Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Protesting the Anthem

There's been a whole lot of ink spilled over Colin Kapernick and his refusal to stand for the National Anthem. As I'm sure you know, he's doing so as a protest against the treatment of African Americans in this country. Many have joined in that protest in one form or another, many others have refused to, often condemning him, and those who have joined him, for being disrespectful to the flag, to the military, and to our country.

This morning, the news was filled with another story about an unarmed black man being gunned down by police. Another. Words fail, so I'm not going to even try to respond specifically to that incident, at least for now.

Here's what I want to say to anyone who is mad at Kapernick et al for what they're doing. Let's concede, at least for the moment, what you're complaining about. Let's concede that Kapernick is a whiny, privileged hypocrite. That he's aggressively disrespecting the military which has kept him safe*. That anyone who feels this way should just be quiet or (as ridiculous as this is on its face) leave the country. Let's, for a moment, let the worst version of Kapernick and his protest be what we accept as true.

* Although, I'll admit to being unbelievably frustrated that we've let anyone turn this into a debate about the military. The flag is not the military, and the military is not the flag. Unless and until someone actually calls out the military for something, conflating a protest against the anthem/flag with criticism of the military is just specious.

How bad is it? I mean--if Kapernick is everything his critics claim he is, what is he doing that's so bad? He's disrespecting a flag, and an anthem, and a country. I'm not a huge fan of that--I love our country, and as a religious person, I take symbols seriously. So, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the way he's protesting. But, that's all he's doing--protesting against symbols and institutions. Quietly and peacefully. That's as bad as it gets.

And, why is he protesting? Because black men keep getting shot by police when they've done nothing wrong. Because that's just the most heinous, egregious, awful, disgusting, unthinkable, evil manifestation of the larger reality, which is that racism is real, and it's present, and it affects people of color every single day in myriad ways, large and small. And that most of us who don't live daily with racism don't seem to be too bothered by that.

Disrespecting a flag vs. systemic racism. And, we're focussing on that disrespect.

If you don't like what he's protesting, or how he's protesting--fine. That's your right. But, if you think that the form of his protest is what's really important here, then we've got a bigger problem.

The world is on fire; let's stop protesting that we don't like the sound of the siren.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Thought About Interfaith Work

Just a quick thought about Interfaith work...

For the first time, and more and more, I'm having some success building Interfaith relationships here in Tampa. That's how I found myself having an early lunch today with Fr. Stephan Brown of St. Paul's church, and then attending the afternoon mass he celebrated with his congregation.

While he and I were talking, I remembered a metaphor for interfaith work, which really stuck with me while sitting in the congregation during mass. I can't say that I'm always good about using this framework, but I'm trying to! Here goes...

When I hear someone talking about their spouse in a loving way, I never get jealous, or defensive. If someone tells me that they're married to the best woman in the world, I don't feel the need to argue that, no, in fact I am! When someone tells me about how they met their partner, I don't think, "That's not the right way to meet someone." And, no matter how much someone extols the virtue of the person they love, I never find myself loving that person, or wishing I was married to them. But, what does happen is that it makes me think about my wife, and about our stories. And, that makes me happy. And, much of the time, hearing someone else wax rhapsodic about their partner makes me want to be a better partner myself--to make sure that my wife knows that I love her. Your stories of love aren't a challenge to my relationship; if anything, they're an aid to it, because your stories get me to focus on my own.

Ideally, it's the same with religion. Sitting in church today, I had no desire to be Catholic. I didn't want to accept Jesus as my savior, and I didn't wish that I had been brought up in the church. But, watching Fr. Stephan preach, and watching the faithful approach for the eucharist, did make me stop and think about my own religious life in a slightly different way from how I normally do.

The mass and the words of my new friend weren't my religion, and they didn't make me want to give up my religion, and they didn't feel like a challenge in need of a defense from to my religion. They were someone else's religion, and a beautiful example of that. And they made me love being Jewish, watching someone else loving being Catholic.