Friday, May 16, 2008

Good Enough for Now, I Guess

I received a sweet, unexpected email from my sister yesterday saying, simply, "Congratulations!" on the occasion of the California Supreme Court's decision to . . . erm . . . stop the politicians from robbing a whole class of human beings of their rights.

I just wrote and then deleted a long and pessimistic post about the state of the world and the slow progress of justice. It is true, I think, that this week's "victory" is too small, too temporary, and is overshadowed by the seemingly inexhaustible mass of fear and ignorance. So I'm trying again for something more optimistic.

As I wrote of my anger today, I also began to feel compassion for those who sense their power - their long history of privilege and authority - being stripped away. It is this anxiety and loss in the face of radical changes in the world that leads them to fight against marriage equality, among other objectively good changes. When I hear them say, "think of the children," or "threat to the family," or "it's a slippery slope," I know that those are merely effigies of hurt feelings.

At the risk of sounding condescending, I would pray for them, that they should every day reflect on the fact that all their power, all their privilege, that all authority and all dominion come from God. Power is not a right, but a costly gift, and one that we all - who possess it - are called upon to steward wisely as we strive to live more fully in God's image. Our power gives us the capacity to choose the right, to love one another, and to live well.

I also pray that my own patience and compassion should increase. I know that I share in the sinful tendency to translate my subjective experiences into a putatively objective reality. I should remember that my moral judgments primarily stem from my own anxiety, and that by better understanding my fears as well as my desires, I will see the world and people more clearly.

I am happy that so many California couples, after years of faithful love, now possess the right to seal their unions under the law and in the witness of the community. I am happy that these justices understand that democracy - and, indeed, civilization - depend upon the rule of law and not majority rule. But I am unhappy that this is so extraordinary an occurrence. We are living in the 21st century, and yet our progress is continually offset by fear and ignorance.

Perhaps the resolution to this ambivalence is to shift one's focus from the general to the particular. If one sets one's sights on the vast and perpetual battle between human dignity and human darkness, one is inevitably frustrated. The score is impossible to calculate at that scale. But in reflecting on the love one feels and the love one witnesses, gosh, in this there is so much comfort.

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