Thursday, March 5, 2015

Everyday Wisdom

This is probably ill advised, but 3 things crossed my path last month and I'm going to combine them into one blog post. I finished Cheryl Strayed's "Wild", the story of a woman who walked 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. I usually don't read books like that, but she grew up near here and I wanted to know about this friend of my friends. Throughout, she acknowledges the greatness of ordinary people she meets and ends with "It was my life - like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred." Then, I saw a great post by Krista Tippet at about a woman who was recently killed in Syria. A woman doing perfectly normal work who we now see as a hero. Then finally, Sam Harris talked for a brief 25 minutes and covered everything that needs to be covered about how we should listen to all the voices and not distort them.

Maybe I should let Cheryl tell her own story. Here she is at the end of the book, reflecting on the years since her hike and what the hike meant to her.

It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That is was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life - like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.”

We know about Cheryl because she wrote a book and an already famous movie star bought the rights. Oh, and Oprah liked it. But at the time of her experience of the hike, she was just another one of us, struggling to find her way. Millions of people we won't know are doing that right now. We probably would not have never heard from Kayla Mueller if she had not been kidnapped then killed while volunteering in Syria. We would not have heard her words that are as profound as any saint or mystic. Words she wrote while imprisoned by terrorists.

I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”

Krista tells us more about her and also talks of the three Muslims that were killed by a man in Chapel Hill North Carolina, apparently after arguing over a parking space. These three also were destined to do great things. We may have never heard of them, but people in their communities most certainly would have. See Krista's post for more about them.

But instead of them doing their good works, the person we will eventually hear from is the killer. People are speculating now. They looked at the killers Facebook page and found many posts about atheist writers, and have suggested this was a hate crime. By extension, some journalists have sad those atheist writers have blood on their hands. So we are having that conversation instead. Instead of building the world we want, we are arguing about motivations for violence and trying to assign blame.

It is obvious that some instances of Muslim violence have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, and I would never dream of assigning blame to the religion of Islam for that behavior. …
What we've built over the past few centuries is a world where we can discuss our beliefs and our aspirations openly. We've built a world where normal everyday people can accomplish amazing things in their spare time. But enough people want to return to a 7th century world or 1st century world, that the rest of us have to deal with them. As Sam says,

...there’s nothing about doubting that the universe has a creator, that suggests that violence in certain circumstances is necessary or even acceptable. And all the people who are comparing these murders to Charlie Hebdo – or to ISIS, as insane as that sounds – are really trivializing a kind of violence that threatens to destabilize much of the world.

If you listen to the audio from Sam, he plays the sound of gunfire that came into a meeting in Denmark where people were simply discussing the Charlie Hebdo murders. A woman is speaking about peace and free speech, then several shots are fired, chairs and desks can be heard scuffling across the floor and something like a pipe falling. It's disturbing, and I'm not easily disturbed. It's probably because it is real and it is in the present. Sam follows that with, "is this the world we want?"

Earlier in the talk, he talks of the differences in the types of violence we are seeing today and how we must be able to distinguish them and to speak out against the types that are dangerous. "The thing that very few people seem able to distinguish, and the distinction that Greenwald and Aslan obfuscate at every opportunity, is the difference between criticizing ideas and their results in the world, and hating people as people because they belong to a certain group, or because they have a certain skin color, or because they came from a certain country. There is no connection between those two orientations. The latter is of course bigotry and I would condemn it as harshly as anyone would hope."

We need to be able to criticize bad ideas and to recognize people quietly doing great things and not be afraid that pointing out either of those will somehow upset someone or lead them to violence.

Cheryl ends her book with a vision of hope for everyone, Sam ends his talk with a call to reasonableness, and Krista ends her blog post with an invitation to challenge ourselves. I'll quote her here:

I will look at their faces, and read their words, and ponder the world they are asking me to help them make. I invite you to ponder with me. How can we — and I use this “we” lavishly and presumptuously, challenging myself as much as you — now be present and supportive of all the beautiful lives which have not been extinguished, as a way of honoring those we have lost and found at the same time?

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