There is always so much going on.
I’ve been trying to sort out some distinctions between “being spiritual” and “being religious” (after being tag-teamed by an Eastern European cynic and an Undertaker from India for the past six years, it seems I’ve finally cracked). 😉 I know I become overwhelmed, often, trying to make sense of the whole – yet . . . the alternative doesn’t appeal. If we give up trying to grasp the whole, then what? Well, people carve out a niche for themselves, making intellectual, emotional, aesthetic choices and compromises and doing the best they can. Meanwhile, social forces twist and buckle the fabric of communities and our cross-cultural relations with each other.
When, I wonder, do we decide it is time to work together? And on what basis? At a community meeting yesterday, someone raised a concern with the erosion of constitutional rights, and someone else objected to the extremity of the claim. But world-class journalists are not supposed to get arrested in America. This occurred at the Republican National Convention, where riot police are keeping protesters as far as possible from the convention center. Since when did protests become such a problem in the land of free speech, the home of originary revolution?
Speaking of which, can you imagine the conversation in Governor Palin’s family? “Uh, mom, it’s great you just got selected to be the next Vice-President of the United States, but, uh, I’ve got to tell you something.” When does the generosity and understanding that we give our own children extend to other kids’ parents?
I was recently at a yoga center where hundreds of earnest persons went about their spiritual work. “Practice,” I thought to myself, “for being soon in another country.” All the anonymous people were nice enough: polite and indifferent. Don’t get me wrong, I was the same way: there to do what I came to do for me, open to engagement if it happened but not seeking interpersonal connection. It was a mild form of alienation. I “belonged” there as much as anyone else who had paid the fee. I look like 95% of the people who were there, and I behave similarly in culturally substantial ways. But I was bothered – it’s a commercial place from which collaborative social action might grow but (it seems) only on the basis of similarity.
In the U.S. (the one that I grew up in, have been shaped by, and currently worry about), the emphasis on individuality leads to the massive reproduction of independent spiritualists who – typically, usually – fail to commit to work together for any coherent social action. Even if people are atheists, that identity is defined in opposition to the notion of some kind of spiritual center. With secular yoga, the body has replaced god as the object of worship. In politics, the body is also central: “what” one looks like, and “how” one sounds become the basis for argumentation and persuasion.
Still . . . it is a measure of how far America has come that both candidates for President of the United States are members of multiracial families. (This point was also raised by a participant during that community meeting.) In my opinion, the most important thing Senator Obama said during the Democratic National Convention (quoted from memory) was to assert
We can continue to live as Americans without a common “religion,” or as Americans whose religion has become a narrowly-defined nationality, or we can find ways to build common cause with the very material of difference itself.
“This” – all of it – is about us. All of us.