Thursday, May 03, 2012

A few words on compromise

Compromise... A topic that has been bouncing around in my head lately. In my 20s, I was a bit hardheaded about things. A bit self-righteous. Full of Sicilian piss and vinegar. All too willing to fight the good fight. Epic battles of comic book proportions. The world was seen in monochromatic tones of RIGHT versus WRONG, commonly called "idealism."

Where did that go? It was humbled into submission by past mistakes and self doubt. And the willingness to forgive myself for those mistakes has allowed me to be more open-minded and at least tolerant of the views of others. I'm tired of fighting the fight. I know now that no amount of reasoning will change some people's viewpoints. I'm comfortable enough in my beliefs that I don't have to convince others to join me.

I realized this change in me as I contemplate two things: joining a church and allowing my son to participate in Boy Scouts.

I joined Scouting as a kid, but did not progress beyond Cub Scouts. Partly, this was because I had lame den mothers and we didn't do the kinds of activities I thought Scouts were supposed to do, namely camping and helping old ladies cross the street. The only things I remember from my two years of scouting was encouraging a candle to burn during den meetings, because when it burned out we would be allowed to go on an outing. And the one outing we took, which was to a recycling facility. I remember mounds of sharp shredded cans and that the workers wore hair nets. When I asked why they wore hair nets, I was told the metal gets ground so fine, that dust settles into their scalp. I remember putting hand to my uncovered head and feeling a new sense of endangerment. That's about the summary of my experience with Boy Scouts of America.

Later, as an adult backpacker on our nation's National Scenic Trails, every time I encountered a Boy Scout group, in contradiction to the group's motto, they were woefully unprepared. What a disservice, I thought, looking out on kids wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers and hoisting wobbly 50 pound packs. These kids will never backpack as adults. This experience will turn them away from the activity. Of course, the adult leaders were macho A-hole dads, either diffident in their own misery or disturbing the peace and sanctity of the great outdoors barking out orders.

Then there's the political controversy surrounding Scouts. In recent years, the organization has been co-opted by the Mormons, and an anti-gay policy put in place in their bylaws.

But still...

When Jonny showed me the Boys Life magazine he was given at school, a wave of nostalgia swept over me. I'm willing to compromise, to look the other way at the Scouts anti-gay policy, explaining to Jonny someday that there's nothing wrong with being gay. After all, this policy won't affect his scouting experience, unless some militant, right-wing Nazi is the local scouting leader. Then, we'd have a problem. I'm willing to accept this negative aspect of Scouting, voicing my opposition to the policy and working in whatever capacity I can to reverse it. And if Jonny goes camping, I will more-than-likely come along, and if not, the boy will learn enough camp craft to overcome the idiocy of a bad trip leader. So, if Jonny wants to join the Boy Scouts, I'll let him. Why should my idealism and some poor decisions by well-intentioned Mormons interfere with what could be a positive experience for my son?

And then there's church. I regularly attended church well into my twenties, but drifted away in the late 90s because of contradictions I saw in doctrine and an inability to commit to the Bible as the sole inspired voice of God in written form. Have you ever read the Bible? I mean, the whole thing? There is enough death and mayhem in there to make Stephen King blanch with horror. I thought then, how is this holy? And there's the patriarchal bent, the promotion of monarchy, the killing of women and children in the name of God. It takes very little difficulty to find fault with the Bible. I left the church in my mid-20s because I thought most congregants are hypocrites and I can't put hopes of eternal life into such a flawed and obviously biased human text.

Fast forward 15 years and I'm back, regularly attending church. My son sings in the choir. We're in a pew every Sunday. It's a different denomination now - Methodist. They accept gays and women can be pastors. These issues are deal-breakers that keep me away from the Evangelical Free Church. Sorry, EFC. I heard one too many anti-gay or a women's place is in the home kind of sermons.

Is the Bible still a flawed text to me? Sure. Is it one of the most inspiring works of Western literature? Yes. Can I find inspiration and hope in the example of Jesus Christ? Yes. Is He the One True God and No One can get to Heaven unless they follow Him? No. I'm not so sure. Buddhists, Muslims, Rastafarians, etc. deserve Heaven too. I'm less concerned with doctrine or capital T truth, and more concerned with the things about religion that speak to the spirit, that tug at the heart strings.

What I like about going to church is that it is a time of the week for me to contemplate and reflect on the best and most hopeful of the human condition. Jesus Christ is a messianic figure, an inspiration on how to live in love and harmony in the world. I don't care about doctrine or all the apparent contradictions in the Bible. The way that sunlight streams through stained glass, the smells of perfumes, the solemnity and humility of fellow worshippers, the positive life lessons I and, more importantly, my son, takes away from exposure to church life, the moments of transcendence and connection with fellow congregants, the outlet it provides for giving and community service, and the music, especially the chest-rattling pipe organ -- these are the reasons I go to church.

I'm no longer interested in THE WAY, but am just finding ways, in daily habits and other experiences, to live a life in accord with my goals, values and beliefs. Modern religion, like Scouting, is flawed. So what? Nothing's perfect. The 20-something me found no comfort in that. I was too wrapped up in idealism. The soon-to-be 40-something me has finally, maybe, possibly, taken some Biblical lessons to heart. There is a wisdom that surpasses all understanding. We get glimpses of it every once in a while. Instead of idealism, I take joy in these glimpses, these tiny moments of grace. Now is all we have. Better to enjoy it as is - warts and all -- than to try and shape and manipulate it into what it is not. This fundamental shift in viewpoint has brought me so much peace and acceptance of my family and friends. The world is not going to change to suit my beliefs. I had to change my beliefs in order to make peace with the world.

And that's my sermon for the day. WOE to YOU, profligate unbelievers, if you do not heed my words. Mwu- ha ha ha ha