breakfast with Don

‘How do you determine what is truth?, I asked. I’d spent a bit of time early this morning perusing commentaries on the current state of affairs in our country, trying to decide if I should be alarmed or if what I am reading might be alarmist, if I am being blind, or conversely at risk of being influenced by blind by rage. I had read about how easily we are micro-targeted to be fed bits of information based upon what is known about us. Information, knowledge even, then is not the same as truth, and while it is easy to point at the information that those on the ‘other side’ are being fed, it’s much harder to accept that the same is happening to us ‘good’ people on this side. Some of the articles I read are written by respected academic scholars, students of the topic infinitely more versed than I, and yet I also am aware that even these are largely influenced by the lens through which academia has been bent to look. Alternately, I read the more heart-centered lamentation by a quaker spiritual leader, whom I respect (albeit he had conferred with a political scientist for help). In this world, where the truth is turned upside down and where catastrophizing has become the language of justice (Is that really new? Or are we just more aware of it today? Or has the viral speed by which mistruths are transmitted made it more of an epidemic?), how do we discern when we are being deluded? What is your measuring stick?

Don’s answer, as is my own, was Love. And yet, even Love is not black and white when it comes to right and wrong. Am I acting out of love when I want to save the jobs of the family who depend upon it, which may mean disallowing another family from that opportunity? Is my husband acting out of love when he uses violence to protect me from harm? Is it loving to extend grace to a family in our community that has been unable to pay their share of taxes when another family has gone without? I have also been poor and unable to pay. The lines are fluid, and ironically, I think that often persons on both sides of a divide believe they are acting from Love.

I believe it was Confucius who taught the model of expanding one’s circle of grace and compassion. Along the journey, at first we love our self, then we love our immediate family (if someone comes to the door needing bread and I have only enough bread to feed my child that day, would I give it away?), then our extended family, parochial community, nation, world, earth….

I have heard it said that the Ten Commandments were a way to codify Love, at a time in human evolution when we were not yet able to act from the seat of Love—when we were perhaps in a place of survival on the hierarchy of needs. This same argument led to the idea that during Jesus’ time, those same laws (along with others) had become corrupted, into a zero-tolerance kind of administration, whereby compassion and understanding could not be used to weigh the circumstances. According to this line of thought, Jesus preached Love as the measuring stick I seek.

I’d like it to be both/and, but I realize even that is often impossible to implement.

In order to live in community, and in order to benefit from the gifts of that community of diverse gifts and resources, ideas and talents (none of us are self-sufficient), I relinquish certain freedoms. I sign on to the greater good, such that even when I disagree with certain decisions that are made I submit. That happens in a marriage, in a career, in a nation. If, for my community, not cutting trees is decided to be a value we hold as important, I give up my ‘right’ to cut the large tree that may one day fall upon my roof. Again, each of these choices could be viewed as based upon Love—or its flip side, fear, for what is fear but the desire to protect that which we love?

Sometimes, I just want absolutes. I want it to be wrong to rape, for instance (and that is not even one of the Ten!), yet even that seems to be a slippery slope. What exactly is consent? What is seduction, coercion? What is retrospective shame? I want it to be wrong to bomb. I want it to be wrong to beat a woman, (here, I admit, I can find no relativism) I want it to be wrong to beat a man! I want it to be wrong to cheat. I want it to be wrong to abuse and intimidate….

Heaven help us.

Perhaps the world of humanity has always been thus. Perhaps this internal conflict is the source of all religion, philosophy, ethics. I have heard it said that the impetus of all religion stemmed from the harsh reality that something must die in order for us to live. Within that harsh reality, we struggle with the ideas of justice and mercy, kindness and compassion. ( Is it just, compassionate, or merciful that the baby seal dies so that the baby shark may live?) This afternoon I caught a PBS program about the lowly weasel.A program for our times? What is the truth about this diverse family? Is it an unsavory, untrustworthy, treacherous, deceitful, betraying, tormenting, harassing plague…. Or a cunning, intelligent, persistent, delving, problem-solving, super-sensed, , flexible, feisty, fearless, accomplished, Brainiac, innovator.

We have hidden from view the physical/visceral realities of that. We no longer witness the deaths and butchering of animals that feed our bodies, no longer witness the burning of the earth that offers us warmth- those fires are hidden too. Perhaps we too have forgotten how to balance.

God have mercy.

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