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Stir It Up

I listened this morning to an NPR segment discussing Playing For Change a project featuring the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers, such as Don’t Worry, rendered by musicians around the world. These musicians never met each other. Instead, they played and sung the songs while listening to the music of the others.

In a bit of synchronicity, I watched I Am Legend last night, which revolves in its way around Marley’s music and philosophy of One Love. Marley tried to inject his message into the consciousness of the people who heard his music to cure hatred. In the movie, the protagonist recounts how two days after Marley was gunned down by men trying to stop the One Love Peace concert, he got on stage to sing anyway. When asked why, he explained that the “people that are trying to make the world worse never take a day off, why should [he]? Light up the darkness.”

I may not share Bob Marley’s trust in a God, but that’s a trivial difference between us. It shouldn’t get in the way. We share something more important. Dale McGowan defines a humanist as “somebody who thinks that people should all take care of each other, and whether there is a god or there isn’t, we should spend our time making this life and this world better.” We can all rally around our shared humanity.

So let’s get out there and stir it up.

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Love Story

Here’s a love story, the kind you won’t hear about in a love song. The author’s spouse was made paraplegic in a car accident. He writes about how they suffered humiliations and frustrations and managed to live happily together. May my love be as resilient.

We know that most people—strangers, anywhere—will knock themselves out to help us if we explain what we need. We know to say “Yes” to nearly everything because there is probably a way to do it. We know there is happiness available every day, most of it requiring more effort than money.


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Charity Never Faileth

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Not till the sun excludes you

Black-and-white thinking prevents us from expressing our native compassion.

Yet such thinking is comforting. We quell our childhood fears of being lost in the dark and dreary wilderness of the world by holding to the iron rod of the word of God (1 Nephi 8:19–23). Making choices can be exhausting and frightening. Limiting our choices helps us cope with the complexity of life. We feel mastery over our world by dividing the grey, chaotic unknown into black and white, good and bad, right and wrong as Adam showed his dominion over the beasts of the field by naming them (Genesis 2:19). Having categorized the world, we feel justified in demanding who is on the Lord’s side? (Exodus 32:26)

Our efforts at rationalizing the complex world are vanity. Chaotic Tiamat bides her captivity until she can triumphally raze our flimsy black-and-white walls and introduce us to the full, riotous spectrum of true human experience. We do ourselves harm in putting our trust in the strength of the arms of our own flesh, putting off until it may be everlastingly too late the day when our defenses against the confusing world will be broken. (Jeremiah 17:5).

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman is a case in point. Publishers refused to print it in complete form until almost thirty years after its first edition due to its sexual imagery. Whitman’s poetry was too much for the public sensibility in the era of the Comstock laws.

The great 19th century orator Robert Ingersoll chose to eulogize Whitman with a line drawn from To A Common Prostitute, oft-censored by black-and-white thinkers who object to any mention of prostitution.

BE composed—be at ease with me—I am Walt Whitman, liberal
     and lusty as Nature,
Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you,
Not till the waters refuse to glisten for you and the leaves to rustle
     for you, do my words refuse to glisten and rustle for you.…

The Christian defenders of common decency missed the harmony between this poem and the teachings of their messiah. The Jesus of the Bible reveled in defying the black-and-white thinking of his era, just as Walt Whitman did. He chastened the Pharisees for their harsh judgments of the prostitute who bathed his feet with tears (Luke 7:36–50). He preached in the Sermon on the Mount that we should give our love to all, like God causes the sun to rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain to the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45).

I can’t say that Whitman had these biblical passages in mind as he wrote his poem, but the parallels in imagery and sentiment are striking. Whitman, a freethinking, freeloving pantheist, challenged the black-and-white, uncompassionate thinking of his Christian readers. His readers failed to recognize that Whitman and Jesus were kindred spirits.

The line that Ingersoll, the greatest orator of his time, said was “great enough to do honor to the greatest genius that has ever lived” calls us to cast aside our judgments of who is good and who is evil and embrace all in love:

“Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you,…”

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Be Ye Therfore Perfect

[This will make more sense in the context of the post where I left this as a comment. This mirrors the ideas in a post I made elsewhere.]

I have been thinking about the no-compromises, black-and-white approach. The word that keeps coming to mind is “brittle”. My life has been full of surprises, turns in the road that I didn’t foresee and couldn’t have planned for. In the cases where I was willing to change my thinking and expectations, some little continuity was preserved. When I couldn’t change my outlook, things fell apart.

For example (I don’t have an ulterior motive in choosing this example—it was just the first to come to mind), I took Gordon B. Hinckley’s statement to heart that the LDS church is either true or a great fraud. This black-and-white viewpoint made my connection to the church brittle. When I started to learn about things that seemed to me (rightly or wrongly) to point to the history of the church not being what I had been taught, I was trapped by the black-and-white viewpoint to choose between those two options: truth or fraud. Other people who were willing to see shades of grey have preserved their relationship with the LDS church despite learning the same things.

This danger of brittleness also holds in the realm of relationships, I believe. We’re probably all familiar with Matthew 5:48 where Jesus tells us to be perfect. The Greek word translated in the KJV as “perfect” is teleios which connotes a sense of completion, wholeness, and maturity. Most of the times that I heard that scripture in church it was used in isolation, but I think it’s important to look at the whole paragraph:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48)

When Jesus tells me to be complete and whole like God, he is telling me to love everyone, even my enemies. God, he says, causes the sun to shine on everyone, even those that he judges to be wicked. It is one thing to be called on to die for our ideals; it is another to be asked to love completely and without condition. Jesus’ injunction to love like God loves didn’t have an exception for spouses who believe differently or children who stray from the path we would choose for them.

If there is a God worthy of worship, that God must be happy when we nurture our love for each other and don’t let it die in his name. If God doesn’t exist, then Earth will be more like heaven if we hold tight to love and avoid tossing it away too casually.

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