This week our open doors were closed. Slowly, slowly they shut them. Eye contact held over the threshold till the last second. This was to show how much they didn’t want to have to close them. But they would. They did.
It is a battle lost. Shameful, unfeeling, short-sighted. And wrong. And lost.
Debate and deliberation poured into a funnel. All resounds as clanging cymbals. As loud gongs. All as nothing. Because it has not love. Because love cannot be mostly love and a little hate. Because love cannot be mostly all but not all.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit impediments; love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds.
Or bends with the remover to remove
O no, it is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken.
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (Sonnet 116)
And how might this drama come about from those so ever fixed on the worth of goodness? From those so gentle as to close the door slowly. Would that it be slammed instead be a mercy? Oh come now, was it ever open?
No really. How might this happen?
There is language; there is tradition; there is art and music; there is a commitment to service and education and honest daily life. There is a commitment to the lofty principles grown on the tree of the spirit. We pluck them down and eat them till the juices are running down our chins. It is a culture dedicated to the idea that we can be good; we can be goodness in the world.
But sometimes we are not good. Sometimes we are mean. And we expect to be forgiven for our meanness because we wanted to be good.
In the circle of table talk, careful mothers offer gentle phrasing to one another, just tidbits of identity added here and there. Fractions of idiosyncrasy. Character shavings. Slight smiles and humility. Deference to authority. Manners and just a flair of the modern admired in clothing choices or idiomatic speech. Maybe a scarf. Maybe black eyeliner. Maybe a new way of addressing the God of the universe. Maybe a whimsical affinity for wine. She gets her nails done. Whatever the secular spin, this taste makes them desirable. The way chocolate is best when a little salt is added. The way a pair of rain boots are left near the door in a photo in a design magazine. We need to see the sin, just a little bit.
The sticky sweet don’t attract for long. Maybe in the afternoon, if you’ve woken up from a nap and the pull of thick sleep still lingers on your skin, and in your mouth is a craving for flavor and brightness. Then you want it, and you reach for the last iced chocolate cupcake. The coffee with cream. The bread pudding. Maybe it has a lovely southern drawl. Maybe it went to some devout school. Maybe it prays for you in sincerity and declares itself too inexperienced in the ways of the world to understand the complexity of science. You know, someone’s husband probably knows all about that. And they probably have told us we have nothing to worry about. That’s probably right.
Soon though, it wears off. You can’t really be friends with someone like that. You need a friend who has a disaster of a laundry room. A friend who says fuck. A friend who can’t cook. A friend who drives too fast.
And what does this little bit of sin do for the formula? It’s the salt; it’s the derived quotient. It’s the thing that makes us feel real. We’re not lying. There’s enough truth here. Enough truth so that we don’t dwell on the lie. Enough kind that we don’t linger over the cruel. That’s what it does. It makes things feel deceptively actual, okay, good enough. Acceptable.
The malignant power of this group is shocking. They tap into a reservoir that has been filled and filled with unconnected floating souls ready for better news. They were sculpted and pruned in early life for empowerment and then later, set up on pedestals for rejection and false hope. Reconciled souls primed and painted into believing this aqueduct leads to a fulfilling life of service to others, relationship with creation. Belonging. Desire and understanding and beauty and wisdom. Goodness. Love. You are one of us. You belong here. We so admire and appreciate you. You are a gift. Be with us. Live with us. We are good.
Generation after generation of souls are signed on this line. And they stand in training committed to suffer for the calling. It feels good to stand with others. Shoulder to shoulder. It feels good to belong. It feels good to exist.
One day though something shifts. You know what it is? It’s this. It’s this you agreed to; when you didn’t really understand what it could hurt. We’re on the good side. And so, since we’re on the side of good, we can do some bad things and it’s okay, because it will lead to good.
Oh it’s so uncomfortable. Because now you know you don’t completely belong. If you did the part of you that doesn’t like this wouldn’t exist. So the cruelty is expressed. At the table. In the open. White teeth. Pretty hair. Adorable children. And cruelty. What are you going to do? You’re in the army now.
That’s how it is. Around at the other faces you see no one cares. No one is offended. It is mundane. Unfortunate but mundane. Mocking, maligning, mean-spirited, irrational, illogical, blind, indecent. Is it?
Maybe there are a thousand reasons why the charade works, but this is one of them.
Take learning, geography, logic, language, and speech and mix with it a few lies. That is the harshest teacher. Take forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and sanctification and tack on some exclusion. That is the private club. Take encouragement, gentleness, affirmation, and attention and add to it some condemnation. That is the cruelest friend.
Mix a little mean into the kind and it’s harder to say no. It’s harder to yank your hand back. You can resign and sigh in silence, but someday you’ll be asked to prove your loyalty. Someday you’ll be handed a gun.
The good and the kind must undermine as angels unaware. We must not pretend that all these ridiculous conversations, exchanged looks, knowing smiles, pretense of like-minds have nothing to do with what happens. Because they do. Hide frozen and electric in a bathroom somewhere, sure your heartbeat is louder than gunshots. And rise out of hiding to find the culture of love has before justified a little bit of hate. That is depravity.
Intentional ignorance in the presence of possible education, thoughtlessness in the presence of pain, heartlessness wrapped in the vestments of holiness. That is depravity. Because that which acknowledges evil in the world but cannot see it in itself is depraved. Depraved of cognition, depraved of self-actualization, depraved of consciousness.
I have heard it, and I have pushed back my chair. I stand with you behind the closed doors. Hearts in hands to push them open. Behind us I hear God say, oh my child, I love you, I made you. Who you are is enough.