Saturday, June 27, 2015

What is the Source of Dignity?

What is dignity? According to Merriam-Webster it is:
: a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness and self-control
: the quality of being worthy of honor or respect
I pondered this question after the Supreme Court's historic ruling on marriage equality. As I was reading through all the social media buzz, I saw a tweet which mentioned part of Justice Thomas' dissent. Specifically, this part:
The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
Many people are in disagreement on this point, but as I thought about it, I found myself in conflict. I am in no way a Justice Thomas apologist, or even a fan. I want to be totally clear on that point. 


I agree with this idea - that dignity cannot be granted or removed by any external authority or power. If the US government granted my husband the right to physically discipline me, it would not remove my dignity. My dignity is inherent, just like my value.

This is where Justice Thomas' opinion actually falls apart in my completely NON legal, uneducated view.

If all humans carry innate dignity, then that is precisely the reason they must be granted civil rights. If Justice Thomas is correct, as I think this one paragraph is, then he is obligated to grant marriage equality, which he didn't. FAIL.
The inherent value, worth, and yes, dignity, of each human being demands civil rights and equality, regardless of DNA variables.

I believe my view on dignity is influenced by my gender and my religion. As a woman, I know full well that my dignity (my way of behaving, my worthiness of respect) is not affected by sexist pigs who treat me like a sex object. Having worked in a male dominated field and attended churches with sexist Christians, I know this from personal experience. Yes, it hurts to be dismissed. Yes, it removes my rights and my freedoms. Yes, it can be a violation. But it does not ever take away my dignity.

As for religion, as a Christian, I worship a man who was despised and devastated by his community and his government. Jesus was stripped naked, whipped, and nailed to a cross. His dignity was not lost. The Bible teaches me repeatedly that external authority serves the rich and the evil, and that God is on the side of the oppressed and poor. It demonstrates again and again that God turns the story upside down, using people considered the least worthy of respect or dignity to implement change and new life.

Was Justice Thomas right? I believe so. Did his correct opinion lead to the right action? I think not.

Monday, June 22, 2015

I am Angry

I am angry. I shouldn't be, because I know that I, along with everyone else, always look for the easy way out. But I am still angry, because for some reason, we have decided that removing the Confederate flag from the capitol of SC will solve our racism problem.

Look, I understand why that flag needs to come down. But it was there when I was in college, 20 years ago. And when I was in college, a KKK store, where you could buy your KKK robes and materials, was opened in a SC town near my school.

The problem will not be solved by taking down a flag. The problem will be solved when the citizens of SC, a majority of them, take down that flag by force. When the citizens no longer tolerate KKK stores and riot and protest until the store is closed. Not black citizens, ALL citizens. As long as individuals fly the flag, taking it down at the capitol is a easy gesture that solves nothing.

How many black friends do you have, dear reader? How many black friends do you connect with on a weekly basis? Look, I grew up a privileged white kid in East Tennessee, attending a private college prep school, going to a Baptist university in SC, joining a sorority. But I had black friends. Not because I'm noble, because I'm blessed.

When I was in high school, I thought the Confederate flag was cool. I didn't wear it, but I had no objections to it. And then, one day, a black friend of mine told me it was offensive. He educated me. And I listened. I didn't understand, but knowing that that flag hurt my friends was enough. I was done with it. I would never consider using it or wearing it again. My personal convictions about the symbol were irrelevant - it hurt another human.

I am extremely blessed in that, as a white middle class woman, I have been friends with people of all races, nationalities, and religions. I have broken bread with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, blacks, Asians, and members of the LGBTQ community. I consider that a huge blessing, because it has taught me compassion. And THAT is the way forward.

  • Are you opposed to homosexuality? Find someone who is not straight and befriend him/her*

  • Are you suspicious of Islam? Befriend a Muslim.

  • Are you not sure if you're racist or not? Befriend a black person. 

  • Are you convinced that doctors who perform abortions are evil? Befriend an obstetrician and ask her about abortion. 

  • Are you not sure if there are any Jewish people living in your town? Look up the synagogue (because yes, there are Jewish people in your town) and attend a service there.

Because while the Confederate flag is an undeniably important and oppressive symbol, taking it down will change nothing in YOUR life. If you are upset by the massacre in Charleston, then find a new friend, someone who disagrees with you on some major issue. Don't argue: do something fun, like have coffee or watch a TV show you both like.

The process of racial reconciliation begins with YOU.

* If you are friends with someone who has left homosexuality and become straight, that doesn't count. Mainly because s/he doesn't disagree with you any more. Find someone who is proud of her sexuality and not interested in changing to please you or God or anyone.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Charleston shooting

I wish I could say I'm surprised at the tragedy. I wish I could say I'm surprised by the fact that, yet again, one person has entered a peaceful community and violated its safety with hatred and bullets. I wish I could be shocked and saddened at the racism exhibited. I wish I weren't so sure of what will be spoken on the news for the next month or so. But I am.

The news will give us in depth coverage on the shooter and very little information about the martyrs. The "Christian" right, which announces its persecution every November, will be devastatingly silent at this evidence of actual persecution. Gun activists will announce that if more guns had been in that church, fewer people would have died. Gun control activists will dredge up every mass shooting in the last 12 months and demand change. Mental health advocates will announce that we need more access to mental health resources (because we all know that the shooter will be found to be mentally ill in some kind of way).

But the real problem lies within. It is within me, when I yell or honk at a driver I feel threatened by. When I condemn a group of politicians or organization wholesale for their different opinions and policies. Jesus taught me that my words are bullets.

The problem is within my communities. When we declare our own anger justified. When we refuse to accept responsibility for our actions because someone else "made" us feel an emotion. When we get in shouting matches on social media, forgetting that the group we are demeaning is composed of beings created in the image of God. When we refuse to engage in the hard work of relationship and instead throw money and objects at a problem, hoping that will resolve it. 

The problem is within us, Americans. It is within our entertainment, where shooting and crime is a given. It is within our movies, when violence is given lower ratings than consensual sexuality. It is within our lobby groups, when a person's individual rights are given precedence over the other. It is within our history, when we embraced the man made concept of "race" and used it to deny humanity to a group of people. It is when we believe that externally imposed morality will solve our inner problem.

What is our problem? We still do not believe or accept God's grace and love. We think we must earn it, by some application of Torah or Fundamentalist Law. We think we must hold the right beliefs to be accepted by God, and so we question each other about theories of creation, evolution, abortion, gun control, feminism, birth control, Viagra, smoking, drinking, dancing, worship style, communion, race, politics, the Trinity, God's gender, the role of the Bible, money, child discipline styles, diet, warfare, self-defense, tattoos, hair length, clothing, modesty, sexuality, mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism, swearing, etc.

I look for the sin within myself and then I repent, because that is how I deepen my love for God (Luke 7:36-50). I mourn for the church in Charleston because it reminds me that I shoot people with my anger and my mouth every day. And I know that despite all that, I am infinitely precious in God's eyes, today, in this moment and in the next.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Primary and Secondary Foods

I just started the Take Shape for Life program. I'm on Day 2 of eating 5 Medifast meal replacements and 1 Lean and Green meal daily. So far I've been pleasantly surprised: although my daily calorie count is extremely low, I'm not much more hungry than I normally am in a day (and yes, I'm pretty much ravenous every single day).

One thing that's helping is something I learned recently from a Health Coach, Shelley Churchill. It's the concept of primary and secondary foods, courtesy of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. The primary foods of a person's life, according to IIN, are not food at all: they are relationships, faith, and meaningful activities.

Now, whether you believe that or not, what I know for sure (Thanks, Oprah!) is that the more I focus on the intangibles of life, the less I worry about food. As I indulge my senses, deepen my relationships, pray, and do meaningful work, I am less concerned about what goes in my mouth. And that has made a huge difference for me in this program thus far!