So far, the one big American event that I am most disappointed about missing out on: Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. (heavy sigh)
Today is the day that I begin regular posts and updates, and I was hoping Fridays would mainly be fun and silly, because…Friday! Yay! This week, though, I have not had a lot of time to think about silly subjects. This week I have been confronted with a host of issues and events that basically boil down to this question (I think): What does crazy really mean? And the other side of that is: What is normal? And in between these two you have: Does it matter?
This blog is my attempt to, among other things, relay the experience that I am having while I am abroad this year. I mainly feel the compulsion to do this because there are people who love and miss me (I think), but also because there are a few wonderful groups of people who are contributing funds, making this year possible for me, and I feel like I should give back whatever I can. Really all I have is…me. My life, my journey. If nothing else, the people who are making this possible, and asking nothing in return, should get to have a vicarious look into my experience this year. And, for me, a big part of this journey is unpacking and dismantling a lot of the assumptions I have made about myself and my life, trying to get past my own emotional baggage and cultural programming so that I have a better shot at understanding how and what God is speaking to me. Our world is made up of boundaries: emotional, cultural, political, and so on, and I am operating on the premise that I can only understand God better if I can get past as many of these boundaries as possible.
So…essentially this week has been one of transition, and it has raised some questions for me, and I understand these questions as being challenges that stem from the same boundary. If I had to physically represent that boundary, I would build a wall, and I would label one side CRAZY and one side NORMAL. What does it mean to be crazy, normal, sane, or not?
When you know yourself to be a beloved creation of the One True God of the Universe, who also created everything else…these labels seem like just that, labels. Ways of identifying particular kinds of folks to know how to deal with them. I know that the craziest person deserves love and affection as a beloved creation of God, and the people who are considered “normal” in a lot of places are the ones that REFUSE to see others as God’s Beloved. So, it is, like any other dualism I can think of right now, a false option anyway. There is no crazy, there is no normal. There is what you accept, and what you don’t.
So what does the Rally To Restore Sanity mean, and why does it appeal to me so much? To understand a joke, you have to understand the premise. This is why so many people say they get their news from the Daily Show, it’s not that the Daily Show is out to give people unbiased information the way a news organization is supposed to; it’s that you can’t understand what they are making fun of, you aren’t in on the joke, unless you understand the premise. So they filter actual news through the lens of comedy. The real joke is that people can’t tell the difference between the filter system the Daily Show uses and the filter system used by every major news network. Fox “News” wins in the ratings game every time, which means most people are getting their news from this channel, which VERY CLEARLY filters their information through the lens of a narrative that has conservative values as the protagonist and liberal values as the antagonist. The Daily Show has a narrative that says the real antagonist, the real bad guy of the story, are people who pretend to be what they actually aren’t. So…the Rally to Restore Sanity mocks cultural icons like Glen Beck, someone who claims to represent some kind of larger something-or-other, but clearly is chasing a buck, someone who blatantly looks to subvert important cultural moments like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech with a cheap ratings gimmick…and pass it off as an actual cause. Of course the whole Rally to Restore Sanity is a joke, but the premise is very serious: America has been trained to rally around fake extremist ratings gimmicks, supporting causes that don’t actually exist. What if there was such a rally for the people who don’t fit into the narrative? The results will be hilarious, they will produce fodder for the Daily Show and Colbert Report for months to come. But, the really sick part of the joke is that…I want to go. I identify with this joke, this fake thing that exists simply as laughing defiance to the false choice given to us by the culture we come from.
If someone were to look at my life, I don’t know what they would say, but I know it would not fit into any of the popular stories I was told about what it means to be an adult in America. I don’t want to assume that I know what this means, I just think that jobless seminary student who goes abroad for a year for no discernable reason…doesn’t really fit into the popular narrative. Doing this does not ensure for me greater happiness down the line, or better carreer opportunities, or higher pay, or less debt, or, or, or, etc. It is maybe a crazy thing to do, because I may not directly benefit from it in any way other than getting to live in a foreign country for a year. And if it is not crazy, it is certainly not normal.
Dualities. I think we would do well to reject them. Look at how we talk about religion in our country. The popular conversation about religion seems to be that you are religious or not because of, either, what you “know” or how you “behave.” We think that you can only believe in God if you are uneducated enough to do so, and if you are educated and still religious, then it must be because you are concerned with instilling moral values into yourself and your family and you invent the story of God in order to do that. You are often asked, “WHY do you believe in something you can’t prove?” or “Why do I need God to know what is right and wrong?” These are prepostrous conversations. Or are they? Are they, perhaps, totally reasonable conversations that just indicate how inadequately we have taught our people about faith?
There was a story on MSNBC recently about how Atheists know more about religion than religious people. The premise here is that expertise is good. The more knowledge you have on a subject, the more of an expert in that field you are, the better you should be at it. This story says, “Turns out the biggest experts on the subject of religion believe there is no God. Hmmm…why is this?” The joke is on them, because trivia is not the same as belief.
I want better dialogue in America. I ache for a culture than can deal with the complex issues and problems facing them in a complex way. Do I think the Rally to Restore Sanity would have anything to do with accomplishing that? I have my doubts. But I can support that Rally with an enthusiasm and whole heartedness that I would not be able to muster for any other political rally held in Washington this year. Because it is the only event that I can believe is actually genuine in what it is hoping to accomplish. In 2010 American politics, the one cause I can support, and the one cause I have faith in, is also the biggest joke: That there are rational citizens who can speak to each other without digressing into extremist points of view.
And I refuse to let the conversation about religion continue along a similar punchline. To speak of faith as being linked to a certain logic, philosophy, or lifestyle is to miss the point. I don’t need a reason to believe in God, because I BELIEVE that there is One God of the Universe. Everything I do in life is based on that premise. That is the presmise upon which I base my “failures” and my “successes.” The quest of my life is not going to be to defend the existence of God, or to promote particular institutions that would “prove” a point, but rather to understand what I am called to be and do in light of the One Loving God of all.
Right now, all I know for sure is that, when we can get past the boundaries that we use to divide our world into small, easy to understand subsections, we are left with one true reality. In that space, there are no walls to hide behind, there is simply…who I am. And it is up to me to take responsibility for that person…or not. The Rally to Restore Sanity may not be a real thing…but it is a call to understand the real, to take responsibility, to dismantle some of the boundaries that have been set up in our political discourse. And I really wish I could go. Because if nothing else, I’m sure it will be hilarious.