I live a topsy turvy life at a topsy turvy time in a topsy turvy world it seems. I am a conservative, white, man. And while I am not compelled to change that description of myself, nor the deep values those descriptive words represent (on a good day), I sense, nonetheless, that my kind have caused much heartache and damage in the world, that I have benefited from the behaviors and attitudes that caused so much heartache and damage, and that I have been, on occasion, and can still be, on occasion, insensitive to all of that, and that at some points in my life, I too have actually been part of the problem.
I was born in the late sixties. It was a time of upheaval then. Many changes came about; many institutions, norms, laws, and mores came under question. I have never lived in a time or place where such was not the case, but the world of the fifties had seemed so monolithically ordered (largely due to the bomb) and there was a feeling that our world order was right and settled for the most part. This gave me ideas, notions, and framework to imagine what it means to be an American, to be white, and to be male to which I was expected to aspire.
I remember when John Wayne was the epitome of that aspiration. For me, however, that became Clint Eastwood. The mythical Marlboro Man always hovered near these figures as well.
When I was born, my dad was not allowed in the delivery room. He waited alone in the waiting room among ashtrays and strangers for word about my birth. That is so foreign today, that I almost feel lost just thinking about it.
I do not mean to make excuses for myself and my kind. But there are reasons for what shaped me/us, and they should be addressed. Between the bomb, the cultural icons, and the norms, I was born into a world the expected me to put my hand on the mantle of power and to have no soul when I did it.
I remember the scene from The High Plains Drifter where the woman gets raped by the hero, but she almost literally “asked for it.” Such a scene in a movie wouldn’t fly today. I remember when “taking the Lord’s Name in vain” was prohibited on TV, but you might here “the N-word” on the nightly news or on comedy shows. And I remember going to church three times a week (at a minimum) where I learned to be humble before God (in some mythical, compartmentalized fashion).
As stark as those things sound, as horrible as they seem, they were not, in fact, as monolithic and settled as they appeared. All of that, and more, was actually in flux. “Right” was always a moving target.
As I grew to be a man, I gave up my TV hero “Jim West” (who later became a black cowboy in the feature film version), and learned words like “egalitarian” and sought to apply them to my marriage, to my work place, even to my church. And as my compartmentalized spiritual life progressed, I found it really cool when I learned Slash, of Gun’s -n- Roses, was a mixed race child in a hard rock/metal band. I remember when I took it as a compliment one night at a party as a group of young people told me I looked like him.
But as I took fulltime work, went to college, got married and settled down, I found myself clinging more and more to the conservative lifestyle and ideals. I am not for abortion. I am against it. I stand behind law enforcement, and have worked among their ranks. I think hard work and saving for the future is wise and good and noble. I believe in personal responsibility. I don’t want the TV flooded with content my kids should not be watching. I don’t play G-n-R music for my little kids to listen to, even though I have fond memories of it.
But as I soak in the arguments on talk radio, on certain TV programs, and blogs and so forth, I find the label “conservative” to be a moving target too. There is still a sense of conservatism there, but it is no longer my grandpa’s conservatism. It is meaner, more aggressive, and full of contempt. It is not on target with Jesus, and those who champion Jesus in the field of conservative politics have moved so far down the spectrum and in most cases so far away from Jesus, that I realize now how futile politics are in the Kingdom of God, and I no longer vote.
How can you love your neighbor as yourself while voting along unfair gerrymandered lines? Is that holding the interests of others as more important than your own? Is that having the mind of Christ? (Phil. 2 anyone???)
How can I watch a video of Rodney King getting beat by a group of police officers on the evening news and still sit down to dinner?
How can I laugh at sexist and racist jokes?
I realize my life is out of kilter – to put it mildly. I have benefited from this blurring of right and wrong. Some of it is not so simple, after all, and needs to be critically debated with other voices listened to carefully before I speak. (I might still be right about some of that, but I need to show I care!)
I am sorry.
I still view myself as conservative, I am a white man, and that is not going to change in and of itself, but hopefully the actions and attitudes which up to this point have seemed so inherent there will not be found in this conservative, white man.
I care. And I want to care more effectively than I and my kind have in the past.
God forgive me.