My Photo
Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

It's Not Easy Being Grey

In my last year of college -- a long time ago in a galaxy far far away -- I was part of a Bible study group. It was made up of four people: a priest who taught Christian Orthodox theology at the Claremont Graduate School, two students who were converts to Orthodoxy from one Protestant religion or another, and me. I was there to put my religion on trial, and every night we met I forced myself to ask the questions I wanted to ask, that I had been mulling about by myself for years. Once I asked about homosexuality, and the priest said, kindly, I remember, with infinite patience towards me and my chomping at the bit, that the church made a distinction between sin and sinner, and that it was possible to hate the sin while loving the sinner. My best friend at the time was gay, and I asked him what he thought about this distinction; did it make sense to him? No, he said, gay was something he was not something he did. It was identity not merely behavior.

It's a question that rankles me to this day: is the self the sum of the acts the self performs, or something more than just a conglomeration of doing and not doing? It came up in a conversation with my father, who believes, like the priest, that you can think that something a person did is wrong and but not think that the person who did is a bad person. Love is possible in the absence of like-mindedness, my father says; we don't all have to agree in order to get along. I wonder if that's true, or if it's just a way to put a pretty face on the bad things we really think of each other. Tolerance sometimes seems to me a dirty word. It seems so to my sister whom I've heard say more than once that this "agree to disagree" stuff is bullshit. Let's have it out, she says; let's really try to change each other's minds; let's not shrink from the fight, from getting at each other a little, from being passionate about what we believe in, from persuasion.

I'm a pacifist, though I have to agree that in my sister's version of the world conversations would be more fun and honest, if a little bloody and chaotic. But I'm a pacifist because I am always unsure of my position, I always doubt myself and think that the piece of the truth that I possess at any given time is a very tiny piece and probably, if placed in a different context, not even as true as it seemed at first. I'm painfully aware of how many things I don't know about the world and other people. That sounds very nice, very Socratic and everything, but it leaves me no ground to stand on and feels mighty uncomfortable. Does anyone know if there is, in fact, a good ground to stand on? Or are we doomed to grounlessness, to the center not holding, giving away any time we reach for it? Is the answer to that question about the self -- am I what I do, or am I what I am? -- both?

And if it is -- aha! -- then the trick is to figure out exactly when one definition applies versus the other! It's like learning when you have to use the Phillips and when the flathead screwdriver to do the job. Sometimes the criminal and the crime are one and the same thing, and sometimes they aren't. Sometimes a masterpiece and its creator are one and the same thing, sometimes they aren't. There are times when what's on trial is a small piece of you, and times when your whole self, the entirety of your moral identity is.

Flexibility of mind -- now that's an idea. At least now I have my work cut out for me, enough to last me a few more lifetimes than I can afford.


Blogger Never Enuf Thyme said...

How beautifully you put into words the way I also feel:

But I'm a pacifist because I am always unsure of my position, I always doubt myself and think that the piece of the truth that I possess at any given time is a very tiny piece and probably, if placed in a different context, not even as true as it seemed at first.

I also believe there are at least two sides to everything, and perceptions can lead people to do and say odd/hurtful/strange things. I agree to disagree, respectfully. I'm a lover, not a fighter, so your sister could easily grind me up and spit me out. :^)

It's been a while since I visited here (I backed off blogging for a while), but I just wanted to stop in and let you know I enjoy seeing the world through your eyes. ~S (I used to log in as "invisible")

October 18, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home