Sunday, June 2, 2013

Things I Think About When Traveling: Grounding Celebration of Diversity in the Nature of God

Things I think about when traveling:

∙Spigots in airport bathrooms 
∙Suburban American tract houses 
∙Ice plants, wild fennel, the tender velvet leaves of this shrub across which I just ran my hand, the amazing nutmeggy scent of Confederate jasmine filling the air.

Please permit me to explain: Steve and I are on a little trip. We're in Napa, California, for a day or so, having driven here from San Francisco two days ago. 

Yesterday, as we took our morning walk through a suburban neighborhood near our hotel, I thought about the depressing sameness of American tract housing from Florida to California, from Arizona to Grand Forks and all points in between. Same houses, same cookie cutters used to craft them.

We're offered little variety in the U.S., unless we're very wealthy and can pay to be different and to have what's different. There's almost no region-specific adaptation any longer in how we dress, eat, house ourselves, or amuse ourselves.

The same maddeningly dysfunctional spigots dispensing water in little micro-bursts and soap in dribs and drabs are found everywhere in American airport bathrooms.

Someone somewhere designed all of these things, from spigots to tract houses, to benefit someone. That someone is almost wearisomely predictable: it's a male who is usually white and almost always heterosexual or presenting himself to the world as heterosexual. We're offered the same old, same old regardless of who we are or where we live because the same old, same old benefits the same old people who manage most everything in the world for the rest of us.

To their benefit . . . .

The world is increasingly--and depressingly--the same because we're offered few choices outside the range of control of men who wield power and own things. Meanwhile, the world I encounter here when I turn my eyes away from the tract houses and the spigots:

∙Beautiful polychromatic Turkey-carpets of ice plants verging on the seacoast north of San Francisco
∙Surprising green feathers of wild fennel on hillsides near the inlet where we walked our first morning in California
∙Those tender velvet new shoots of a shrub along whose top I ran my hand on our morning walk yesterday
∙The scent of sweet nutmeg filling the jasmine-laden air of Napa streets in early summer.

The world made by God is chock full of surprises, of diversity, of amazing difference and exhilarating exceptions to controlling rules. Poets write about this: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Bishop, John Milton, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Violeta Parra, Langston Hughes, Thylias Moss. Mystics talk about it: Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Gautama. Theologians discuss it: Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, Teresa of Avila, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Teilhard de Chardin.

And those are only theologians from one major world religious tradition--Christianity--and from a discrete stream within that one religious tradition--Catholicism. And most of these folks are poets cum mystics cum theologians, so that their own wild diversity makes them impossible to classify and slot neatly under one rubric. And the same can be said of the poets-mystics-theologians of the other major religions of the world.

The world made by God strains at the seams to be different, to be wild, to be full of life. The world ordered by men cowers in fear of difference, wildness, and abundant life,  a fortiori when the bearer of the latter has a uterus.

I'm fully aware that I myself am a male. I'm white. I lived much of my life assuming that the default definition of white male--i.e., heterosexual--applied to me. Almost everything in my experience up to adulthood conduced to make me accept the defaults uncritically.

That's how things were made, I was told. 
That's how God makes them. 
That's who God is.

Now I doubt most of what I was taught to accept by default, and I'm rather certain God is anything but what I've been taught to imagine God is.

And I imagine that the future of our planet and the future of ourselves as a human community depends--and radically so--on our ability to ask searching questions about all the defaults, and to spin new imaginations that respond more positively to the wild, life-producing difference of the world God makes, and of the God who makes the world this way. Just as I imagine that the future of our planet and of ourselves as a human community depends on letting into the conversation about what matters far more voices than we've customarily dreamt of permitting in the past, including the voices of women, of those on the socioeconomic margins, of LGBT people, of people of color and strangers in the land.

See also: "Thomas Aquinas on the Fecundity of Creation (and the Necessity of Gay Persons to Mirror God's Fecund Nature?"

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