There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’ 1
So, according to the exit polls, 22 percent of American voters said "moral values" was the most important issue in the presidential campaign -- more than the economy (20 percent), terrorism (19 percent) or the war in Iraq (15 percent). How did the Republicans convince half of the country that its definition of moral values is the correct one? How did the Democrats lose hold of the "moral values" which helped re-elect Bill Clinton? (Recall that in his 1996 campaign, Clinton began to construct an "architecture of values with modest government intervention" ~ most notably, the V-Chip, limitations on tobacco sales/marketing to children, and school uniforms.)
How can we now be so divided on this concept called values? How can relatives and neighbors and friends think and feel so differently on "values"? Actually, on most values, we don't really ~ it's all semantics; and when we really listen to each other, we find we share many of the same morals ~~ we want the best education for our children, we believe no one should have to live in poverty, etc. However, on other issues, most notably gay marriage and abortion, there seem to exist irreconcilable differences. Does the Republican victory mean that the values of half of the country, the half who voted for Kerry, don't matter? Are the red-states shouting, "Hey, ya'll, it's Yahweh or the Highway! Our Way, or No Way!" ?
The blogosphere is filling up with varied, intelligent, insightful discussions on this topic ~ you probably already know about the usual suspects, the well-read progressive blogs which don't even need to be named here. But check out the post today over at Culture Jam, discussing the liberal and conservative views of human nature ~ or his follow-up post where C.J. further discusses "values" and rationality; or mi kick-ass compa Oso's post today, where he discusses how "values" are perceived in the mainstream media, by the liberal left, and by urban vs. rural America; or Wayfairer's intensely personal discussion of what the election looked like to an ex-Southern conservative and what it probably looked like to a conservative Christian.
I was raised in a pretty strict Catholic home ~ and it took me years to recover from the fear-based, judgmental, oppressive wrath of the Church. After I left home, I spent years reading about different religions and spiritual practices, I visited scores of Churches in San Francisco, I tested different ways to practice my beliefs. The result is a hodge-podge of faith-based actions, a colorful appreciation of disorganized religion, and a soul-stirring commitment to community ~ all without telling others to "do it my way." Yeah I believe my LGBT friends should enjoy our fundamental right to marriage; yeah I believe we should pay teachers at least half of what we pay professional athletes; yeah I'm pro-choice because I believe that if you don't believe in abortion, you should not have one and because that choice is best left in private ~ to the woman, her partner, her family, and her faith; yeah I believe in diversity and multiculturalism and affirmative action and all those "hot-button" words that scare conservatives so much. But I also go to Church and I donate what I can from my paltry paychecks to the environment and children's groups and women's groups. Yeah I'm a bleeding-heart Liberal and since when did that become such a scary, awful, incendiary thing? In fact, the "definition" I happened to find of the word "liberal" is this:
lib·er·al -- adj.
a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or
authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress,
and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
Again I ask ~ where is it bad to be "liberal"? ~~ I'm a liberal and these days I admit I believe in God ~ but you can't tell me how to define that ~ and so I went to Church today, the one Church that lets me define God and Religion and Spirituality in the way I need to or want to ~ I went to Glide Memorial Church, in the Tenderloin, in downtown San Francisco. If you don't know about Glide, YOU MUST READ THIS. I was running late; I double parked my car on the street and tossed my keys to a church volunteer, knowing my car was safe, even on skid row, because I was going to Glide; I could hear the band, the electric guitar, the saxophone, down the street; I hugged my friend Margaret and clapped and hooted as the amazing Glide Ensemble Choir made their usual grand entrance, full of smiles and laughter. There is no Church, no energy, no unconditional love, no vibrant emotion like the hundreds, if not a thousand, people celebrating at Glide each Sunday. Glide embraces everyone ~ all races, all sizes, LGBT and straight, single, married, divorced, depressed, corporate, counter-culture, homeless, in rehab, old and young. Countless tourists are always in the audience and today there was a Russian television crew present. Ushers walk around with kleenex and hand-held fans ~ you usually end up needing both because the emotion in there will make you dance, cry, and make you believe......in yourself.
I love that after the service, my palms were stinging because I had been clapping for an hour. I love that my ears were ringing because John Turk and the Change Band and the Glide Ensemble sang so loudly about love and community and acceptance and strength. I love that I held hands and hugged complete strangers who said to me, "I love you." The choir sang, the band played, people spoke ~ it took nearly 40 minutes before the sermon even got started. But the sermon, The Message as it is called, is usually only 10-15 minutes long. That's all we need. Because the hugging and crying and clapping and sheer enjoying we do for the 40 minutes before the Reverend speaks ~ well, that's part of The Message. An unadulterated ethic of love and compassion.
The Reverend Cecil Williams has been preaching his vision of love and community at Glide for 40 years. Today he lifted our heavy hearts with humor and a booming call to STAND by our convictions ~ not to bend our faith or values, but to seek shared community. The Bible is cited sparingly at Glide ~ Cecil understands that faith doesn't come from a book but from the people in the congregation. When Cecil does quote biblical passages in his sermon, he does so from The Message, a contemporary paraphrase of the Holy Bible. Cecil told us briefly of the story of Matthew 12 ~ which, in a nutshell is about the strict biblical interpretations of religious zealots and "Jesus' flexible interpretation of the law." Essentially, in Matthew 12, the Pharisees are in a position of power using the Law as their fist and Jesus begins to challenge the status quo ~ sound familiar? Oxegen provides a nicely succinct, plaing-language summary of this passage:
One Sabbath, Jesus was strolling with his disciples through a field of ripe grain. Hungry, the disciples were pulling off the heads of grain and munching on them. Some Pharisees reported them to Jesus: “Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!”
Jesus said, “Really? Didn’t you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? And didn’t you ever read in God’s Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it’s not held against them?
“There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’—you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.”
Now, I'm no "Christian" or even a regular Church-goer ~ and I hesitate to throw terms around like Jesus and God and Religion and Faith ~ so, I'm not here to preach to anyone or to shove my beliefs down anyone's throat. But, from a post-election perspective, as well as a need to understand the issues dividing our country, I find it useful and enlightening to brush up on my Scripture and on the commentary regarding certain passages. So, I won't offer here my personal commentary of these passages; I simply offer you the text, and links to several sources of varying interpretations, and will let you decide for yourself what it all means.....to you. Isn't that the beauty of it all?
Next Cecil quoted from Isaiah 10:
1Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims -- 2Laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, Exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children.
Remember, Cecil quotes from The Message version of the Bible ~ you might recognize this interpretation of Isaiah 10:
1Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, 2to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. 3What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?
Either way, you get the idea. The important thing, however, is that Cecil urged us not to be victims. He urged us to maintain our dignity. To continue the struggle. He talked to us about the "inflexible rituals" of religious extremists and the ultra-conservative agenda infecting our country. He reminded us to keep our hearts flexible. He reminded us about the Ethic of Love. Cecil shouted out that there's "a Black preacher in San Francisco" who does not agree with what religious zealots are doing to our country. Cecil told us the story of the church he went to visit, where women weren't allowed to wear pants ~ and Cecil told them, "We're bringing all our women, and they're wearing pants! But some of the men are wearing skirts!" Cecil did not go back to that church. While some say they "have been called by God," Cecil added that he "has been called by Struggle."
And he left it at that. We sang some more. We hugged some more. Then Margaret and I had an amazing brunch at Universal Cafe in Potrero Hill. Margaret was in Florida working on the election with the NAACP, so we commiserated over the election results. And we asked ourselves how this country can appear so divided on "values." We didn't come up with any answers. But we were glad to have gone to Glide and to have celebrated such a diversity of values this morning. If only the rest of the country could see what really goes on out here, in San Francisco. It's probably not so different from a Sunday in the South ~ well, except for the guys in skirts out here. ~ :)