Imperfect Serenity

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Friday, June 22, 2007

That of God

One day last week I woke up to two e-mails: one saying there was a new comment on my post “Fearless,” the other a message from someone who found me through my web site. Although one was long and thoughtful and the other short and cryptic, both seemed to assume a more pessimistic view of human nature than my own. It made me wonder how the different concepts we hold about human nature affect the way we live in the world.

The long message was from a man named David who described himself as a father, Christian, and US Marine, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He started off empathizing with some of my concerns about US foreign policy. He then said this:

Nevertheless, I have learned this............God is sovereign, the world will NEVER be a peaceful, happy place, and that humankind is inherently sinful and as such, outside of God's kingdom... I can appreciate the Quaker traditions and the desire to foster peace on earth, however, I would submit to you, that the elusive peace desired by so many will only be known when God himself rules the earth again and the evil one has been completely vanquished.

I appreciate that David is struggling with the ideas in my writing. I want to engage his ideas too (although at the moment I am preparing to leave town and therefore will make this short.) I think the thing that stuck me the most was his pessimistic view of humankind and how it seemed more subtly echoed in the other e-mail, which was in response to my post about getting rid of an obscene phone caller with compassion, rather than fear. Some of the comments before this one mentioned other similar stories. This anonymous comment said, “Interesting story............I wonder if any of them are actually true?”

Now as a teacher I encourage my students to be skeptical of things they read on the Internet. Anonymous doesn’t know me (presumably), so I have no reason to feel offended by this questioning of my integrity, especially post James Frey. But given that I received this email the same time as David’s, I couldn’t help reading it as skepticism about human goodness as well. If I had written a post about something violent happening, would this reader have been as quick to question its veracity, or is there something about human beings responding out of their better natures that seemed “unrealistic”?

The news is so full of the worst of human nature, it is not surprising that many of us end up fearful and skeptical of other people. I have to confess, the one story I heard in the news recently about a person finding God made even me skeptical. (Of course the person was Paris Hilton, but still. No one is beyond redemption.) One antidote is to tell our inspirational stories more. This is a place where bloggers can counteract the tendencies of the news media since we do not have to have a flashy visual or gripping headline to tell a story. It’s not to discount the real evil human beings commit. I am aware that as a Marine in Iraq David has seen more of that side than I have. Still, that is not all we are, and I do think that if we are looking for what Quakers call “that of God in every person” we are more likely to find it, and the kin-dom that is here on earth.

Monday, June 11, 2007


June is a time of transitions, which means blogging has slipped a bit. This is the last week of school, and thus my last week of full-time writing for awhile. We’re entering baseball playoffs, which means we can’t quite predict how many more games we’ll be having, or when, and my Quaker meeting is trying to sort out several big issues before we break business meetings for the summer. Tom and I are remodeling our kitchen, and it is the end of the Sopranos, which doesn’t matter to me since I don’t get cable, but is apparently a big deal to some given how much of yesterday’s paper was devoted to the topic.

It’s a transition time in other ways as well. Last week I finally gave away the sandbox, and Luke didn’t even get upset. In truth, we haven’t played in the sandbox in years—it was full of spiders and some insects I couldn’t identify—but every time I mentioned getting it out of the garden, Luke would whine loudly and look crushed. Now he has clearly moved on to other things, like baseball and Pokemon. Megan too is getting noticeably more mature. She recently lost a tooth, and I forgot to play Tooth Fairy that night. The next afternoon she casually played with the tooth in my vicinity until I realized my lapse and gasped. She just started laughing and said, “I wondered when you would remember.” The remarkable thing was that she didn’t care at all. Of course this is the girl who gets indignant when a waitress offers her a children’s menu, even though there is hardly anything on the adult menu that she’ll eat.

Megan will be going to middle school next year, which is a pretty big transition, and some of her friends will be going to different schools. Although she can now wear spaghetti straps when it is hot, in middle school girls’ shirts have to have straps that are at least two fingers wide, which I suspect reflects a whole series of concerns I haven’t even imagined yet. Luke meanwhile will be old enough for chorus, the school play, and standardized testing.

I’m getting older too. My women friends are starting to talk about perimenopause, which raises the alarming possibility that Megan and I might both be wildly hormonal for the same couple of years. More immediately I’ve been having dreams about taking better care of my body, especially since my heartburn has gotten much worse. The clearest dream was about trying to buy a ticket for the New York subway. The machine where you bought the tickets was also a vending machine with chocolate croissants and coffee. But when I put my money in, the machine told me that I was not allowed to have coffee and chocolate croissants anymore. I could only buy the train ticket. The dream seemed to confirm what I’ve known rationally for a while, that I need to be more careful about what I eat. Chocolate and fat are two of the main foods they tell you to cut for heartburn. So this time I’m following what my body has been trying to tell me for years. Another transition.

I think listening will be the key to all the changes. Listening to my body, listening to my children as they develop new concerns, listening to people in my meeting as we try to discern where we are going with a possible building project, and listening to my inner voice as I navigate new waters. The challenge is that over the summer I have less time to myself, which can make listening more difficult for me. My hope is that getting older will have made my children better able to play without my constant attention.

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