have had a relatively small impact on my life compared to many others. Perhaps this has led to my current thoughts and approaches to racism, or perhaps it’s my spiritual perspectives, I’m not sure.

I think there are three kinds of racists: Deliberate, clueless, and striving. Deliberate racists are (generally, but not always, white) people who feel that other races (a concept which, by the way, does not exist) are inferior in some way or another, and society should be set up to reflect that. Clueless racists are “race-blind”, and they “have a black friend.” Striving (really anti-striving) racists know they are racist, and are working hard to understand it, and how it operates in them.

Now I happen to think that every single one of us is, in a sense, racist. For most people of color, the racism is inwardly-focused. (Like really, why is it that the cultural norm for black women is to straighten our hair?) No one can grow up in this society without being formed by the culture of white supremacy.

One of the things that I think has made it so hard deal with racism is the fact that often, people make it really hard for anyone to make mistakes. This example actually inspired this long blog post. First, I don’t mean to pick on this person – I’ve read a lot of her stuff, and really appreciate it. She’s a fellow traveler, as it were, another black, crunchy Buddhist. And I also don’t mean to diminish her feelings about what happened – they are important to talk about. But I have to call this out.

She wrote a post about her earrings (as well as an experience she had). She has a pair of earrings of Nina Simone. The title of the post is “Nina Simone, SF Zen Center, and how all black people still look alike”. The post describes how people who saw her earrings, which depict Nina Simone (with an afro) thought they were Angela Davis earrings. And this is what she said:

Since purchasing these a year or so ago, I have gotten about 50 people asking me, “Hey, is that Angela Davis?” or “Cool, Angela Davis earrings!”  I am not exaggerating that EVERY single person who has said one of these two lines to me is white. Last night, 8 different white people at the party celebration added to the same narrative by asking the very same question.

Okay, I’m not angry, not surprised, but a little disappointed that one cannot tell the difference between Angela Davis and Nina Simone. These women do not look a like AT ALL. And never have I had any brown or black person mistaken Nina Simon for Angela Davis.

Now, I’m a real Nina Simone fan. I have every album she released, and several compilations made after her death. If you look at my last.fm profile, you will see that she is the most often played artist. And when I looked at the picture on the blog, the first person that came to my mind was, honestly, Angela Davis. After a little bit, I realized it wasn’t Angela, but if I had not seen the title of the post, I would not have known who it was.

Mostly, that’s because a lot of the pictures I’ve ever seen of Nina Simone do not picture her with an afro, and Angela Davis’ afro is so darned iconic. Also, the image is somewhat stylized. This is, basically, a set up. To my mind, it’s very easy to mistake that particular image of Nina Simone with Angela Davis. And, to the blog author, when someone makes this mistake, it means that they really think all black people look alike.

This is just one example of this dynamic, but I think everyone reading this blog knows of others, and perhaps has experienced it. It’s simply just not possible to live in this society and not make mistakes. And if you are working hard on your own racism, it extracts something from you when someone labels your mistake as problematic as “you think all black people look alike.” And that price, extracted time and time again, makes people less willing to take risks. But taking risks is the only way that we’ll change our society. The only way we can come together is if we risk being vulnerable with each other. If we can’t be vulnerable with each other, nothing will change.

Of course, we have to call people on stuff – I’m not suggesting that we don’t – that is the only way people learn. But we can’t set them up, and if people are really working hard, (rather than clueless or deliberate), we can’t keep making it harder and harder for them to take risks. And that’s also the only way we can move people from being clueless onward (I think those that are deliberate racists are likely to stay that way, no matter what we do.)

A friend of mine taught me a great forgiveness practice. This is part of it:

May I forgive you
May I allow you to be a beginner, still learning life’s lessons
May I forgive you
And if I can’t forgive you now, may I be able to forgive you sometime in the future.