Sunday, July 17, 2011

Religious Tolerance?

I was just remembering a wonderful conversation I once had with two people from Lebanon.  They were both Christians.  In fact, they called themselves Phoenicians and not Lebanese to distinguish themselves from Muslims who were also born in Lebanon.  They told me that they are direct descendants of the very first Christians and assured me that their style of worship and their theology was more "authentic" than Protestant, Catholic or even Orthodox Christianity.  I eagerly asked for more information.  

They were proud of the fact that their country is religiously tolerant.  They went to school with people of many different religious backgrounds.  They told me that they believed their country had a good chance of remaining peaceful because they grew up being friends with people from different religions.   (This belief was very strong in spite of the fact that one of them was living in the United States by choice as political refugee and the other was the son and grandson of refugees.)

I come from a very conservative evangelical Christian background which has long felt too narrow for the world in which I find myself.  I was fascinated by their very different understanding of Christianity, the bible and what it means to practice their faith.  I asked them about conversion.  Does anyone ever change from one religion to another or does anyone ever fall in love with someone from a different religion?  Apparently this does happen occasionally, but it is a very big problem.  Although they go to school with each other, each religion lives in a separate part of town and they all have last names that identify their religion.  Each of them had relatives who had married into another faith tradition and I got the idea that those relatives were not really welcomed into their families anymore.  

This struck me as both more and less tolerant than my own evangelical tradition.  I grew up believing that I had a moral mandate to convert everyone I met - for their own good!  It was unthinkable for me to pass up an opportunity to save someone from the fires of hell.  So religious tolerance in my youth was practically non-existent.  On the other hand, I can't imagine abandoning a relative because they married a non-Christian or choosing what house I buy based on the religion of my neighbors!

It seemed to me that they were saying that peace and religious tolerance were preserved by a careful balance of "separate but equal."  This flew in the face of everything I had learned as a child about the importance of saving everyone we met.  I asked them what they thought happened to their Muslim friends when they died.  They both looked at me blankly as if the question had never occurred to them.  Then one of them said thoughtfully, "Well, I suppose they go to their own heaven."  

This conversation was a real turning point for me.  I certainly didn't become an expert on Phoenician Christianity in one conversation!  But I learned it is possible to agree and disagree without desiring to change another.  It is possible to learn something new without accepting everything you hear the other person say.  It is possible to appreciate and respect a point of view you do not entirely share.  It is actually delightful to have a conversation with people who are different from me, to understand them a little better and to see myself a bit more clearly and walk away without changing them at all.

That conversation was many years ago.  I have had so many great experiences in my life and have allowed them to mold me.  I have learned to be myself among so many different kinds of people and revel in the differences.  I think true tolerance must be based on that "I Thou" principle.  I know who I am and I love who you are and I celebrate the fact that we are not the same.

This is true especially in my marriage.  Charley is eternally someone different not only from me, but also from who he was yesterday!  And yet he is firmly committed to the idea that we are exactly the same.  And that's really okay with me.  

Mr. Spock

Well, I just thought he turned out pretty well.  Sending him to Ben today for his birthday.  Next up: Cher's socks.  I promise!  After I finish the couch pillows for ME!!!!

Friday, July 15, 2011

No Escape

For the past few weeks I've had the honor of helping to write my father's biography.  I think that's something I'll blog about soon.  But the point at the moment is that I have been reading a huge stack of his letters to me and thinking about him a lot.  He's kind of been around the house.

And right on schedule, as we polish off the story of his life, the killers show up.  How apt and ironic.  I got an email from brother Bil updating me that the "best crack cook in Denver" has launched an appeal to get his trial overturned.  The prosecutor doesn't think there's even a remote chance that he will succeed, however the judge did give his position a hearing.  The only other appeal by one of the infamous five killers didn't even get that far.  The Victim's Advocate told me that inmates spend a lot of time submitting appeals that a panel of judges reviews.  Usually they reject the appeal without even giving it a hearing.  Kind of like the dark side of a PhD dissertation review.

Well this one made it past the first hurdle and I freaked.  I do this from time to time.  It isn't logical, it isn't controllable, it just has to be endured as lightly as possible.  The first time was pretty soon after the murder.  We lived in an apartment on the top floor and the landlady hired some guys to fix the roof.  The guys who killed my dad were roofers.  I spent day one of the repairs huddled in a corner of the living room listening to the roofers and crying and jumping at every boom.  It felt like living in a horror movie and the blood smeared nightmare was slowly beating down my door.  All day.  The next day and every day after until they finished I left the house and sat at Starbucks.  I also was particularly careful to check all the doors and windows at night for the next few months.  Charley's response was, "They aren't the SAME roofers."  Well, I know.  Those roofers are in jail.  The sentence for 3 of the 5 was life without parole.  (Expected date of release: December 31, 9999)

This doesn't have anything to do with logic.

I am supposed to be informed by the Victim's Advocate office when something occurs with the killers, like an appeal or a parole hearing.  I can't bear to NOT know, but whenever I get a letter from JeffCo Department of Corrections it's an automatic signal to order dinner delivered.  I can't cook or do much of anything for the rest of the day but knit and watch romantic comedies.  ("America's Sweethearts" and "No Reservations")

The second "episode" was almost a year ago.  You'd think I'd be saner.  He was murdered January 5, 2006.  Get OVER it already.  Our furnace died and we had a bunch of fully licensed, bonded, vouched for, insured and checked out guys come out to give us estimates.   Charley went to work and Sam and I entertained them.  This was hard.

They were all very nice, but then so were the killers.  My dad knew them and gave one of them a giant clam shell big enough for a small Venus to stand in.  One of the worst ways my Dad's murder has impacted me is that I am afraid to trust in my own instincts about who is nice and who is not.  I'm always trusting new people and then fearing they are planning to sneak in and murder me.

I got through the estimate phase of getting a new furnace pretty well, not too crazy.  But the day they were going to install it, I begged Charley to stay home and he pointed out, correctly, that I was being nuts.  I felt the panic rise and called a friend who agreed to drop everything and come over.  Then the installers showed up before she could get there and one of them kind of looked like the lead killer and crack cook!  I showed him the basement and was once again back in horror movie mode.  I called Bil and sobbed frantically, I called my friend whose sister was brutally murdered.  They told me they understood, (which made a huge difference) my friend arrived, the furnace got installed and works great.  And it's been almost a year and the Sears installers haven't returned to kill me yet!

Which brings me to yesterday.  After all these weeks of calling up my father's ghost, suddenly I'm reminded of the actual people who killed him.  And Charley is out of town.  He doesn't get back until Monday.  I seriously and calmly considered the fact that there is no real reason Sam and I have to leave the house until it is time to go get him.  In fact, he could take a taxi home.  I turned on the alarm and the tv, started a new knitting project and heated up left overs.  We stayed up watching "Music and Lyrics" and "27 Dresses" until way past midnight.  As we watched, I struggled with myself.  We are out of milk and batteries.  I really ought to go outside and buy more.  We have a chiropractor's appointment today.  There's mass on the weekend.  The killers don't even know my last name or what state I live in and, honestly, if they did get out, the LAST thing they are going to want to do is find me.  They are going to want to forget all about that January night.  They are going to want to move on with their lives.

No good.  There's just a part of me that KNOWS they are coming to get me. I wonder if prison is scarring them as much as they scarred me?  It wasn't full blown horror movie, but I could hear the creepy background music getting louder.

Finally about 2 AM I went to the internet.  Did you know that you can look up inmates and get their status?  And a recent photo.  The Darth Vader version of school pictures.  All five of them are still firmly in jail for the moment.  I thought one of them had been released, but she's still in there.  The two who will be out some day have failed at least one parole hearing each.  One of the killers who cried at his trial seems to have gained weight in prison.  He looks a lot less like a weasel now and a lot more like a killer.  The guy who got the clam still looks adorable.  This seems so unfair.  He's going to get out someday and charm someone else's dad.

But for now they are all in prison.  I have a plan.  I'm going to go out in the backyard and water my vegetables.  If that goes okay, I'll probably wake Sam up and go to the chiropractor.  I will not take along photos of the killers.  I have this urge to show them off like a crazed version of grandma showing off photos, "See how much they've grown in six years?  And look, this one's cut his hair!"

I will go to the store and buy milk and batteries.  They are in prison.  I am not.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Good Parents

We just had our two eldest grandkids with us.  I realize I don't have a lot of parenting experience.  I was Ben's mom and I'm Sam's mom.  That makes two kids.  My two grandkids aren't a bit like Ben OR Sam.  (who is?)  I also spent decades teaching Sunday School for 2 and 3 year olds.  TnT aren't 2 or 3 any more!  They are 10 and 12 and they need a LOT of attention.

They live in Portland, OR and we live in Chicago, IL so although we love each other very much, we don't really know each other very well.  We felt each other out, gingerly.  I asked myself, "What do they need?" and they asked themselves, "What are Baba's rules and how seriously do we have to take them?"  

The answer to my question is limitless and the answer to theirs, apparently, is "not many and not very."  I told them I had only one rule: Respect.  We must respect ourselves, each other, the planet, other people, other people's things etc. etc. etc.  They thought that was pretty cool.  Only one rule!  And immediately began testing to see what that meant.  

What that one rule means, as it turns out, is: constant, non-stop examination and discussion and reflection.   Is it respectful to oneself to allow one's sibling to annoy, tease or insult one?  NO.  Is it a respectful response to that annoyance to slug them until they cry?  Well, probably not.  Let's talk about this.  What would be a more respectful way to ask that person to stop?  Hmm.  Tough question.  Slugging just feels soooo good.  Well, how about if we change roles?  If you are teasing your sibling, how would you like to be asked to stop?  

This requires further conversation into the subject of "respect means actually honoring your sibling's request prior to getting slugged."

Then there's the question of bad language.  What words are appropriate for a pre-teen to use?  And why do we giggle so much when we think someone might possibly be about to use one of the forbidden words?  They arrived on my doorstep with a firmly ingrained list of forbidden words.  I assume these were decided upon at home.  Which adds another question to my list: What are the rules their parents feel strongly about that I should be endorsing, but with which I (as an aging hippie) have no real, personal connection?  So I have the silent, invisible presence of my son and his wife.  I'm trying to translate their rules into something understandable from the comments of my two astonishingly young grandchildren.  There's not a lot of mature understanding of WHY the rules are what they are and I suspect some of the rules are made up on the spot for the convenience of one or the other sibling.  I'm pretty sure, "We get to spend any money we find on the floor at the corner store" is not a rule in a household where they are very particular about what goes into their children's mouths.

Still, by the end of their stay, we were making some real headway into understanding each other's boundaries.  Our conversations were getting shorter, I had only to shout, "Respect" several thousand times a day and seemed to be getting shocked and thoughtful faces and better behavior.  We had discovered our own acceptable swear words and there was a lot less giggling. These included, for example, "What the Cermak do you think you are doing?" and (for some reason) "Oh Howie Mandel, I stubbed my toe."  And we had established that money on the floor almost certainly fell out of GC's pocket and should be returned to him.  (Grandpa Charley)  However, money can be earned by performing various chores and ONE trip to the corner store a day is acceptable since a modicum of junk food is almost required when visiting grandparents and there's nothing in the house but salad and stuff. (Oh groan, Baba's food is BORING!)

What I never did seem to make headway on was a clear definition of truth. Truth for them is a very soft subject.  Their truth may be defined as "The story that is going to get me in the least amount of trouble."  They did learn to ask first.  My mantra was "If you ask, I'll probably say yes.  If you don't, I most certainly will say no."  They had trouble believing that no means no, but I think they were sort of getting that as well by the end.
I adjusted, they adjusted.  I think we are approaching mutual respect and understanding - which is a very nice addition to love!

Good parenting requires that you pay enough attention to your kids to know what kind of parent they need you to be today.  This is the reason why there are at least 365 different theories on parenting - they are each right about once a year.  It also explains why there are no perfect parents - no one can surf that shifting wave perfectly every time.