Community

I belong to a group of individuals selected at the beginning of university to form a “community.” We go on retreat before the school year starts; we affirm each other through difficult experiences as the school year continues; we send reflections to each other from abroad. For all intents and purposes, this formed community is incredibly unique and an honorable attempt at creating a supportive, intentional community. I often feel blessed.

Yet, I cannot removed from my mind that fact that this community was created by an outside force. I didn’t establish it. In fact, those who established it do not even participate in the community. It is contrived. I participate and often enjoy it, but even if I was not eager to be part of it, it is still ordained. I ask: can a community that is forced and set up by an outside force be as genuine as an accidental community?

My work this summer in the Protection Order Advocacy Office has provided an entirely new example of community. As the youngest person there, my experience is minimal, both in the field of advocacy as well as the field of life. Yet, these 70 year old, 65 year old, 39 year old, and 35 year old, brilliant, hard working, kind women have accepted me as an equal. They take me to lunch. We get drinks, even though they know my ID is fake. They throw lunch parties every week. They know my roommates’ names, my boyfriend’s name, and all about my family. They ask, and I ask back. When I cry, they know what to say. They affirm me in a way that shows they respect me, because they have seen me work. I am part of a community that I treasure endlessly, because no one told me I had to be part of it.

I do not want summer to end, because I do not want to give up my new community. I want to be there everyday. No matter how exhausting social work may be, they rejuvenate me. I understand, even better now, the importance of community in uplifting and cherishing individuals. I understand intentionality, because a higher, bureaucratic force did not establish this new community. It is not better than my school community, but it is inherently different. These affirmations mean something more to me. It gives me faith that as I prepare to leave school and become one of these mysterious “adults,” I am not alone.

Advertisements

A Tragic Return

She’s young, in her early thirties. She just realized she is pregnant, and this is her sixth child. Pregnant again. One more tie to him. She’s wished for awhile they had never met. She is the only one working now, after he lost his job and the house foreclosed. He stays at home with the kids. He is getting antsy, though. Now, he has started in on the kids. It used to just be her. It was okay when it was just her, but not the kids.

She stepped into our office, and we groaned. Not another intake. We didn’t want it to be busy that day. When she sat down, the tears exploded. Personally, I was tired. I couldn’t do another of these stories. Most of the time, I didn’t think the abuse was all that bad. I was becoming jaded about what was “real” abuse. I was wrong about her, though. She was strong, and she had been for a long time. That’s a common misconception about abuse victims, that they are weak. They are not weak. They are loving and too strong.

Her story went on for hours. She never really stopped crying. We wrote, she cried. We started to piece together the living hell of her existence. The illness came back for me again. I get ill when I know it was just that bad. I get scared for her. Where was she going to stay tonight? Where would the children stay? As it dawned on us that she would have to return to him, we frantically called shelters. There was no room for a woman and five children. So, that was that.

She could not serve him. She would have to wait, patiently, to see if she could eventually get into a shelter. She would have to return to his bed that night. And she did. And again the next night. After two weeks, still no service. We called. Should we reissue it for the court? Yes. But not a strong yes. A yes that lacked conviction.

She went home to him that night two weeks ago. Maybe not emotionally or mentally, but she physically returned. In the following two weeks, she returned in another way. This protection order will die, along with any chance for escape, and maybe along with her. This is the tragedy. This is the failure. This is the hard underbelly of abuse so engrained that she still loves him.

Why Employment is The Most Important Issue…

… on the table, right now. You see, economically speaking, employment means more money flowing in the economy. It means more taxes for the federal government. It means more production and consumption. And in our capitalist world, this is a very good thing. But employment is about something more.

Employment makes a person feel productive. They are productive in their job, which provides them money. They spend the money, or save it, which also creates a feeling of productivity, or at the very least, enjoyment. Employment is also vital for social standing. Unemployment, at least at a certain age, is a social stigma so harsh, that it can prevent friendships, dating relationships, and other social relations. More than any of this, employment is a way to add to the world in a way which generates a feeling of significance. This is not to say that this feeling stays with us for very long. Insignificance is one of my own personal worst fears, and the feeling creeps upon me too often. Yet, for moments in each day, when I am working and I am busy, I feel like I am actively participating in something. I matter. I am serving someone or doing vital work that assists someone else. I feel as if I am participating in something bigger, and my participation is a positive thing. Employment provides me dignity.

Our country is ridden with debt, and more debt seems to be impending. We are involved in costly wars and diplomatic Catch-22’s. Regardless of all this, when a population is unemployed, when its dignity dwindles, then a country has real problems. People need to add to this arrangement of society we have all made, and they need to feel as if they add.

I recently acquired another part-time job. I work M-F, and I am usually exhausted. But the idea of working more, of adding more, is a thrill. It feels like the best thing that has happened to me in months. It is adding to my dignity. Creating jobs, necessary jobs, is a way to instill dignity and faith back in the people. Let’s get them out, moving, participating, and regaining the knowledge that no matter what they feel, they are still significant.

On the Duty of Religion

I read a blog post today written by someone I admire greatly. In a response to the question of what religious institutions should teach to followers and believers she states:

“The main things is that I believe religious institutions should rigorously teach those truths they are sure of.  What those truths are or should be is another discussion all together.  But I do think some truths can be known, and that perhaps is where our difference of opinion lies.  Mainly I take issue with the idea of rigorous theology as a commodity pedaled by institutions to their credulous followers.”

It is true that a large part of me believes, in a very Platonic sense, that Truth exists. There is some form of Goodness, Beauty, Righteousness, and Love. Yet, much like Plato, I believe it is impossibile to perfectly manifest such ideals in this material world. How can we teach pure love? Are religions duty bound to only teach what truths they know? If so, how do they know what they know? Instead, are they simply teaching the Idea of Truth, without any actual manifestation of Truth in this realm?

But is this the heart of the critique on religion? Yes and no. The problem is not the belief in a truth and the attempt to disseminate it. Or at least, that is not the only problem. The problem is the way in which truth is conceptualized. As if, one thing is true so that necessarily negates the other. Truth can be absolute, but it can be gray at the same time as it is absolute. It is the belief that a religion owns a truth, or has an exclusive glimpse. Maybe the esoteric manifestations of religions and religious peoples do not believe that their faith is an exclusive owner. However, most believers are not esoteric believers, and religions often do not even educate followers to be this way. For this reason, their duty is to teach truth without notions of exclusivity or ownership with the full knowledge that faith of the believers is not just placed in the religion but in the institution and authority behind the religion.

It is not that “rigorous theology” is inherently wrong. Rigorous is not bad, in and of itself. Exclusivity of truth, or the belief that one owns the exclusive rights to truth, is the wrong here. This is the violation of an institution’s duty to its followers.

Intimacy

The word intimacy is a loaded term in our society. It is used as a good word and a bad word. For example, persons who condemn sex before marriage condemn the premature intimacy of young couples. Yet the hippy liberal types loudly proclaim that intimacy sets us free and allows individuals to understand themselves and others in a deeper way. Regardless of your own views on intimacy, one aspect of it is often neglected, which is the fact that intimacy implies far more than sex. Intimacy is the making vulnerable of one person to another in a setting of trust and care. Intimacy is the moment when we are weakest, and we ask an individual if they will accept us regardless of our faults. Intimacy is the moment of truth. It is the moment when our flawed and broken humanity is displayed with the possibility of rejection. Intimacy is brave.

I often make claims about moral rightness and wrongness of actions without thoroughly considering what I am saying. I have a moral code that dictates my actions, and yet I cannot actually make a reasonable case for moral rules. Intellectually, I am a moral relativist. Intuitively, I am an absolutist in my moral maxims.

The reason I bring up my own moral maxims in accordance with this discussion on intimacy is that I have discovered a moral maxim with which my reason agrees. The violation of an individual’s trust in regards to their intimacy is a heinous moral crime. I do not use the word crime lightly. It is a crime, because it attacks humans at their weakest. It is a betrayal, and I would even use the word treason. I see these violations everyday. Husbands beating wives, breaking chairs over their backs, stabbing their arms. And the wife still refuses to violate the intimacy of her husband. People lie to law enforcement to protect the very criminal who rejected their humanity as revealed through sessions of intimacy. A man or woman bears his or her humanity, and the domestic violence which follows is an absolute disregard for the dignity of that human.

Receiving the intimacy of another person is a precious and life-giving gift. It is are absolute moral duty to humanity and to that person to engage and protect their humanity. Violence is wrong, not simply for the pain it causes, but because it violates the moral maxim to value intimacy with others as sacred. This is nothing to be morally relative about.

America

I recently read a blog post condemning the performance by Josh Groban of “America,” originally by Simon & Garfunkel, on the Fourth of July.

“Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together”
“I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America

“Kathy,” I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now”
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said “Be careful his bowtie is really a camera”

“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat”
“We smoked the last one an hour ago”
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

Is this tale of two young travelers anti-patriotic? It is filled with melancholy and forces us to consider the angst filled within America. I have always assumed that the melancholy I experience and that my peers complain about belongs solely to my generation. But clearly, it is a characteristic of America. Is that something to be ashamed of? Should we claim that this feeling is un-American? Maybe, claiming our melancholy, celebrating our melancholy, is what it means to an American? I am not ashamed that this song was proclaimed on the Fourth. I am proud of this country, because we own our melancholy. It is better than the blind patriotism that fails to see our own self-defeating contradictions. The American dream is flawed. Suburbia is a modern purgatory. And performing a song such as this on Independence Day is a humbling reminder: we are not perfect. This type of self-awareness can only encourage us to be even better Americans, as we possess the ability to critically analyze and creatively critique our country, forcing it to evolve into a new place.

The Importance of Wikipedia

If you have heard it once, it is beaten into your skull. Wikipedia is a bad source. Don’t trust what is written on it. Any fool can contribute to that website. The statistics about who contributes are shocking. My response to all of this: blah blah blah.

Let’s face it: wikipedia is awesome. It is a social experiment just as telling as facebook, and its repercussions are far more positive. It is a free, unique collection of knowledge. And the best part about that knowledge? We get to decide what matters. We. You and me, and anyone else who can type in any language in the world. That’s right. No longer is someone who we don’t know (Mr. Webster or the well-respected Oxford crew) defining and educating us. Wikipedia is the first time in which a community writes, edits, evaluates, rewrites, and assigns worth to … well everything. Wikipedia is knowledge of everything, and we all get to share.

What about intellectual property? How do we know it is true? Yes, these are apparent problems. But are any of us really that comfortable with notions of intellectual property? I am not willing to say that one person owns a particular idea, and I am willing to bet most other individuals do not sit comfortably with that notion either. As for truth? Hasn’t modernity and post-modernity forced us to realize that objective truth is a falsity? Are we still accepting that as an argument?

For a culture that values blogs, facebook, and twitter, what is wikipedia but the encyclopedic collection of all of us who are participating? Wikipedia is a communal blog, and YOU get to write today. So crack your knuckles, adjust yourself in your seat, and share with all of us what you know. Post it on wikipedia, so what you know, I can know too.