There are things worth fighting for. For, not about. We love to fight about things. Fighting for things is harder. Fighting about things usually means the argument is centered on the people fighting – it usually means the fight is not so much about the thing as it is the boxers in the ring.
Fighting for something is different. Fighting for something connotes a sacrifice of self to the cause. In this fight, the idea is greater than the individual – always. Everytime. My grandfather’s generation didn’t fight about freedom. It wasn’t something they were going to shout about and syllogize and get snarky over. The fought for freedom. They fought to uphold and idea completely transcendent to themselves.
Fighting for something is an exercise of love. Fighting about something is an exercise of self.
Which brings us to Gay Rights.
Hang in there – just follow me on this one.
“Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is in the Bible.
If American “Christians” spent as much time living what is actually laid out in the book they claim to live by as they do trolling Facebook for the next big philosophical discussion via the comment feed, I think the national climate – and likely the world over – would look a very different place. I plead guilty on this charge as well.
The fight today is with “the gays.” It seems escalated lately, and now one can hardly find a picture on Facebook that’s not some shade or another of the “equality symbol.” The general consensus among Conservatives, or Christians, or pretty much anybody who listens to Rush Limbaugh with any degree of piety, seems to be a dogma entirely derived from the redneck kid in Mean Girls: “And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle, so that Man could fight the dinosaurs…and the homosexuals.”
I used to be one of those guys that equated Christianity with Republicanism and truth with Conservatism. I was wrong.
These days, it seems to go a little like this: the Christians yell at the gays. The Gays yell back at the Christians. The Christians scream “sin!” and “principles!” The Conservatives yell something about The Constitution (which should pretty much make anyone who knows anything about the Constitution scratch their head), and the Gays yell something else back about the Constitution (and at this point you should be seriously confused, because no-the-heck-where in our founding document do the fathers discourse upon “gay rights”). This is usually followed by “the moral argument” which usually consists of a prominent Christian pastor going on a cable news show and quoting Scripture and citing homosexuality as a factual digression from God’s character and law – to which the entire gay community shouts back “who the @#$% cares,” because who are you, hypocrite preacher man, to tell me about the character of a God that I don’t even believe exists in the first place, and if He did, or does, He’s certainly a giant hermaphroditic pansexual.
Thus begins the eye-rolling, political lobbying, futile shouting matches, and general despair on the part of both sides that the country is indeed going to hell in a handbasket.
I think we’re all missing the point.
Christians believe in Jesus, and Jesus was love. He was total, complete, staggering, world-changing love. His love was unconditional.
I don’t think most people have ever heard the phrase “unconditional love.” I think this because whenever I bring it up to just about anyone in my oh-so-cool group of “twenty-somethings,” I just get looked at kind of quizzically, like I’m trying to sell the Oxi-Clean or something; like it actually might be the greatest thing ever, or melt their eyeballs off faster than the Nazi getting sizzled at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
My generation has no conception of it, this unconditional love thing. We’ve had Disney shoved down our throats so hard as kids that we now de facto equate love with either total feeling, or total lust. Or both. We’ve been subliminally told that we just “fall in love” with some people, or that this hot girl or guy is just “meant” for us. And I still buy into some of that. I’m a hopeless romantic. But our culture (and I blame Walt Disney for this, seriously) has forgotten about the whole deliberate side of love – the intellectual side if you will. We’ve forgotten my favorite piece of David Foster Wallace advice: that you can choose who you love, and that this love then compels you to act on that choice. Wallace said it like this: “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” (See, This is Water.)
True love – the real stuff – is sacrificial. It is unconditional. It really does cover a multitude of sin. When we say we “love” someone, we usually just mean we like them a whole lot, or that they give us chills, or happen to have really awesome eyes or a totally rad personality or a bod that we really like when it’s naked. But that’s not love.
Love means wanting what is best for another, regardless of what it costs you. My dad says it best I think: “Love,” he says, “is the heartfelt desire to do what is truly best for another, regardless of cost to self.” It might cost you your pride – it might cost you your life. Love demands endless forgiveness, endless understanding, endless compassion, endless support. Love demands endless self denial.
The question then remains: when it comes to the hot topics of the day, how are the God-folk according themselves? How are the Christians loving the Gays – or anyone else for that matter? If the Christians are supposed be the ne plus ultra examples of love, how are they showing it? How are they practicing self-denial? Really.
Don’t try and guess either. Don’t try and figure out if I’m a “supporter” or a “hater.” Of either side. Because that would be missing the point by a hundred thousand miles. I want to love. I just want to love a lot. I want to give and give and give love. I want to see myself as someone who “esteems my fellow man above myself.” Gay men are my fellow man. Straight men are my fellow man. Lesbians and prostitutes and drug dealers – pastors and priests and Sunday school teachers and CEOs and tattoo artists and everybody who has ever had a job they hated – these are all my fellow man. And they are your fellow man, regardless of whether you’re gay, straight, a priest, or a gay priest trying to be straight.
I wonder how radically the debate would change if we chose to do unto others as we would have them do unto us – and not just in the bullshitty platitude “I should be nice to this person” kind of way either. The world is full of niceties meaning less than nothing. And not in the nebulous way about thinking you should maybe give a nickel to the starving African kids, and then feel jolly because, well, at least you thought about it. No, I mean in the actual “how would I actually want this person to treat me, or speak to me, or look at me, right now” kind of way.
There are things worth fighting for. Equality. Freedom. Life. Love. So – if the gay community is really that concerned about human equality, then what are they doing about the sex trade in India? What are they doing to combat oppression of women in certain countries in the Middle East? What are they doing to feed the poor and widowed and needy in their very own communities?
And if Christians really believe that love covers a multitude of sins, and that Christ died once, “the just for the unjust, to bring many sons to glory” (that’s also in the Bible) – then why are they not spending more time, oh I don’t know, maybe getting out from under the fifty-two inch LCD flatscreen with an AppleTV feed in the quiet suburbs with the sprinklers going thiwickity-thwack on the perfectly manicured lawns, to maybe go tutor a kid who, straight from age zero, has been handed an infinitely shittier role of the life dice than said middle-classers could possibly fathom?
Our division is rooted deep within our obsession with ourselves. I am sick of telling people how right I am. I don’t want to win arguments. I want to be able to completely disagree with someone but say in the very same breath, “Hey, I love you – now let’s work together on something that has nothing to do with us.”
I want to be about bigger things than caring whether the Supreme Court overturns DOMA or not, or whether Joe can marry Bob so Joe can have half of Bob’s 401k when Bob dies of cancer and a broken heart because Joe can’t visit Bob as family in the hospital. Frankly, I think Joe and Bob – and me – would be a lot better off if we gave less of a shit about our inalienable right to retire with benefits. I’m of course minimizing the importance of some things to emphasize the greater importance of others. Is it important that Joe and Bob end up with certain laws and rights in place and certain health benefits in line? Sure it is, and it matter to a lot of people on both sides. But I don’t think it will be a death bed big deal. And what I mean by that is that I don’t think anyone’s going to lay on their deathbed really happy or sad about whether gay couples won the right to hold hands in church in Arkansas. (Another hypothetical.)
What will be a big deal is how we spent our time – whether we gave it well or wasted it. To be honest, I don’t remember most of the arguments I’ve had in my life, and I’ve had a lot. But I remember the sweeter things; the time I gave love or was totally floored by the reception of it. The times when I built something that had absolutely nothing to do with me; or when I just got to give love or time or money or skill – with absolutely zero return on investment. That’s love.
I don’t remember winning arguments. I don’t remember losing arguments. I do remember when I’ve hurt people with my words, or left my actions lacking their convictions.
It starts with an understanding of love. It continues with an act of the same. Everything else is secondary. The rest is just a bunch of baloney. If I don’t look at good I can do for the crazy old guy at the desk next to me in the library who just licked the newspaper (I kid you not, that just happened), then the hour and a half I spent writing this thing is not only a lunar waste of time but also an exercise in rampant hypocrisy. And it goes both ways. If my gay buddies are really that obsessed with the idea of being able to love whoever they want – why not throw a little of that free love in all directions, including the people who disagree with you most. Same thing goes for the Christians.
FACT: The hardest people to love are often those who need it the most.
Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees during his day for associating himself with the world’s losers; for eating with tax collectors (think IRS or Goldman Sachs scum), commiserating with minorities, and letting prostitutes wash his feet with their hair.
This is going to sound cliché, but I often wonder who Jesus would be having dinner with today.