This week has not been my favourite. The changes/purges/need to move on that I wrote about the other day are neither sitting well nor progressing as they should.
And to add insult to injury, I have had a few too many people tell me, in the last couple of weeks, that I need to ‘put things in perspective.’
Truly, I think I try very hard to do so as a matter of course.
Perspective can be a funny thing.
Compared to many/most in the world I certainly do seem to have little to complain about and I definitely shouldn’t be feeling the level of stress that I currently am feeling.
Ever notice that the people who articulate such sentiments generally are in a situation in which all is right with their world?
There is a reason that platitudes do nothing more than piss us off. Seriously, why do people use them? They are terrible rhetorical devices that tend to come from those who aren’t going through the sorts of things that we are going through. And some of them never have done. No frame of reference, yet lots of ‘advice’ in the offing.
While I realize that all of my current struggles definitely fit into that categorization that seems to be everywhere lately- ‘first world problems’- my Sitz im Leben (‘situation in life’), my context- whether my view is at street level, worms’ eye or birds’ eye- is what informs my attitudes, impressions, thoughts and feelings, and the sitch isn’t all that great at the mo’.
I think I tend to face the world and my fellows with optimism, kindness and dignity, generally speaking. Lately, I just can’t find that optimism.
First thing this morning (and I’m not kidding when I say ‘first thing’- I was awake unreasonably early) I set out to try veryvery hard to search out my usual sunny-ness of spirit and stave off the darkness that seems crouched not just outside of my door, but inside the place I live and where I should feel the most comfort and stability (I use ‘the place’ both literally and figuratively- my physical and psychological homes are both under attack at the moment).
I saw this in a news feed.
Sure, it’s a feel-good, propagandist story that provides unsolicited ‘permission’ for the LGBTQ community to be who they are, but it is more positive and humanistic than anything that previous popes have had to say on the topic, and as such was something with which I attempted to change my outlook on the day.
“Who am I to judge?”
Those five little words might not seem earth-shaking or -shattering to most of us, but for the head of the RC church to utter them? This is a Big Deal.
Setting aside the usual, obscene references to ‘sin’ and such, Francis has majorly broken with the ‘program’ in the space of a short interview on the heels of his visit to Brazil.
Granted, he may just have been right knackered after all the rockstar-like chaos he caused wherever he went in the lead-up and main event at World Youth Day. He is not taking the step of advocating for same-sex marriage or anything like that. He is not allowing women into the priesthood. He has not responded to questions about institutionalized sexual abuse and advocated cover ups of that sexual abuse. But as I’ve said before, this guy strikes me as at least different from those other guys who have worn the mitre lately.
I was starting to feel a little ray of the sunshine creeping back in. If a venerable and unmoving institutional edifice can witness such a sea-change from its Grand Poobah, perhaps there is hope that followers of the unmoving institutional edifice might someday come around to complete inclusion and the eradication of the concepts of sin, next-life redemption and ideas about external, non-human good and evil.
Admittedly, it’s a stretch. But hope, spring, eternal and all that.
Then, on the social media, came the criticism. Mainly from the cheap seats inhabited by ‘New Atheists’, but I saw ill-written commentary and interworld memes with incorrect grammar and/or spelling in a number of places.
I’m no fan of the institution or the theology or the praxis and ritual and dogma and condemnation that I associate with organized religions. Please don’t forget that important foundational point.
Is Francis the titular head of an obsolete institution? Yep. Is said institution, even if obsolete, still one of power and influence in the world? Yep again.
There are still over a billion people the world over that look to the Vatican and its Papa as the source of morality and guidance in many, if not all, aspects of life. Is this an unfortunate reality? Again with the ‘Yep’.
Sometimes people say things with good intention and in the spirit of openness and with (even the barest) suggestion of change. Should that be immediately shouted down?
It is frustrating to actively set out to find some positivity within the tragedy, dreck and vulgarity that seems to be front and centre these days and, once that little glimmer is found, have it taunted and censured without thought or examination.
Does Francis’ comment excuse, or even mitigate, the terrible and unforgivable crimes that have been covered up for far too long? Does it justify the institutionalized misogyny, doctrinal adherence to outdated cultural mores and violations of human rights and understanding that remain on the books as the modi operandi of the Vatican and its worldwide minions?
Of course not.
But can we not just try to find some room for optimism and hope for change when an old man- figurehead or not- in opposition to millennia of precedents to the contrary makes a statement as potentially powerful as ‘Who am I to judge’?
The ascent of the Interworld meme as a means of expression of opinion has contributed to our intellectual sloth. Sure, some of them are funny, but the de rigueur habit of posting a (sometimes) clever frame/cartoon/photo with a succinct commentary as representations of our closely held beliefs seems like just another indicator of the brevity of our collective attention spans and the superficiality of our ability to think critically and for ourselves.
Am I guilty of the occasional re-post? Of course I am. Hard to be an active participant in the social media and not engage in the sharing of a Grumpy Cat or passing along something wonderfully cheesy and punny from George Takei’s extensive collection. Interworld memes can be effective in drawing out dialogue- although too often they attract as many trolls as thoughtful commentators- and can add a smile to a day that is in need of a little lift.
I do take issue with the mean-spirited ones since they are further evidence- if any was needed- of our increasing acceptance of unkindness as a means of carrying on. I’m no Pollyanna (just ask my friends) but some of the memes out there are as deplorable as the person/place/thing that is being targeted. Two wrongs and all that.
Anyway. Sticking to my attempt to regain a little optimism, I am going to choose, based upon the research I have done, to reserve judgement regarding the papacy of Francis I, at least until it is a little bit further along. I will view the statement as a possible move in a positive direction toward inclusion and away from institutionalized irrationality. I will give Francis the benefit of the doubt on this one, and see where (if anywhere) he takes it and how (if at all) he backs up the comment with positive action.
And if I can’t, in all honesty, state unequivocally and with complete understanding of context and perspective ‘Who am I to judge’, I will, at least, commit to working harder to walk that mile in the shoes of those upon whom my judgement may sometimes fall too quickly.
That Christian version of the big book of myths and practices has a line of some renown (okay, it has more than one, but this one is significant in this context): “Judge not, that you not be judged.” (Matt. 7.1)
The passage suggests a concern about effect to oneself– ‘if you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge others’. ‘Who am I to judge?’ seems unconcerned with reciprocity of judgement while stating that passing judgement is not something to be done lightly (or at all).
Some may say that both comments are platitudinous. But if the leader of the historically doctrinaire and judge-y-by-definition Roman Catholic Church can offer up such a sentiment in opposition to the traditional dogma, the comment just might be both original and significant in this context. Perhaps the rest of us can give him a little credit and try to do the same ourselves. Hmmm?