Darrell McGowan, the author behind this blog is a Southern California writer, speaker for the living and the dead, funeral celebrant, lover of life, and father. Yes2RedPill, the author’s screen name, is a reference to The Matrix – specifically, the scene where Neo chooses reality (the red pill) over the fantasy most of humanity lives (the blue pill.) Darrell is an ordained Christian minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a buddhist practitioner. He passionately pursues helping people find deeper meaning and purpose in life. These writings are a byproduct of the author’s commitment to live a deeply reflective life. You are invited to share these writings as widely as you choose and requested to give credit to their writer, though Darrell is delighted to know his words have been helpful to others, whether or not any readers remember his name.
A couple months ago, I trudged into the Sierras for my annual week in the wilderness. Beauty surrounded me–gorgeous trail, an abundance of wild flowers, vast meadows, majestic trees, and serene mountain lakes. As always, I was overcome with appreciation for our spectacular world. And, still, over the course of the first few hours I reached for my phone half a dozen times. Sometimes I activated it. Other times I didn’t bother; I remembered that my phone had no cell signal. Half a dozen times in just a few hours I reached for my disconnected smart phone. Why?
No reason, it was just a habit–a nasty habit I hadn’t even realized I’d developed–a nervous tick I was determined to break upon re-entering my busy life.
Have you ever heard it takes 30 days to develop or break a habit? Maybe it’s true and maybe it isn’t, but I decided I was going to spend at least a month developing a much healthier connection to my immediate environment and a much healthier detachment from my phone and from social media in particular.
After all, when you reach for your phone what do you usually do? If you’re like most people, you probably scroll Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or some other social media app. And that, my friends, is no accident!
The big social media companies spend a ton of money hiring the brightest people in the world to design an experience that will keep you engaged. The longer you spend on their site, the more time they have to feed you advertisements. The more advertisements you view, the more money they make. You don’t even need to click on any of those ads for them to make money. If you do, though, they make even more!
I began what I called “Facebook Fridays.” It would have been more accurate to call it “social media Fridays,” but I love alliteration. For one month, I would only spend time on social media one day a week–Friday.
The first week was tough. I reached for my phone too many times to count before I remembered I had no reason to check it. It almost felt like a part of my world went on without me, and I suppose it did.
Within a few days, I realized I had been spending way more time on social media than I’d ever intended. It had become a black hole!
Don’t get me wrong, I like staying up with your life and hearing what’s going on in your world. It’s just that I don’t need much time to do that. It only takes a few minutes to read the articles you found interesting or watch the videos you shared. It takes wa-a-ay too long to get past all the “stuff” I don’t have any interest in seeing.
Just like the grocery store keeps all the stuff we really want around the edges of the store so we have to walk through aisles of stuff we never thought we needed, social media sites are designed to give us just enough of the things we want to keep us surfing through volumes of stuff we never asked to see. Ever notice that Facebook is becoming more and more like spending time in a maze? That is by design!
So what did my little experiment teach me? Nothing. Well, nothing I didn’t already know. It reinforced a couple pretty important things, though.
I missed you! There is value in the connection, however shallow, social media provides. I missed wishing you a “happy birthday” on your actual day. I missed seeing the newsy stuff you posted about your life, your family, and your friends.
I also learned that my life is SO much richer when I spend more time engaged with people on a much deeper lever than Facebook or other social media could ever provide. I’ve had some great conversations–in person, over the phone, and by email–where I heard what’s really going on in someone else’s life and connected with them around their struggles and their joys! I smiled more, laughed more, and even cried more.
So my little experiment is over. I’ll be on social media now without regard to the calendar. I just won’t be there near as much as I once was. And I will never be there when you’re sitting in front of me. You matter, see; and I would never want my involuntary reaction to my phone to suggest otherwise.
“Privilege” is quickly becoming the epithet du jour. I’ve heard the word used in contexts where any highly personal insult would have suited just fine. I think that’s wrong.
Now let’s make one thing clear: I’m privileged. I’m a white, male, straight, well-educated baby boomer. But those aren’t the qualities that afforded me the greatest privilege.
I was born to two loving parents who, at times, struggled to make ends meet. They loved me, though! They gave everything they had to support my seven siblings and I. And through all the challenges they faced, they loved us. Did I mention seven siblings? Now there’s a source of both privilege and challenge!
My loving parents also challenged us. My mom and dad expected us to work hard in school and work hard afterwards. We had jobs at an early age and we were forced to save half our earnings.
I went to a small town school. The elementary school was on one end of the block and the high school on the other. We didn’t have a lot of classes you’d find in a big school system. We didn’t miss them. We had great teachers who set high expectations and held us accountable. If we skipped school, we helped the janitor do his job for a week–so we didn’t skip school. Many of my classmates who were “C” students in high school finished demanding college degrees in four years.
My greatest privilege came from being born in the United States. I’ve had opportunities most human beings couldn’t imagine, just because of that one reality. Add the dual privileges of a loving family and dedicated teachers and I was well prepared to recognize and exploit the opportunities that came my way.
I am privileged. So are you. For starters, if you follow me on social media, you were almost certainly born, grew up, and live in the United States, since very few of my followers are foreigners. Whatever you think of the state of the Union, we are fortunate beyond measure in comparison to most of the people born, growing up, and living elsewhere. The economy here may not be what you would desire, but it’s still one of the strongest in the world with one of the highest levels of mobility. We are privileged to be amongst the 5% of the world’s population who have the opportunities our citizenship or residency affords.
I was also afforded other privileges I did nothing to earn. Like I said, I’m a white, male, straight, well-educated baby boomer. White privilege is real, it’s significant, and it causes systemic injustice. The same is true of male privilege and heterosexual privilege. I do my best to mitigate any unjust advantage my race, gender, and sexuality afford by welcoming people of color, women, and GLBTQ folks into my circle and by encouraging their voices and their participation. I do my best to listen and affirm their experiences, especially those that stem from our differences. Many times, I just step back, shut up, and give the floor to people who would be less likely to have it if systemic injustices prevailed. I welcome revelations of systemic injustices and seek ways we can work together to eliminate those injustices.
And like nearly every human being, I have also had to cope with relative disadvantages in some contexts. I am asthmatic, and especially while I was growing up, that created challenges most people around me could not understand. I was one of eight children, which was wonderful in many respects, and created challenges others never faced. I grew up at the end of a dirt road in a very small town, and again, that provided some advantages and some challenges.
You have probably been afforded some unearned privileges and some underserved disadvantages by virtue of your birth and/or your opportunities. Very few people are relatively privileged in every respect or relatively disadvantaged in every respect.
My point is this:
If you’re screaming at someone about his or her privilege, and you live in the U.S., you need to look in the mirror. If you’re taking someone down for speaking unselfconsciously from a place of privilege, you better have done your own thorough inventory ahead of time. Just because someone is of one ethnicity or another doesn’t mean she or he is more or less privileged than you. A woman of color who grew up in Westwood and received an Ivy League education has experienced privilege few working class young white men will ever know. Can we make meaningful generalizations about race and privilege? Sure! Should we? Absolutely! Generalizations lead to recognition of widespread inequity. But they will always be generalizations and shouldn’t be projected on individuals.
If you’re upset because of your relative disadvantage, take a look at the other side of that coin. Count your privileges, too, because you almost certainly have them!
We all need to be aware of our privilege relative to others and do what we can to level the playing field. That usually means stepping back, talking less, and listening more for starters. We can work with everyone around us to create a more equitable society.
If we’re in the U.S., and we’ve got time to read blogs and surf Facebook, we’ve got it relatively good! Let’s work together to help people everywhere live better. Even with our individual disadvantages, we share the privilege of power in the Information Age where a cell phone gives you a voice. Even better, a cell phone can expose you to voices you’ve never before heard and can transform your view of the world. Let’s listen to one another and lift the voices of reason above the din of chaos. Let’s make sure love wins!
One of the biggest challenges facing the Black Lives Matter movement and the All Lives Matter response or reaction is that both ignore reality. The elephant in the room everyone wants to ignore is that society never has nor ever will value all lives equally. We make value judgments everyday, both individually and collectively, and those value judgments color whose lives we value more.
The Black Lives Matter movement is aimed at drawing attention to the systemic racism in our society and, more specifically, in the law enforcement system. The movement points out that black people, and young black men in particular, are far more likely to lose their lives in encounters with law enforcement than are their counterparts in the white community. The movement is not trying to assert that only Black Lives Matter, but that Black Lives Matter as much as white lives matter.
The challenge posed to the rest of us by the Black Lives Matter movement is for our society to examine why black people are so much more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than are white people. In that sense, the movement has been very successful because people across the political spectrum are proposing explanations for the discrepancy. As a nation, we are discussing the issue, though the discussion is still at the early, defensive, rather polarized stage that precedes any substantial change.
The inherent challenge facing the members of the Black Lives Matter movement arises when predators and innocent victims are grouped together simply because they are of the same race. It’s hard to rally support for victims of unjust police violence when predators are included amongst victims.
First and foremost, our society cannot address the value of black lives, let alone all lives, until we acknowledge that we do not and never will value all lives equally. If a boat is sinking and you can only rescue one person, are you more likely to rescue a child or an elderly adult? A demanding middle-aged man or a weeping pregnant woman? A beautiful model or an unkempt beggar? A convicted murderer or an innocent refugee? (Understand – there is no right answer; there’s just your predisposition.)
We all make value judgments every day. Of course all lives matter; for every one of us, though, some lives simply matter more or less than others. We may think all lives should matter equally, but we all need to acknowledge they don’t.
So if a police officer answers a call for help from a gas station attendant reporting an armed robbery, and upon arrival at the scene that police officer reports being fired upon by a person leaving the gas station, whose life do we value more? You may be tempted to say everyone’s life matters equally, but if you’re honest with yourself, you know that’s not true. What if the person fleeing the scene is an elderly, mentally imbalanced woman or the officer is new on the job and coming off a double-shift? What if the police officer is a middle-aged white man and the suspect is a young black man? What if the suspect is a very large, tattooed, white biker and the police officer is a slightly-built Asian woman? What if the officer knows the gas station attendant is a young woman who was severely beaten, then shot by the suspect? Do you see how your assumptions, predispositions, and prejudices color the relative value you place on each person and shift as the scenario changes?
Let’s widen the perspective. We spend more public resources to treat one American child with a rare illness than it would take to treat a thousand children around the world suffering from malnourishment. What does that say about whose lives matter? Everywhere we turn, we see examples of the relative inequity with which we value human life.
The challenge facing any movement aimed at valuing life is that we don’t nor will we ever value all lives the same. We all know that an innocent child’s life matters more to us than a dangerous criminal’s. We all know we’ll expend resources and take risks to intervene in the lives of a homeless single mother and her children that we won’t expend or take to intervene in the lives of single adult males.
All of us need to acknowledge that, in any practical sense, some lives matter more than others. We also need to acknowledge that each of us evaluates the relative value of people’s lives differently. If you discuss the gas station scenarios above with your co-workers or friends, you might be surprised by the different responses you’ll hear.
When we’re asked to value all lives or all black lives, most of us feel uneasy. That’s because intuitively we know we don’t value all lives equally. We need more information. Are we talking about two innocent children of different races? Then, would we not value both lives equally highly?
Can we all acknowledge that the lives of innocent children should be valued very highly? Can we then acknowledge that the lives of black innocent children should be valued as highly as their white counterparts? If we acknowledge that, how might that affect our public and private policies?
Can we acknowledge that assault and battery is an act committed by someone who devalues the lives of others and, therefore, has made himself or herself a threat? Can we further acknowledge that we don’t value the lives of those who are threats to society as highly as we value the lives of the innocent? How might those acknowledgements color our perceptions of the men and women we charge with protecting society?
If we can acknowledge the value judgments we all make every moment of every day, we can begin to look more honestly at the prejudices that prevent us from creating a more just society. Those of us in the dominant culture can then begin to examine how our racial prejudices, when combined with power, create and sustain racism.
Black lives matter. No one deserves to be a victim of violence because she or he is black. It’s time we acknowledge systemic inequities and strive for a society where black lives matter as much as everyone else’s.
All lives matter. But all lives never have nor ever will matter equally. Parents care more for the lives of their children than their own. We all care more for the innocent than the abusive. The challenge before us is not uniformity but justice, and justice requires judgment. Therefore, we must work together to eliminate erroneous judgments and build a more just society where everyone is judged solely on the basis of his or her character.
Whenever someone asks me why I love backpacking I usually tell them about an old comic strip offering an analogy to backpacking in a scene where a lady visits her neighbor and takes notice of the neighbor’s son standing in the corner beating himself with a stick. Horrified, the lady asks her neighbor why her son is doing that. The neighbor replies, “because it feels so good when he stops.”
That humorous sketch usually gets a laugh and often ends the conversation.
For those who genuinely want to know what drives me into the wilderness I give them a much deeper explanation, which for most is far more than they wanted to hear. So, if you’re just reading this blog to be polite and you’d rather not walk the dark, sometimes forbidding passages of my soul, take the above humorous sketch and call it good. For the rest, here is the reflection I wrote on my latest foray into the wilderness:
What is it about strapping sixty pounds to my back, trudging up a mountain trail to the point of complete muscle failure, and setting a camp amidst countless mosquitos that so appeals to me? Perhaps it’s the complete lack of any connection to the outside world, being off the grid for a few precious days. Perhaps it’s the clean mountain air, the wild flowers along the trail, the sleepy little streams we cross on the way, the expansive mountain lakes nestled into granite cirques, and the night sky so full of stars I’m struck with awe. Perhaps it’s the contrast from the frenetic pace of my everyday life, the quiet punctuated by a dozen different bird songs, the time to simply breathe.
Though my back complains more dramatically with each passing year over the strain of carrying the pack and the discomfort of sleeping on the ground, I am drawn back here each year. Though my muscles strain dangerously near their limits to transport me and my creature comforts over the crests and through the valleys to set a camp along the rugged shore of a pristine mountain lake, still I am compelled to prevail on them to carry me one more time.
Here I find myself. Not the imaginary ideal self my ego bids me to pursue, but my true self, my divine self. Here I find the space to embrace that which I would prefer to suppress, deny, or even annihilate. Here I reclaim the fullness of my being, shadow and light, dancing together to the unique expression of life that is me. Here I find harmony and discord interacting to manifest wholeness, fullness, is-ness, and it is beautiful.
The ideal self is a lie, a deadly trap toward which I am irresistibly drawn in the narrow spaces I occupy far too much of the time. Divinity is not perfection, but wholeness, an expansive space that encompasses all that is.
The beauty of the wilderness encompasses life and death rendering distinctions between them indiscernible. Here the destruction wrought by the passage of time is the womb from which springs endless new beginnings. Here I recognize the circular nature of existence and my slow diminishment seems not a curse but an expression of the endless, boundless blessing.
Here the pathetically limited scope of my vision testifies to the grand expanse I will never see, cannot comprehend, and and somehow still know. Here I am temporal, I am infinite, I am inconsequential, and I am essential.
Paradox abounds and that, perhaps, is the truth I come to encounter on these brief interludes into sacred space. My spirit renewed and my vision restored, I can then descend the mountain to celebrate my role as an instrument of divine love and rejoice over my communion with others who recognize that same role and live into it as best they can.
“I don’t want you to go to any fuss after I die.”
“I’ve had a great life; don’t waste time mourning after I’m gone.”
“Just have a drink in my honor and remember the good times.”
No one wants to burden their loved ones, so we may be tempted to try to relieve our families and loved ones from the perceived burden of a funeral or memorial service after we die. Suggesting they forego any celebration of our life does them a terrible injustice, though.
We grieve to the extent we have loved. As much as we might love to spare our families the experience of grief, we simply don’t have that power. If they’ve loved us and allowed us to love them, they’re going to grieve. So help them do it well!
When we grieve well, our grief is expressed primarily through the act of storytelling. We tell stories of the one we’ve loved and lost to anyone who is willing to listen. We tell the same stories, over and over and over. The one thing you never say to a grieving person is, “you already told me that.” You just sit back and listen, knowing you’re going to hear stories you’ve heard a hundred times before, and knowing they’re going to tell the story a little differently each time, depending on how they’re feeling.
When someone we love dies, we have an inescapable need to tell their story, and nothing satisfies that need and helps us move forward with our grief like a well-constructed memorial celebration. Is there such a thing as a bad memorial service or a bad funeral? Of course there is! Most of us have been to more than we care to remember.
Just because funerals or memorial services can be done poorly doesn’t mean they have to be done that way. They can be beautiful, uplifting, and healing. The key is to put together a service that allows the deceased’s story to be told truthfully, succinctly, and positively.
First, a great memorial celebration tells the truth. If a funeral or memorial service glosses over every shortcoming or challenge someone faced in life, you end up having a service for someone who never really existed. It feels disingenuous at best and ridiculous at worst. Tell the truth without dwelling on the negative. When you say Mom was more than a tad stubborn, everyone present will chuckle and relax a bit: they all know the truth of what you’re saying and you’ve just given them permission to tell their stories as they really happened.
Secondly, a great memorial celebration is only as long as it needs to be. How long is that? It varies, but a good general rule is to keep the entire service to an hour or less. Remember, less is more! Hire a certified memorial celebrant who specializes in capturing the essence of someone’s story and helping the family and friends build a beautiful celebration around their loved one’s best qualities. A great memorial celebration is a good beginning to a long grief process. It doesn’t try to say it all. It focuses on the highlights, invites people to consider the qualities they most appreciated in their loved one and sends them out grateful to have known and loved the person whose life was celebrated.
Finally, a great memorial service is optimistic. It encourages the guests to consider the positive imprint their loved one’s life made upon their life. It asks the question, “What did you love most about person we’re remembering?” It then invites everyone to recognize that the imprint their loved one left with them is 100%, fully transferrable, and it encourages them to go and share this positive legacy with others.
When a family holds a great memorial celebration, everyone leaves having taken a step or two through their grief in the company of others who share that grief. You don’t want to deny your loved ones such a helpful, healing process!
So the next time you’re at a less than helpful funeral or memorial service, take the opportunity to encourage your family and friends to have a great memorial celebration when the time comes. Assure them they can gather for a beautiful service they will all appreciate if they just focus on helping each other tell their favorite stories and identify the qualities they most appreciated in the one whose life they’re celebrating.
A great memorial celebration will help everyone present live their lives as fully as the one whose life they’re celebrating!
Religious participation has been in steady decline in the United States for several decades now. For the most part, churches, temples, and other religious groups have focused on better ways of attracting people, more effectively meeting people’s needs, and shifting their organization’s approach to better accommodate cultural changes. These efforts have sometimes been effective in enabling one religious group to attract a larger number from the dwindling pool of religious participants, but no efforts to date have reversed the decline of religious participation overall. People just aren’t going to church, synagogue, temple, or mosque in anywhere near the numbers they did just a couple generations ago. When are religious organizations going to re-evaluate their approach?
When organizations begin to decline as a result of falling participation, those organizations tend to to focus energy everywhere but the one place they should focus it: re-examing their commitment to their core values. When an organization begins to lose its place in society, it’s nearly always because that organization’s core values are no longer shared by the society it serves or because the organization has failed to live up to its expressed core values. I would argue that when it comes to religious participation, some of the drop off may be due to shifting cultural values, but a much larger part of the decline is due to the failure of religious groups to live up to their core values.
If one religious group was losing a large percentage of its followers to another religious group, say Christians suddenly began converting in large numbers to Judaism, one could argue that the group experiencing the gains had a more compelling story. Since that is not the case, the decline cannot have anything to do with the religious narrative of a particular group. It’s not that people in the U.S. suddenly find the Torah less compelling than the Gospel or the Gospel less compelling than the Dharma. The universal decline of religious participation suggests there’s a core value common to all religious groups that is either being rejected by society or is not being upheld effectively by most if not all religious groups.
Religious groups generally have three common core values, two of which are expressed uniquely within a given group, and the third of which is more universal to all religious groups. The three core values of religious groups are: 1) honoring the founding person/group/texts of the group; 2) honoring the teachings of the group; 3) honoring the members of the group. The first and second of these core values may only be slight nuances of a singular value as in Judaism where the Torah embodies (at least in part) both the founding texts and the teachings of the group. The first two core values are unique to each religious group. The third value is common to all religious groups and is, therefore, the one worth examining most closely.
The third and universal value of religious groups is best described as “community.” Religious groups exist, in large part, to offer to participants a sense of belonging, mutual respect, and mutual support. More people seeking a religious affiliation name the desire for a sense of belonging as their highest motivation for exploring religious groups. After all, if they were only seeking information or understanding, they could find all the sacred texts, commentary, and study they could ever desire without ever darkening the door of a religious establishment. They come to mosque, church, synagogue, or temple because they hope to find a community they have not found outside the establishment’s walls.
This has always been true, but the character of the connection being sought has narrowed dramatically. There was a time when people sought religious affiliation because such an affiliation was a cultural and economic necessity. If you were a new dentist in town early in the 20th century and you didn’t belong to a religious group, establishing your practice was going to be much more difficult if not impossible. When you moved into a predominantly Christian town or neighborhood, you’d better not be seen relaxing on your porch on Sunday morning as everyone around you walked, rode, or drove to church! That is no longer the case. Where once you almost had to belong to a local house of worship if you wanted to establish yourself in a community, today very few people pay attention to the religious affiliation of their business associates.
In more recent times, people often sought religious affiliation as an outlet for community service. If you wanted to feed the hungry, cloth those in need, or assist in disaster relief you worked with a religious organization. While religious groups still carry out community service, they’ve been joined and in many cases superseded by an explosion of non-profit organizations. Today, people can derive the satisfaction of serving others through hundreds if not thousands of organizations, many of which have no affiliation with a religious group. In fact, people can provide through many of these organizations direct relief to those in need around the world without ever leaving their desk!
Today, the people looking for religious affiliation are looking for a personal, caring connection with others where they can let down their guard and confidently explore life’s meaning and purpose without fear of judgment or condemnation. This has always been true, but in years past could be overlooked if people received other desired benefits of affiliation. In decades past, they might be satisfied to establish business connections or build personal credibility. Up until the last twenty years, they might be satisfied to gain an outlet for offering themselves in service to their community. Previous generations of people would, consequently, be more willing to endure in their religious group the gossip, personal and organizational politics, exclusive cliques, and all sorts of manipulative behavior intrinsic to human organizations. They put up with being hurt, neglected, or even abused because they got other benefits that offset those negative experiences. Those days are over!
Religious organizations all profess to help their adherents live more fulfilling, meaningful, harmonious existences. The culture has shifted and these organizations can no longer rely on providing secondary benefits that mask their failure to provide the deep sense of belonging, the experience of community from which should flow fulfillment, meaning, purpose, and harmony. It is “put up or shut up” time and most religious organizations are failing!
If religious experience is proclaimed to be transformative, religious organizations need to refocus on their core values, hold themselves to a higher standard, and assure people who enter their doors experience that transformation in the way members of that organization receive them, interact with them, include them, cooperate with them, and empower them. The church, synagogue, mosque, or temple must be a place set apart, an oasis in the desert, a light in the darkness to people who enter their doors. Members of religious groups must live into their religious teachings at a depth that transforms them and transforms the way they interact with others. Otherwise, it is time for religious groups to concede that affiliation with their group does little to change the behavior of their adherents. In other words, it’s time for religion to change the world by changing the way people treat each other or its time for religion to disappear. If the momentum is going to shift from the latter to the former, it’s put up or shut up time!
One of the many lessons to be gained from the public debate over response to Syria’s evident use of chemical weapons is the danger of claiming the moral high ground. When speakers frame their suggested response as a moral imperative, they imply that any other response is immoral or at the very least, lacking moral integrity.
If morality could be easily reduced to a black and white distinction between right and wrong, life would be much easier to navigate, so it’s little wonder that so many are tempted to make just such a reduction. However, if a person steps back from the rhetoric on the Syrian crisis or any other issue to converse with other intelligent, insightful people on the moral or ethical underpinnings of that issue, it quickly becomes apparent that any important issue resists reductions into black and white.
Those persons advocating strikes against the Syrian regime acknowledge that such strikes are unlikely to change anything. They certainly will not dislodge a ruthless dictator who for years has killed his own citizens like his father before him. They may persuade him to stop using chemical weapons in favor or more conventional ones, but dead is dead. Strikes will likely further destabilize Syria and the Middle East and could easily lead to a response from other unsavory groups throughout the region, including the Al-Qaeda backed rebels in Syria. If you’re inclined to be more cynical, it seems the primary aim of strikes is to assure the world that when our leaders make threats, they follow through on them.
Of course saving face by following through on a threat is hardly the basis for holding the moral high ground. As a consequence, those advocating strikes are forced to paint their position as a moral imperative without addressing the inevitable human cost of such a decision in a region where the human toll is already devastating.
One of the problems with moralizing is that it often paints the speaker into a corner. Once someone asserts that a particular action represents the best or the only moral response, they’ve put themselves in a position where doing anything else or doing nothing at all is immoral. There’s no room for discussion or debate let alone retreat from a poorly thought out initial stance.
Who amongst us would have been able to sustain any relationship over any substantial length of time if we never gave ourselves room to admit we were wrong, or maybe just “less right” than we are determined to be?
The truth is that morality is messy. Occasionally we’re fortunate enough to face a situation where there’s clearly a life-giving, wholesome path and a destructive, deadly path. Most of the time each choice we might make has advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes, as seems to be the case with regard to any US response in Syria, we only have the choice between several less-than-ideal alternatives.
It would be refreshing to hear someone admit there are no good choices in response to a deeply challenging crisis like the one the world faces in response to the despicable act committed in Syria. It is not easy to make such an admission, but it may well be the reality in more cases than we care to admit.
For now, we can at least learn to refrain from moralistic language both so we can hear voices advocating views different from our own and so we can learn from one another and, when necessary, change our mind. Jesus called us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and he didn’t offer any caveats to that command. Perhaps we would do well in our attempt to follow his instruction by refraining from moralizing and instead listen deeply and well to one another.