Brad R. Torgersen

Love one another, it’s the only way: Part 2

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As noted last time, I am mostly out of the loop while overseas. Honestly, it’s a remarkable thing to be witnessing the American news cycle from a distance. Kinda surreal, to tell the truth. I don’t feel quite so immersed in the never-ending shouting, like I do when I am at home. And that’s been a relief.

Still, some things penetrate. And because the news of the past week is germane to a prior discussion, I wanted to put a few thoughts out there.

(NOTE: These are my opinions, just for me; take ’em or leave ’em. Others will have their own. I am not sure mine matter all that much, in the grand scheme of things. But here goes . . .)

If the base fear of religious conservatives is that gays and lesbians are “destroying” marriage, how can gays and lesbians destroy a thing which America’s straight couples have been actively destroying for a century?

Think about it. And let’s be brutally honest.

Rampant divorce.
Rampant infidelity.
Rampant abuse of spouses and children.

I don’t think those are the legacy of a people who collectively believe marriage to be sacred.

If I feel anything on the issue of marriage, I feel that marriage (by Americans) has been thrown into the mud and trampled upon. We did that. All of us. And now that gays and lesbians have picked it up out of the mud and said, “We would like to have this wonderful thing,” religious conservatives want to snatch it away and yell, “You can’t have that, it’s our most favorite thing ever!”

Oh really? Then why have we been treating marriage like garbage for so many decades? Because we have. As a society. With our collective actions, we decided marriage wasn’t important anymore. Long, long before the issue of gay marriage got to the Supreme Court.

And now that marriage is important to somebody — gays and lesbians — we try to keep it away from them?

I can’t wrap my brain around that. Too much cognitive dissonance.

The Supreme Court has swept away an inequality. Well, and good. I’ve thought this outcome inevitable for probably ten years now. Just because of the trajectory of the legal wrangling.

Does that mean I, as a person of conservative religious belief, have to cheer and applaud a thing which my religious doctrine says is wrong? Nope. But then, not every wrong thing in the world has to be barred legally. Like I’ve said before, freedom of choice is a bedrock principle of my LDS faith. And while I am not an authority — nor do I claim any ability to speak for any Mormon other than me — I do think choice is a huge part of these very divisive and contested political fights over the rights of other people.

Because the choices other people make, sometimes offend us terribly.

This past week, it seems to me that the Supreme Court decided in favor of more rights. More freedom. More choice.

I think that’s the way it should be. Even if my church doctrine believes also that the exercising of these freedoms (gay marriage) is against the plan of God.

Again, not every wrong thing must be legally barred. There are some pretty nasty guys over in Syria and Iraq right now who think every wrong thing (by their lights) should not only be legally barred, but people found violating the law should be burned, drowned, beheaded, and worse. In their desire to do a right thing (again, by their lights) they have fostered and fomented evil the likes of which we — as Americans — can barely imagine. Barbarity and bloodshed and the iron fist of true tyranny. That’s not what God wants. That’s not why Christ said what He said in His ministry on this Earth, and it’s not what the Atonement is about either.

The men of the so-called Caliphate have arrogated to themselves the seat of holy judgment. And they inflict heinousness in God’s name.

The men and women of the United States Supreme Court might also be accused of arrogating to themselves the seat of judgment, but in this particular instance, they have come down on the side of liberty.

I want to think that liberty — our ability to choose — is still the most important thing that sets America and Americans apart, from other nations and peoples in the world. Even if that liberty makes us highly uncomfortable, or we believe this liberty permits wrong-doing in the eyes of the Lord. We crossed the bridge of pluralism when the Declaration of Independence and, later, the Constitution of the United States, were forged. It’s not been an error-free path. Nor was the creation of the nation error-free. We almost destroyed ourselves in a Civil War that ultimately corrected the most egregious error. And the echoes of that error haunt our society up to the very minute.

Now, I believe another error has been corrected.

And again, neither you nor I nor any other religious conservative has to be thrilled about it. Compulsory celebration of sin — or the perceived expectation of same — is grating on many, and causing some very unhappy commentary. I get it. I really do. Nobody should be forced to violate his or her conscience by putting on a party hat for what we believe to be wrong.

But let’s not get wrapped up in negativity. Seriously. Not about this. Not about what the government says. The government’s job has been and always should be, to expand and defend liberty. The government just did its job. Believe it, or not.

Our job — all of us, and I am including progressive intellectuals too — is to find ways to be sowers of good seed among ourselves. To not be tempted into vindictiveness or hatred. To not inflict ourselves on each other, as a way to try to exorcise whatever negative feelings we have inside of us.

The most difficult part about being a religious conservative in a society which makes liberty paramount, is learning to get along with people who not only violate what religious conservatives see as God’s law, but getting along with people who think the law (and sometimes God with it) don’t even exist.

Likewise, the most difficult part about being a progressive intellectual in a society which makes liberty paramount, is learning to get along with people who not only don’t share the same standards and values, but who often think progressive standards and values are morally wrong, or lacking any moral fiber whatsoever.

That’s a mind-bending and difficult path. But that’s the spiral up. Blood, sweat, and tears. Not everyone is going to walk it. Many people will actively fight walking it — on both sides. But I think that’s the only choice that leads to net positive dividends for all concerned. One step at a time. The spiral up. And it starts at home. With our wives and our husbands, our children, our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and it moves outward from there. Neighbors. Coworkers. Friends. People we meet in our daily business. The lives we can touch in small ways, with quiet acts of charity, kindness, and mercy.

Not the blaring “Look at me! Look at me!” self-referential, vain pablum of social media.

I’m talking about the concrete, real-world stuff that nobody will see or notice: except those who experience the connectedness of a kind act, done out of kindness, with no expectation of recompense.

As I have loved you, love one another. That’s the Christ-like ideal. I think we express it best by tending to the gardens in our own back yards. And I don’t mean literal gardens. I mean spiritual and emotional gardens. Many of which are neglected and overgrown with the weeds of bitterness, rancor, resentment, and worse. I’ve got a garden like that. And I suspect, so do many of the people reading this. We all have to be responsible for our own gardens. And I don’t say that because I think my garden is perfect. Nope. I go to church every Sunday — yes, even when I am thousands of miles away from home — to be reminded of the fact that my garden is choked with weeds. And that weeding is a never-ending chore that I can’t escape. At least not if I want to be serious about my beliefs as a Christian.

I think mindful gardening and diligent weeding are chores secular progressives can embrace too. Dare I even say that some of the most mindful and diligent gardeners I know, are secular? Or at least not of my particular faith tradition?

It’s tempting to look at people — the world around us — and throw up our hands, declaring, “It’s all gone to crap!” So much wrong. So many people who seem dead-set on doing wrong.

What we do next, is a matter of deliberate choice. For our own personal lives. How we respond to the wrong. Not only the wrong we see outside of ourselves, but the wrong inside of us too. Focusing forever on the wrong outside, and ignoring the wrong inside — or acting like it doesn’t exist — won’t combat the weeds. It will allow the weeds to completely take over. Weeding is about tending to ourselves, and our own sphere. The people we touch every day. The ones around us who actually matter. That’s where the energy can bring forth good fruit. That’s where the “win” is. Not what goes on somewhere else, or what’s said in the news cycle. You can’t fix or control that stuff. You, in your office or living room, have no power to “fix” at the macro scale. And you will exhaust yourself fretting over the macro.

But you do have the power to “fix” at the personal level. I think that’s what gets lost in the never-ending carnival of arguments. We ignore the personal level, obsess about the macro level, and nothing worthwhile gets done. The weeds win.

Go back to gardening in your own back yard — daily — and you get the good stuff. It might not seem like it has a macro impact. But if everybody is a back-yard gardener, and everybody works at it, there will be a macro effect. That’s something I’ve always taken away from my scripture reading and other spiritual pondering. The idea that each of us individually doing small works of kindness, love, and forgiveness, can add up to a huge net dividend for the society as a whole.

This includes marriage. Do we want to put our money where our mouths are? How much time and energy are we devoting to our families and our homes? Shouting about marriage in the macro sense, while neglecting or abusing marriage on a personal level, is pointless. We prove we care about marriage when we put our wives and our husbands and our children first. Not last. First. And again, it doesn’t matter what the government does (or doesn’t do) about it. This is between us, and the Lord. He will judge us. Not the government. Not society. Not activists. God. How willing would any of us be to go before God right this minute, and give an account of our stewardship of our relationships with our spouses and our families? How much gardening have we done in that respect? Are we prepared to get called on the carpet? Do our choices and our actions live up to our rhetoric, as “defenders” of the “sacred institution” of marriage? Have we made it sacred every day? Do we show our wives and our husbands and our families forgiveness, compassion, love, and support?

Because that’s where my mind goes. And I think I am way too occupied trying to tend to my own garden — Weeds! Damned weeds, everywhere! — to get overly concerned with peering over the fence at somebody else’s.

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