Wednesday, December 18, 2013

To Believe In, Or At Least Be Aware Of, Hope

"To Believe In, Or At Least Be Aware Of, Hope"
An essay considering the direction of the Western World, prompted by Pope Francis being named Time Magazine's Person Of The Year.
by Jake Kilroy

I wrote this because I can think and write. I have no expertise in anything covered. My depth of understanding with religion is along the lines of reading a drive-thru menu to say, yeah, sure, I get food. Also, nobody has ever hired me to muse on hope or speak on what drives mankind. I am, however, particularly good at existing and, hey, sometimes observing. And once I started writing this, it was hard to stop.

I'm not kidding. This thing is long.


I'm not saying this church or this world, or any church or any world, is perfect.

But, damnit, you have to acknowledge progress when it's apparent. We rightfully celebrate the progress of each and every civil rights movement, even though racism, sexism, homophobia, and class warfare still exist. It would be unfair to deem them as inherently old world problems, but it's just as unfair to dismiss the progress made in each category to rally the cries of a problem-infested new world. You need to do both, because one way is ignorance and the other is belligerence.

Hope, despite its luminous and gorgeous pull of the heart, is a tricky business. And I can only figure it as one part "you" and one part "everything else." It's a crazy balance of perspective vs. reality and expectations vs. outcomes. Hope can be the spark of man-made miracles, but it can be the cause of emptiness, because it provides a future that might not ever be.

Investing your hope in a stranger comes with its fair share of helplessness. You devote an attitude to a person that you can have no direct influence on, and you believe in a majesty to come that you can't quite control. I did it with Obama in 2008, and while I've been impressed with a lot that he's done, it's brought on quiet fury and embarrassment for the things I've been disappointed and disgusted with, which are just as, if not more, plentiful.

Throughout my adult life, I've paid good attention, though little mind, to Time Magazine's "Person Of The Year." And while I get sick of the feedback it rouses because many people, for whatever reason, still don't understand that it's who was responsible for the most impact, whether good or bad, I don't always agree with it. Their more abstract selections are equally brilliant (2011: "The Protestor") and lazy (2006: "You"), I think their regular decision to include American presidents is the laziest. Also, and it's been rightfully argued for years, there's a spectacular lack of women on the roster. I mean, hell, up until the late '90s, it was "Man Of The Year."

This year, the magazine chose Pope Francis, and he's been a fascinating character to enter the global scene.

Time's managing editor Nancy Gibbs explained the magazine’s choice, explaining:

"The heart is a strong muscle; he’s proposing a rigorous exercise plan. And in a very short time, a vast, global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him. For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest faith to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is Time’s 2013 Person of the Year."

Pope Francis has given me hope, but not as a member of the church.

I was raised in a house of manners, mercy, and gratefulness, but not religion. Well, for the most part, that's true. When I was a kid, my father led sporadic but mandatory "Sunday meetings" in the living room. In them, my dad would have a main lesson, which ranged from him retelling a story about stealing from high school to him explaining how to balance a check book, and then he'd read a story from the Bible and tell us how to be a "strong, healthy, confident adult" with an open mind.

My mom and dad are of the same ideal: God, but not necessarily religion.

From that, I took goodwill and appreciation as motives and guidance. I tend to lean atheist though, but because I've always had an overactive imagination, I keep thinking a god of some kind may very well exist. People question this further, but I can only clarify it as, "It's like how I wouldn't wander through a haunted house alone, even though I don't really believe in ghosts." I fear what I'm capable of considering, not what I think exists or doesn't.

To put it bluntly, my religious views fall into a category that has most aptly been articulated by the series Community:
  • "Agnosticism is the lazy man's atheist." - Pierce Hawthorne
  • "As an agnostic, I plan on bringing my winning smile." - Jeff Winger
I love what good people get out of religion, but when it's used without intelligence or justice, it's unfathomable to me why people invest their time in organized and perpetual madness and delirium. I've seen religion make reasonably intelligent individuals total, absolute, uninformed bigots, and, on the total and absolute other hand, I have seen religion motivate not-too-well-off people be charitable far beyond their means.

No church is alike, and no follower of any god is the same. It's important to keep that in mind, because making sweeping generalizations about belief systems isn't always the most efficient use of your time.

When I was a teenager, I thought it was stupid and whiny of adults to complain about the world changing for the worst. Now, as an adult with a Twitter-feed of news organizations, I sometimes find it spectacularly easy to think that. The world has always been dangerous. It's always been scary. What changes is where and how the fear comes.

This is why it's become so important to me to acknowledge progress and rally behind hope.

Negativity, for whatever reason, tastes good. Maybe because it's forbidden. But it's not forbidden in the tantalizing sense (like your private browser history). It's forbidden in the way that you can't just take the stuff you don't need out of your closet and huck it out the window. Because guess what? Nobody cleans that shit up.

We have a problem in this country that focuses too much on belittling both grief as well as joy. The old excuse was the media. The new excuse is social media. A gif of two very different people hugging should not restore your faith in humanity, but these small acts should at least reaffirm it. With easily accessible sites to present you with the warm vibes (Buzzfeed, Upworthy, etc), it's easy to lose sight of the big picture to focus your attention on the good, small distractions.

Whereas years ago, I felt like the Ann Coulters of the world were winning the war on, well, I don't even know what to call it, I've lately felt that being close-minded is starting ease out of style. It won't ever go away, and it's pretty impossible to cite how or why I can even make that claim. I like that conservatives (in general, not specifically political) are reevaluating conversational strategy, and I like that liberals are reevaluating just what it is they're even pursuing (again, in general, not specifically political).

I'm taking Pope Francis as a sign of change, and I find it thrilling.

Now, there are people in epic numbers working harder than him to ensure a more ideal future. There are authority figures in this city/county/state/country/world that are fighting for a better world, that are protesting for an ideal humanity, that are promoting the best of us as a species. And they'll go unnoticed. And humility will remain a bewilderingly triumphant quality.

But the focus here is Pope Francis as a token of "could be."

James Carroll of The New Yorker did a way better job than I ever could with his article Who Am I To Judge? - A Radical Pope's First Year.

Carroll writes, "Who am I to judge? With those five words, spoken in late July in reply to a reporter’s question about the status of gay priests in the Church, Pope Francis stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralizing typical of Popes and bishops. This gesture of openness, which startled the Catholic world, would prove not to be an isolated event."

And it's true. The man has rejected tradition. In fact, he's done good just by setting an example that hasn't really been there before:
  • He lives in a two-room apartment instead of the palace.
  • He wears worn shoes instead of the traditional fancy footwear.
  • Rumor has it that he sneaks into the city to help and talk with the poor, as he did when he was in Argentina.
Now, to those of us without any Catholic power, it may seem obvious and already be a routine to wear beat-up shoes and not be an asshole. But we're talking about a man who just shrugged off centuries of furrowed brows and closed minds. It's important to remember that.

It was a big deal for Obama to support same-sex marriage because of what came before. Supporting same-sex marriage, to me and many, is a no-brainer. But it mattered because he was the first sitting president to do so. Other countries have female presidents and prime ministers. It shouldn't be a big deal in America when we finally vote ours in, only by the standards of proposed and assumed equality, but it most definitely will be (and it most definitely should be) because of what's come before: all men. It's a matter of perspective, and it changes everything.

So what matters here is progress, not perfection.

Pope Francis is not a LGBT advocate, and Michelangelo Signorile said it better in his Huffington Post article No, Pope Francis is Not the LGBT Person of the Year.

The title of that article comes from The Advocate naming him as their "Person Of The Year." On the cover, it featured a photoshopped picture of the pope with a NOH8 face sticker and that infamous quote, "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?"

Explaining it, while properly awarding praise to Edith Windsor as well, Lucas Grindley wrote:

"Pope Francis is leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics all over the world. There are three times as many Catholics in the world than there are citizens in the United States. Like it or not, what he says makes a difference. Sure, we all know Catholics who fudge on the religion's rules about morality. There's a lot of disagreement, about the role of women, about contraception, and more. But none of that should lead us to underestimate any pope's capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the U.S. but globally."

He was also responsible for the 84-page blasting of greed, and to a lesser extent, capitalism itself, "Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)." As you may recall, Rush Limbaugh deemed "pure marxism," so you know it's good.

Limbaugh wasn't the only one. Hearing this, Pope Francis responded, "The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended."

I guess what I like most about the guy is that it's not robotic dogma. I've always found much of the speeches by popes to be repetitive and dramatic bullshit. This pope is mellow and reasonable, but, most importantly, his logic of thought is approachable.

With this, when unfavorable topics pop up, (women's role in the church, the rights of the LGBT community, etc), he sidesteps them with a cautious manner and a gentle spirit. This is one of those times I'd like to enlist the harpy tone of the idealist to say that these shouldn't be sidestepped, but, again, I feel compelled to call attention to past progress while admiring future hopes. However, these issues should be acknowledged.In step with, or in favor of, progress, my favorite quotes from Pope Francis (written and spoken):
  • "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."
  • "We must try to facilitate people’s faith, rather than control it. Last year, in Argentina I condemned the attitude of some priests who did not baptize the children of unmarried mothers. This is a sick mentality."
  • "As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems."
Now, while it's good to point out hope and change, it's necessary to know where the differences are. Pope Francis and I don't agree on abortion or marijuana by a long-shot. And, to be clear, Pope Francis and I aren't even close to the same page when it comes to women's role in the church and the rights for same-sex marriage. He's not a rousing advocate for equality, but he is creating a dialogue that I haven't seen in the church my whole life.

That, I suppose, is the difference, and it is a big one.

It's what drove me to write this. Just having the church open up a bit after keeping the smug, stale tightness of a shut-up tomb was enough to be inspired to dream of what may lay ahead.

Here's to the (better) future and the wonderful, terrifying, beautiful, epic, wild, tragic, amazing, crazy, awesome thing that is hope.

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