Sunday, July 26, 2009

Respect For Authority

I don't have it. The first authorities are always parents. The worse they are, the less likely their spawn will be able to respect authority.

I live as lawlessly as I dare, given that I live in a paternalistic, authoritarian, theocratic state. I live at odds with the culture around me and have learned, usually, to live quietly and as invisibly as possible, and to find the other rebels in my neck of the woods. Amazing how many of us there are. Repressive theocracy breeds quiet but passionate rebels.

I do believe we have a great set of rights and obligations set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But we have a bunch of stupid state and federal laws and statutes that are unconstitutional. Drug laws, for instance. We tolerate a homegrown terrorist organization that escalates from intimidation to murders in the name of protecting a zygote. Potential life trumps the living person. The right-to-lifers are always pro death penalty. And they always claim to be driven by some religious zeal. I've known a lot of people who claim to be christian, but I have known very few who truly lived up to the dogma. Judge not, is a big one. Covetousness is another difficult test for christians. Love thy (strange) neighbor is another problem. There is something in there about the poor, the disabled, the elderly too, I'm sure.

I've done my time searching for a religious fit for myself. Couldn't be done. It started when I was in my teens and ended in my fifties. The best I did was find a congregation and a pastor who spoke to me in many ways that satisfied something in my heart that was mostly about having a sense of community. They were welcoming and kind, generous and accepting. And the pastor was smart. He was an intellectual, an academician, an author, an activist. And yet, a kind and modest man. He walked the walk. It was a predominantly black Baptist church.

The first draw for me was walking past the open front doors on a warm spring day and hearing the sound of a great band and a swinging gospel choir. Hot damn. I'm coming back. Great entertainment for a $5 contribution every sunday at a civilized hour? You can't beat that. Women wearing nice dresses and hats. Oh yes, I could do that. I loved it. It had nothing at all to do with faith or belief. It had everything to do with the collective spirit of those people, the personality of the preacher, the humor in his sermons, the great music, all that kept me coming back. And then I hooked up with one of the nicer looking older bachelors of the congregation.

We became a couple. And then it seemed as if I had an obligation to believe in the dogma. I wrestled with that. The man was a catch. He looked like Morgan Freeman. He was a retired homicide detective. First black homicide detective in Salt Lake. But even retired, he was still a man who represented The Law. He followed The Rules. (Didn't mean I had to) He believed The Dogma. And in order to keep going out with this sexy man I eventually had to choose or admit how damn shallow was my faith in anything or anyone.

I did get baptized. But in my interview with the pastor, I said I believed anything was possible and that no religion was THE ONE TRUE religion. He let me skate on that, but talked obliquely about the foolish belief that Christ is not the One True Savior in next Sunday's sermon. Even so, even with the disclaimer, they dunked me. It didn't change a thing in me. I was still the same old skeptic. Still the same old pot smoking sinner. Still the passionate supporter of a woman's right to chose, an opponent of the death penalty, the same woman who just couldn't learn to honor her father and her mother.

When the bachelor asked me to marry him and move to Mesquite, Nevada, I bailed. No more church either. It felt like a package deal.

One of the things I learned during that period of time was that white men, even those not in a uniform of authority, find the sight of a black man with a white woman an affront to the laws of nature. And some white men are so insecure that a badge gives them license to commit all kinds of legal and moral offenses just because they wear a badge and carry a gun. So respect for authority does not come easily to those of us who have been abused by authority young and then observed authority break laws every day of our lives. But I'd love to live in a culture where we were all treated equally under the law, and our differences respected. Until then, I'll keep my skepticism and do my smoking at home with the windows closed. And I've given up dating.

I do think it's nice that our first black president has invited his friend the academic, and the cop who arrested this small, elderly black man on the porch of his own home to the White House for a beer. And I'm glad he called the behavior of the policeman who arrested his friend "stupid." It has started the conversation going again. Racism is still an issue in this country. Racial profiling is tolerated in every police force in the country. We are a nation of bigots even if unconscious of that bigotry. You probably learned it early at home or in church. Just saying. I guess if you respect the authority that taught you your bigotry and claimed it was your birthright, you just fall in line. And if the Jesus in your picture books is blond and blue eyed, I guess you think he's yours alone.

But if you know that authority isn't right about everything, then you just might turn into a questioning rebel.

It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

"Doo wah doo wah doo wah doo wah doo wah. Makes no difference if it's cool or hot." This song is featured in chapter 20 of the novel, Maggy. It's called "Dancing at the Club."