America's got some pretty entrenched and bitter divides going on. Whites and blacks, rich and poor, creationists and evolutionists, gun-control activists and gun-owners, immigration-lovers and immigrant-haters, LGTB supporters and conservative Christians. So it was a pretty powerful week in terms of the Supreme Court decision to make gay marriage legal in every state, the Confederate flag coming down, the Affordable Health Care act being spared a blow in the courts, and Obama giving such a moving tribute at Clementa Pinckney's funeral. Those crisscrossing divides were in the spotlight all week highlighting the complex layers of loyalties in politics, religion, and race in America.
Last week for Father's day, I went to church and learned my own lesson about religious divides. Going to church was the last thing I wanted to do that morning, but my dad had requested it as his Father's day gift, and then the Saturday night before, I had a dream that he was waiting for me to come to church. When I dream about stuff, I figure it must mean something, (and I also have an abiding fear of regretting things on my death bed), so off I went. As I was getting dressed that morning, I was cynically thinking I could use the morning as breathing practice. For example, I get provoked by closed-mindedness, and it's my practice to sense into my body and connect with my breathing when provoked so I don't get lost in mental fantasies of strangling this person.
The speaker that morning was a counsellor at a religious pregnancy centre. She stood up there and told the story of her life, basically, how she was given up for adoption by a man who denied being the father and didn't want her. She had great adoptive parents, but then, after getting their permission, sought out her birth dad later in life. When she found him, he was open to meeting her, but was dying of cancer, and just didn't have much vocabulary to talk about any of his pain with her. He had been an alcoholic all his life, married to an older woman with 7 kids, and never had any kids of his own apart from her. She was able to be with him when he died, but she still felt incredibly bitter and angry that her time with him slipped through her fingers. She did get one bonding experience at the very end, but it wasn't enough. Then after that, her son-in-law (father to her grandkids) died in a motorcycle accident. She talked about how dads are super important in a kids' life, and I didn't agree with all the religious interpretations of everything she went through, but I found I couldn't be cynical anymore with this woman's sad story. It's like when you hear of pain like that, you just can't get caught up with religion at that point- you just see a really vulnerable person trying to make sense of the shit that got thrown on them.
At some point, I forgot my plan to work on my breathing- I just wans't compelled to strangle anyone despite the religious overtones of the message. I thought about that later- pain has to speak louder than religion if you're going to be a decent person. You can believe in God, or you can believe in evolution, but a story of abandonment and love lost has got to touch you.
This past week, Obama proved he's a great person for bridging America's divides. A half-black, half-white man, a Democrat and a Christian, a powerful politician who himself has been the victim of racism (and someone whose own dad also abandoned him at an early age), brought several groups together just by virtue of giving the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, the pastor at Emanuel African Methodist in South Carolina last week.
This past year has seen incident after incident of ridiculously violent actions directed at African Americans going about their daily business, which has been met with wave after wave of anger at the police force. A lot of that anger obviously comes from the Black community, which has a high proportion of Christians to athiests, but which is mostly made up of Democrats. White Democrats have also been vehemently angry against the police force. I think this is statistically valid, (but I'm also writing this at 2:09 AM) but I believe White Democrats tend toward agnositicism. So when nine black Charleston residents were violently murdered last week while studying the Bible, it brought a lot of agnostic Democrats to the table to stand up for people they're usually separated from by an idological divide.
Even as an agnostic, it wasn't too hard to want to join in with Obama when he started singing Amazing Grace during Pinckney's eulogy. As one youtube commentor summed it up, "I'm a strident athiest, but I approve of this message." Maybe someday it won't take a tragedy for us all to see people on the "other side" as a vulnerable human too, trying to make sense of their world with the best they've got.