Friday, August 13, 2010

More on Walls and Security

The other day I was writing about walls and I wanted us to look at ourselves. Today (Friday, Aug. 13, 2010), I got some of what I asked for when assistant professor Eric C. Sands in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College wrote a guest column for the morning paper: "Restore balance of liberty, security." He complained specifically about his students and himself having to put up with guards, checkpoints, passes, and alternative entrances at our political and cultural landmarks. He decried our "siege mentality." He criticized our elected officials for being fearful out in public. He referred to the "anti-incumbent sentiment" sweeping the country, implying that their fearfulness might justify voting them out and someone else in. He did refer to changes since 9/11, but he thought our elected representatives lacked courage, comparing them unfavorably to the patriot Nathan Hale who, at his execution, said he regretted having only one life to give for his country.

So, Eric Sands did take a look at walls and security, but it was a negative look. He blamed the people and institutions using them for erring on the side of fearfulness. He thinks we as a society have an imbalance of security and freedom.

But I don't think the demand for security is going to go away. Not after school massacres, courtroom shootings, the killing of the security guard at the Holocaust museum, and killings of people at work or while filling up at gas stations or giving directions to a stranger. Not with more and more people authorized to walk around with guns and more and more places where they can carry them. We used to go to Canada and Mexico without passports; now we need them. We used to be able to board airplanes without taking our shoes off and without cramming all our lotions and potions into quart-sized baggies. Who is going to ask us, from our celebrities and elected officials down to you and me, to give up our safety? Eric Sands may ask it in general, but would he ask his own family and friends to take unnecessary risks? We have our police and armed forces who do volunteer to face danger, and, by the way, Nathan Hale was an officer and spy in the Revolutionary War. Telling us to pretend there is no danger won't work. I heard anger and frustration in Eric Sand's column but no answers as to how to restore the balance, as he puts it.

What, then, could we do as a society and as individuals to lessen the need for walls, security, and bullet-proof vests?

First we might consider how not to be part of the problem. Blaming and pointing fingers is not a solution. If I blame and condemn you, then are you not more likely to build a wall to defend yourself? And, next, whenever you get the chance, won't you poke your head out from behind your wall to take your potshots at me? Then I'll have to reinforce my own wall. And so on. We are just being part of the problem.

I recognize that there are prophetic voices. There is good and there is evil. An issue can be so well delineated that the truth becomes undeniable. For example, the critical mass that was reached when Senator Joseph McCarthy was successfully confronted and his lies became self evident and stopped working. But most of the time, in conflicts large and small, from marital conflicts all the way to polarized segments of society, warring parties want to pin the evil on each other. They think it will work to simply make the opponent admit to being wrong. They think they can change things by making the opponent change.

Dennis and I studied a book last year called The Anatomy of Peace, Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by The Arbinger Institute. According to this book, you cannot make peace unless your own heart is at peace. It's not the circumstances in which you find yourself, it's whether your heart is at peace. The key concept is seeing others as people, not objects. Peace begins by seeing that the other party has feelings just like I do, and--literally--putting myself in his or her place. Peace begins by seeing the other party is an individual, not a faceless stereotype. Peace begins when I put the person--and truth--ahead of the story I want to promulgate. If I want peace, I've got to put myself into my opponent's situation.

The story is set at a fictional Camp Moriah, where a Muslim and a Jew facilitate a group of parents of very troubled teenagers who are going to participate in the camp. If the parents cannot get out of a position of blame and condemnation toward their own children, the aims of the camp experience will ultimately fail. The instructors have achieved a level of peace which they have to get the parents to share, for the sake of their children. The book is both a story and an instruction manual.

The book deals with the common misconception that the peacemaker is weak. Quite the contrary, with a heart at peace, the retiring person may become more forceful, and the overbearing person more tolerant. Nor does it matter where you find yourself or what you're doing. The determinant is where your heart is, therefore, how you're doing what you're doing. Also, whether you indeed are called to be doing something, as, in the book, the group of parents are. And, finally, whether what you have tried has not worked and you know it.

For these hypothetical parents in the book, something very large is at stake--their children. What good will it do them to protect themselves via a self-justifying story while their children go down the tubes? For the sake of their children these parents will dismantle their walls, their protective barriers, if they can see that is the way.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On the Uses and Misuses of Religio-Political Metaphor

Some of you will recognize "security wall" or "separation barrier" as a ubiquitous new religious metaphor. You may have noticed it popping up everywhere. For example, in February, 2009, Bishop John Shelby Spong said about Jesus that "he appeared to need no security barrier behind which to hide." More recently, last month in the AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for the uninitiated), in a position paper arguing that Georgia should continue to ban guns in places of worship, the Rev. Patricia Templeton, rector of St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, said, "Fear is isolating. Fearful people build barricades."

This past Monday (Aug. 9, 2010), the principal of Stone Mill Elementary School was attacked and robbed and had her arm broken as she arrived at school at 6:45 AM on the first day of school. It so happens that's the neighborhood I work in--Stone Mountain/East Ponce de Leon/Memorial Drive. In short order we received an email message reminding us of the latest safety tips and urging us to keep ourselves and our co-workers safe. No one suggested that this message was isolating or was the wrong-headed message of inappropriately fearful people.

I consult with a large state agency. It sits in a grassy estate with extensive parking areas in front and behind. It is in a bad neighborhood. It is surrounded by a security fence. You need a key card to get through the parking gate.

How many people would hesitate to help their aging parents put in the latest alarm system? Who would not help their young-adult child living in a transitional neighborhood install an improved bolt lock?

What if people looked at themselves before using their religion to scold other people?

Speaking of scolding, I recently read an essay targeting the "Prosperity Gospel" of such preachers as Creflo Dollar in favor of being as "the lilies of the field." This author was an upper-middle-class sort of person, and I bet that upon reading the essay, not a single compatriot seriously considered cashing in his or her retirement account or firing the broker. I would think the Rev. Dollar's followers, on the other hand, are more likely to be the have-nots who want to get a little piece of the pie. Maybe they need more of a work ethic and a way to get there.

Notwithstanding that Creflo Dollar is an easy and tempting target, I wish people wouldn't use their religion to bash other people over the head!

What happened to looking into your own heart?