The magazine, Highlights for Children was ever-present in the doctors’ and dentists’ offices of my childhood. The magazine was filled with games and puzzles. One of my favorites was a puzzle called “What doesn’t belong?” There would be, for example, pictures of a car, a boat, a giraffe, a train and a plane. Which one doesn’t belong? Easy, the giraffe! This wasn’t a condemnation about the giraffe, simply recognition that a giraffe wasn’t a suitable vehicle for long-distance travel.
Shortly after the election, I re-posted another puzzle I saw on Facebook: Who doesn’t belong?” which showed pictures of three previous First Ladies—Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan, a picture of the current First Lady, Michelle Obama, and the next First Lady, Melania Trump. The photo of Mrs. Trump was a nude photo. This was a judgment of Mrs. Trump, meant to ridicule and shame her and her husband and call attention to her unsuitability for the responsibilities of First Lady.
Almost immediately, I received this FB message from my middle sister, Judie. Judie, like Mary Poppins, is practically perfect in every way. (That’s neither a joke nor sarcasm, Judie really is practically perfect in every way; anyone who is lucky enough to know her will vouch for this.) Among her talents is an uncanny ability to channel our late mother. She wrote:
Jim, I know you are hurting and upset about the results of the election, many of us are. However, putting the naked photo of Melania Trump alongside the First Ladies seems to be one step too far with your anger. When something really upsets you, you almost turn childish in your behavior. I have witnessed it. You are a spiritual advisor and others turn to you. I think you need to talk to someone who can help guide you through this anger. Think of Sister Rose seeing this post. Melania’s nude photos are old news. Don’t take your disgust for Trump and Pence out on her. Judie
When I posted it I hadn’t thought I was angry (Judie tends to work from the premise that, just below the surface, I am always angry), I just thought it was satirical post, funny and contemptuous of the president-elect and the people who had voted for him.
In the next couple of days I received messages from a few others admonishing me not to stoop to “slut shaming”, which, again, it never occurred to me I was doing. I am, after all, a lifelong liberal, Democrat and progressive. “We” don’t “slut-shame.”
The “we” rang in my ears in a really irritating “listen up, you are receiving guidance” tone of voice. The “we” I heard was not an inclusive “we”, but a “we” versus them, tribal “we.” Caroline Myss has often stated, “We can learn from wisdom or woe.”
I, who have studied and taught about consciousness, and of course imagine how “conscious” I am, was speaking a non-inclusive, tribal “we.” I feel like the hypocrites who teach “do as I say not as I do.” I realize how ungrounded and unmoored the election has left me and, indeed, I am woeful. My ego was certain I was past learning from woe. “Can’t we just choose from the wisdom menu?”
I cannot call myself conscious or compassionate if I judge someone as the “other,” or as “less than.” I am not happy about this! Egos like to judge; that’s what they do. My ego likes to feel superior in its consciousness and capacity for compassion which is, of course, judging others as less than. That’s never a good thing.
If I have compassion for the suffering of the family of Trayvon Martin and the families whose relatives were murdered in the Charleston, South Carolina church massacre, I have to have compassion for the suffering of the family of Dylan Roof, and for Dylan Roof himself. And I don’t want to.
Compassion doesn’t permit exceptions. It’s an all or nothing deal. Anything less than compassion for all sentient beings, is not compassion! Compassion doesn’t allow for the objectification of another. (I want exceptions but there aren’t any.) Compassion requires being “one with,” in union with the suffering of others. Selective compassion is an oxymoron. Sympathy, pity, feeling sorry for, all have a subtle element of “tough luck” or “there but for the grace of God go I!”
When I was making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and I disclosed to my retreat director that I was gay, he said, in an effort to be sympathetic, “I shouldn’t judge you. There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Hand to God! He apologized the next day and I told him I’d heard worse. But that’s another story for another day. (It’s a really good story—at least I think so!)
“As soon as you find, then, a political stance that speaks in a disparaging, disrespectful, hurtful or insensitive way, toward people because, instead of being a man they are a woman, instead of being white they are a person of color, instead of being in our own religious tradition, they are in another religious tradition, especially, you might say, wherever there is insensitivity to the poor, to the disenfranchised, this should concern us. But the thing is, if we get so disturbed by it, we lose our footing in God, we get into reactivity, we get flooded and overwhelmed by it, we become part of the problem and we lose our way.”
Here’s how I became part of the problem; I was speaking and Facebook posting in a disparaging, disrespectful and insensitive way about people (not just Melania) that I believed were speaking or behaving in a disparaging, disrespectful way toward women, Muslims, people of color, immigrants and the LGBT population. “Monkey see, monkey do!”
I have a right and an obligation to speak up and take action against an individual or group who promotes or supports behavior that seems to me to be manifestly mean-spirited and Un-American. I don’t have a right to imagine myself as compassionate, however, if I judge and dismiss these people as “other”. I don’t have the right to be contemptuous or to degrade, dehumanize, or label them, as justified as I may feel in doing so. I cannot forget that they have souls and are, as incomprehensible as it might to be to me, as precious to God as I am.
This is a spiritual truth that I wholeheartedly believe. My ego, however, my rational, logical, analytical brain can’t make sense of this, let alone resolve it.
When I was in high school, students were marched to the chapel for confession every Friday. I remember being especially distraught one time. With great guilt and shame, I confessed to the old Jesuit priest: “Father, Jesus says we must love our neighbors and there are some people I just don’t love!”
“Do you want any of them to burn in hell for eternity?” he replied.
“No, Father!” I gasped, scandalized by the very thought of it.
“Good. Start there.” he said. “For your penance say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys and go in peace.
I am reminded of that wise counsel as I turn to prayer and spiritual guidance in order to find some way to respond rather than react to the explosion of stimulus that the campaign and election have unleashed.
In the meantime, for today, I don’t want anyone to burn in hell for eternity.
Let’s talk about purgatory another time.
“I was kneeling in prayer in the chapel –– I was thinking of something that was coming into my life that filled me with apprehension. I knew it was not the will of God that I should be saved from the experience. Even at that moment it was moving toward me. Suddenly God told me the prayer He would listen to, and I said quickly, ‘‘Change no circumstance of my life. Change me.”
-Gyamata, a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda
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