I recall many a night as my father, friend to a wide palette of souls, sat in his living room with little to no ambient light visiting and talking about varied subjects. There were conversations about family, marriages, partnerships, friendships, world history, governance, life philosophies and childhood memories. Never heard much banter about sports or movie stars. Music came up periodically; I think this was so because his father, Grandpa Bill, was a bit of an Opera Phenom in his days prior to serving in the Army during World War II. For sure, Dad was a product of the 1930’s and 1940’s who turned over the car radio to us kid’s of the 1960’s, a consideration I tried to emulate in spite of never really getting comfortable with Hip-Hop while easily enjoying R&B and Bluesy Jazz. Cars came up periodically in Dad’s conversations as well. Dad liked beautiful cars with long sweeping lines. He liked them so much his passion once was drawing up designs just for fun. Oh the things we learned in front porch conversations; in my case the front room because our porch was way to tiny and way too open to nasty weather and mosquitos.
I’ve lived with a lifelong impression that Dad was happiest when talking about religion. Not preachy religion, per se; no, it was more about the religion of living and how his God informed his behavior, well his conscience at least. I was always taken at how Dad encouraged others to talk about their living religion and not necessarily their God, as several of his friends were atheists, or at a minimum agnostic. Dad was raised 7th Day Adventist having come from a family who were generational Quakers and then marrying a German Catholic after being introduced to her by his best friends who practiced the Jewish faith; noteworthy, having then chosen to raise us kids as Catholic in deference to his love of his wife. I vividly recall him refusing to let me read books by Ellen G. White until I was 18 years old because somehow that would be an infringement on his promise to mom that we would be raised Catholic, not that it mattered because high school years were filled with weekend inquests by his Aunts who were aghast that Dad, who once studied to be a 7th Day Adventist preacher, had agreed to let the devil incarnate (the Catholic Pope) guide our religious upbringing. Que my early lessons in identity politics! Dad did well to guide me through that morass.
I no longer attend church having real concerns about brick and mortar preachers and 45 minute religiosity. More than proper to say, this choice has nothing to do with my now deceased Great Aunts and their machinations. Nor, does it imply any disrespect for, or disagreement with those that continue to participate in formalized religious endeavors. It’s a personal choice which is grounded in free will and a firm understanding in liberty for all. I remain grounded in spirituality that recognizes that humanity is evolving towards a sense of person and community that rejects tribalism, chauvinism, identity clustering, self-aggrandizement, or governance by authoritarians or representatives. God lives, albeit not as a “personal god” which present day religions envision as the protector or glorification or personification of the aforementioned artificial partitions. I suppose even saying God lives is a bit too close to personification of spirituality, but I’ll continue to use this expression in response to those who mean spirituality is not credible — these folks are famous for saying God is dead. So then what is God to me? The majesty of Mother Nature, the Universe, is a set of rules by which things operate and science discovers more and more the threads that are woven into this fabric. In the end it is not plausible to think that these interwoven realities were the product of purely random events. Let these be established by God because I’m not willing to attribute the incredibly organized rules of the universe to a chance explosion in a massive void — something from nothing isn’t what Darwin first discovered.
I suppose that the above assertions mean that I believe in an alternative explanation to creation or evolution theories. I’m certain I will die not knowing the answer to this mystery. What matters to me is the betterment of self and community, a recognition that parity among world citizens means acknowledging accidents of birth don’t entitle or denigrate and require those that “can” must and that those who “struggle” must also. Must do what? Do all they can to perform at the top of their ability while walking hand in hand alongside those who are within their sphere of life. I am a peacenik who acknowledges there are those who are not, even those who comfortably digress into partisan, if not inhumane treatment of others. Let’s agree the latter aberrations or out layers don’t kill collective spirituality for me. Humanity’s push to eliminate the vestiges of being an animal of prey are not just commendable, but striking. I do think the pioneers that envisioned the foundation for the United States of America and those philosophers of the (European) Enlightenment period were onto something remarkable. The timing and interchange between these two are topics of interest and much-needed, continued study. It’s a shame that much of the world today sees these as vestiges of cultural privilege and not the revelations of those being oppressed by authoritarians who were not very far removed from being alpha dogs rather than co-members of rational and empathetic community of thinking, spiritually bound beings. More lessons in the vestiges of identity politics.
Back to Dad, the inspiration for this endeavor. At the end of the night Dad and his visitors parted as friends, regardless of their often differing points of view, with each returning again for more coffee and conversations. Calling it the Art of Friendship is a worthy description. I’m thinking that his generation had it down pat. I miss Dad and these moments greatly. As a kid we listened. In due time we spoke. When we did, I always valued the patience of adults who let us say very naive, sophomoric things. They allowed us to gather our legs and learn to walk amongst the elders. Can we create an environment, a platform, that honors patience? Can we acknowledge that we aren’t the personification of settled science? Can we converse, not necessarily agree, and remain in a community where friendship matters far more than niches and religious attachments to whatever truths you profess to be the rules of the universe? I think so. I’m guided by those who walked through my father’s door who embraced conversation and accepted in good faith that my father would listen, consider, and if not ultimately agree, continue to consider until the day he died.
Much love and respect for my Dad and his friends who came from all walks of life and from many many cultures with an incredibly diverse set of life experiences. Dad, I will never forget your adventures and thoughtfulness. I will never forget your supporters. I will never forget your detractors. I will never forget that you treated both with dignity, albeit with natural human frailties that more often than not recovered and repented when you realized you may have closed the door a bit too quick or hard when you were tired. Today, I write, collect and scrapbook hoping that my children and grandkids may discover a piece of your encouragement to be good citizens while passionately pursuing their dreams and capacities. Peace and love!
Dedicated to William Harold Lee