Arguing With Pundits

One of my favorite pastimes is to yell at my television and radio. Of course, the TV and radio aren’t really the subjects of my frustration; my issue generally lies with the personalities who use these poor, defenseless inanimate objects to deliver their misguided messages to the public.

For the most part, this tradition has always been quite an excellent arrangement for me; I get to sit on the couch in my pajamas, remote in hand, devouring the junk food of my choice, all while energetically poking holes in said cable news personality’s horrible excuse for an argument.

Surprisingly, this whole ritual is never as satisfying as one would think (junk food aside, of course). You would think that winning an argument completely unchallenged would be a huge ego boost, and since this generally all takes place when there no one else in the room to do anything else but roll their eyes at me (enter my spouse), I always win. But somehow, I still tend to leave the argument even more enraged than I was before; frustrated that I really haven’t done anything to change the fact that there is someone out there who holds a worldview that is, in my opinion, illogical, baseless, and probably even destructive. And, astonishingly, my arguments, no matter how loudly delivered, never seem to reach the ears of the pundit who so unapologetically espouses his or her views.

I have always passionately argued that this practice helps me better understand different points of view so that I can defend against them in an “actual” debate. I have even gone so far as to say that my Unitarian Universalist Principles demand that I occasionally immerse myself in alternative opinions so that I may challenge my own beliefs and explore other truths. Also, I figure that if I expose myself to some of these sometimes shocking ideas then when I hear them repeated by someone who is, I don’t know, cutting my hair, I will be able to keep myself from saying something I might later regret every time I look in the mirror.

On the other hand, there is a distinct possibility that this whole custom might really be contributing to the problem. If I tune in once a week to a cable news channel, what kind of money am I responsible for feeding into the whole operation? Am I just egging on these people? Perhaps my energy would be better spent writing letters and having an actual conversation with somebody.

So, with our cable service cancelled and the local talk radio channel erased from my presets, I have decided that it is time to have real conversations with people while engaging in a new spiritual practice: listening. Really listening.

I have discovered that the most disastrous result of my cable news and talk radio habit isn’t that I am giving the networks money. The worst part is that that every time I surround myself with the kind of hyperbolic rhetoric that comes from someone who can say whatever they want from the safety of a studio surrounded only by people who are making money from his or her wild assertions, then I forget that none of it is real. It only becomes real when we all start emulating the tactics of these pundits and stop having conversations outside of the safety of our living room couches.

Our pundit culture has completely changed the way we think about politics and debate. It taught us to view debate not as a way to expand our minds and understandings, but instead as a contest to be won; and what could be more interesting than to watch in a time of reality TV than two people engaged in duel? The winner has successfully and stubbornly stood her ground and the loser walks away with his tail between his legs, dragging his credibility behind him.

In the pundit world, ratings have replaced enlightenment as the ultimate coveted prize, and there is no line networks aren’t willing to cross to win them. Cable television and talk radio have become a modern-day Roman Colosseum, and our politicians and pundits are gladiators, pitting ideas against one another and hanging on to ill-begotten ideas as if their lives depended on it. Thanks to pundits, we have all adopted the opinion that to change your position on an issue “wishy-washy”, and that as long as you never show a single sign of humility or an ability to expand your mind, you will never have to answer to the person yelling into her TV screen a thousand miles away.

It is so easy to forget that opinions are much more likely to change when two people are in a position to actually listen to one another. Not just because they happen to be physically in the same location, but because they really want to hear what the other person has to say and (gasp!) are even amenable to learning something that they didn’t already know. We need these conversations to get back in touch with our humility and remember that we do not die when we change our opinions. Sometimes we actually grow.

So we, on both side of the aisle, can continue down the path of the pundits; we can continue to engage in destructive debates that focus only on destroying the character of another who disagrees with us. Or we can choose the higher road. This is a path that requires us to leave our couches and our studios and to listen in love every time; no matter how hard it may be.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Stopping to smell the roses

It is funny how children can speed up and slow down your life all at the same time.

There are days that I scarcely remember; a blur of tasks: Get the kids up and clothed, fed and cleaned, out the door and in the car, back home, settled down and snuggled, read to and asleep. Before you know it, you are passed out on the couch (nursing that foot you injured stepping on those stinking toys) wondering where the heck your day went.

And then there are the days when you are forced to slow it down; your daily flight into “to-do list land” grounded, plans derailed, and to make it worse, there is usually puke involved. Or, perhaps, I should speak for myself.

Oddly enough it is on these days, when my time is spent sitting on the couch, snuggling with my sick kid, that I wonder why it is that I am so inclined to wait until I have endured a toy-inflicted injury to spend some time crashed on my couch. It is nice when there is a chance to slow it down… just for the sake of slowing it down. No puke involved.

I think that my daughter has made it her life’s mission to remind us to take it down a notch; this is a child who, from the time she was born, has always moved at her own pace. Sometimes to our greatest frustration. Shortly after she started to walk, we discovered that the days of moving our bodies from point A to point B in a timely fashion was a thing of the past. We no longer walk somewhere; we go on adventures.

I am convinced that if you were to research the origins of the phrase “stop and smell the roses,” that you would undoubtedly find a picture of my daughter with this caption underneath: “Flowers, bugs, small creatures, leaves, trees, and pine-cones be warned: if you see this child, you WILL be smelled, talked to, SUNG to, touched, picked up, hugged and collected. And parents, you WILL be late. You just WILL.  Go with it. *See related phrase: ‘Moving at the speed of Alex.'”

Even though there are times when I wish she would get in the car so we can JUST LEAVE ALREADY, in my heart of hearts I adore this about my daughter. Time and to-do list be damned, there is nothing more beautiful than watching the awe and wonder in the eyes of a child who is experiencing the magnificence of our earth with her whole self. I have truly never met a single soul who so naturally live and breathes her connectedness to all of existence.

She takes the time to notice what everyone in the room is wearing, and wonders why. She feels the wind on her face and wants to know where it came from. She remembers the exact rock to look under to check up on her favorite hill of ants, asks them how they are doing and what it is, exactly, they eat.

I would be heartbroken if this child, this insipiring being full of love, imagination and compassion, no longer found meaning in the beauty and wonder of all that surrounds her because I taught her that meaning can only be found in crossing stuff off a list and in racing the clock. She makes me wonder how much of my world I am missing out on while I am counting down the seconds until I HAVE to be out the door or when I am hyper-focused on reaching my destination.

What would happen if the rest of the world took a little time to “move at the speed of Alex”? Perhaps my daughter could teach us all a thing or two about embracing the journey and soaking in the beauty that surrounds us instead of anticipating the destination. I am finding that the roses along the way have quite a bit to teach me… almost as much as the three-year old by my side.

“It Isn’t (Always) Easy Being Green!”

Making tracks in nature

A few years ago, we made the decision that we were going to be more conscious about “greening” our home. We started replacing our cleaning supplies with natural alternatives, traded in our paper napkins for cloth, shopped second-hand when possible and vowed to drive the most fuel-efficient vehicles we could.

Then we had kids.

Our perfect vision of efficiently running a perfectly green home as two working parents with two kids under the age of four in the middle of a recession has been… well, a bit of a challenge. I’ll admit it; our food scraps are, at times, tossed into the trash rather than into our compost pile, and while we started our parenting careers with every intention of cloth diapering, scrubbing the soiled diapers of a toddler with multiple food allergies was quite enough for us, and we opted for disposable diapers instead.

When time is of the essence, it is really hard to make–and stick with– huge lifestyle changes. It pains me that it is our Earth that pays the price for our hectic lifestyles; from the way we tend our lawns to the way we eat, our lives almost require that we cut corners and take short-cuts. So how do conscientious Unitarian Universalists reconcile the difference between all the things we know we ought to do and the few things that we know are possible to do?

This is a constant struggle for me and, I suspect, many of you. It almost seems unfair that here we are, a family who would love to devote all our time and resources to sustaining our earth and yet, it seems impossible to do that and sustain ourselves as well.

We have often joked about “quitting” society, packing up and moving to an imaginary place where we would live off the land and completely off the grid; where our lives would not revolve around making money to pay the bills to keep the lights on. Of course, it would mean that our lives would completely revolve around other things; like, you know, the weather and the growing season…

But even if this imaginary world were absolutely perfect, “quitting” would fix the problem for no one else but us. We would be able to rest on our laurels knowing that we did something, but it doesn’t change our culture so that there is more room in everyone’s life to care for our planet. Because, let’s face it, if we don’t all start making changes to care for our earth, our earth is going to stop taking care of us.

So I think that the necessary question to ask ourselves about “going green” is not only “what can I do to honor the Earth?” but also, “How can we work to weave these changes into the fabric of our society?”

It is sustainability on a whole new level. Yes;we work to sustain our planet in everything we do and work to better ourselves. But a handful of individuals making these changes because they have the means to do so is not enough; we also must work to make these choices more accessible to everyone, everywhere. Being green can no longer be a privilege.

So where do we start?

(For more on this topic, check out this awesome blog post by Jo Paoletti)


	

Being UU at Home

Being UU at Home

When I was growing up it was always safe to assume that the only Unitarian Universalist kids attending whatever school I was enrolled in at the time also lived in my house. In other words, UU kids were kind of hard to come by outside of our home and church.

I remember how hard it was for me to know just how to handle conversations about religion when I was really young; I was acutely aware that my church was different from the churches that most of my peers attended, but I was always unsure of how to respond if religion ever happened into a conversation. Generally speaking, my anxiety would result in a giant lump in my little throat and I would hurriedly search for a way to excuse myself from the impending blank stares that were sure to come my way after I revealed the lengthy name of my home church. Religious discussions meant either chiming in and letting my faith be known, or simply keeping my mouth shut and avoiding eye contact in hopes that I would simply disappear.

For most people whose faith traditions are not the cultural norm, conversations like these can take a great deal of energy, no matter how old you are. Like other UU kids, I had experienced the heartbreak of losing a friend because her parents didn’t approve of my family’s faith, and this added yet another dimension to my anxiety. But as I got older, I found I could have religious conversations quite easily and, nine times out of ten, I knew more about the other person’s faith than they did (or ever wanted to). I even started seeking these debates and discussions wherever I could find them; but I still found it very difficult to make friends who could put up with my convictions, my love of debate, and…well… I was kind of on the annoying side.

My peers would innocently ask me what they thought was an incredibly simple question: “What IS Unitarian Universalism?” Of course, they were suddenly blindsided with my awesome religious history lecture as I shared with them more than they ever wanted to know about my faith and the history of the Protestant Reformation.

What I didn’t get at the time is that those who asked me about my faith really didn’t want to me to present a dissertation on the history of Unitarian Universalism (shocker, I know). What they really interested in was, “What does it mean to be a UU and what does this look like in your life?”

They didn’t want to hear about some guy they have never heard of being burned at the stake; they wanted to know if Santa still came to our house. They wanted to know if we said a prayer at dinner, if we went to church every Sunday and if we had a Bible. In short, they wanted to know how my life was different from theirs because of my religion.

I think that the tendency to lecture instead of opening a window into our lives is common amongst Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes we, understandably, get so excited by all knowledge we think we have obtained as a result of our faithful journeys and we forget that what we ought to share with the world is not a list or a lecture, but our passion for exploration and learning. There is always space for lectures and dissertations; they are a necessary element to our faith, but to someone who isn’t on this journey, or even for someone who is, the real power of Unitarian Universalism may just be when a UU kid stands up for someone else who is being bullied because, to him, that is what it means to be a UU. Unitarian Universalism shines when we lift the voices of those who would otherwise go unheard and when we strengthen our own spirits through a practice that fills our hearts. The power of our faith is in what we do every day of our lives. It is in how we celebrate our holidays and how we are with the people we love (and the people we don’t).

To me, our faith means that I never stop looking for new ways to grow and learn. It means that my family lights a chalice at dinner every night and we enjoy each other’s company in a sacred space. It means that I pray on some days and meditate on others and I celebrate holidays that make sense to me and in ways that honor me, my family and my earth home.

We should celebrate the ways in which our faith enriches our lives and the lives of those around us; perhaps even more than we celebrate the theologies we reject. Perhaps it is time to shift our focus: What does our Unitarian Universalist faith mean to you?