|by Murray Archibald|
I suppose one could say that the Baby Boomer generation is more interested in settling into a comfortable retirement than reliving some of the more radical periods in our history, but I think we've got some fight left in us yetand now is the time to use it.
We live in a world that bombards us with information, news, opinions, gossip, slick marketing campaigns, and an ever growing list of choices about everything from where we get our news to the kind of toothpaste we use. As we make those choices, we often find ourselves settling more and more into that which is comfortable and familiar. Gay people hang out with gay people (men with men and women with women), Christians associate only with those in their own church and who conform only to their beliefs, Republicans talk only to Republicans and Democrats with Democratswe even have red states and blue states. Everything has become about "us" and "them" and sometimes we're "us" and sometimes we're "them" and really it's all about winning and money anyhowand, of course, our own damn silly pride.
Over the years our generation has gotten radical about a number of things including Vietnam, the ERA, the environment, AIDS, women's rights, civil rights, gay rights, and human rights. At the same time our generation has become just as radical on the other end of the spectrum. We are the "religious right" and the Right to Lifers, and Focus on the Family and all the other conservative groups involved in the "culture wars" as the expression goes.
We've all gotten so focused on what we believe and what little niche we fill in the world, that even as the world becomes more complex and specialized our vision grows more self centered and narrowmindedon both the left and the right. We see what we want to see, and we are blind to the rest. The truth is, it is easier to stereotype everyone than it is to really sit down and get to know them. We find it hard to accept that we are complex creatures and that it is alright not to think and feel and see in exactly the same way as everyone else.
All of us are a mixture of all the experiences we have had in life and there are contradictions at every turn. Not a one of us, as hard as the world tries, can be made to fit perfectly into a standard mold. Each one of us is a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We can be gay and Christian and Buddist all at the same time. We can be both bigoted and liberal, straightlaced and promiscuous, and loving and cruel all at the same time. Sometimes no matter how hard we try to be one thing, we end up being the opposite. Sometimes no matter how hard we deny it we end up turning into our parents.
I come from a long line of Methodist ministers (which is probably why I sound so "preachy" right now), and have alternately loved and hated the church all my life. It is both a place of comfort to me and my enemy. It is a tremendous contradiction in my life, but a contradiction I accept as an important part of life. I will, like a magnet I suppose, always be both drawn to and repelled by itand that's alright because it keeps me from growing stagnate in my thinking and in my beliefs.
Not wanting to deal with the contradictions of life is one of the reasons, I think, that we find it so easy to take sides on certain issues. It is, after all, easier to simply be for or against something than it is to take the time to explore all sides of an issue or to acknowledge that we may not have all the answers. In our fast paced, results now, instant gratification, TV culture life, balanced discussion and taking the time to make wise decisions is more often than not seen as weakness. Perhaps the most radical thing we can do right now is to reject the whole all-American idea of having to win every debate, of having to be the best at everything, of having all the answers, of being right all the time.
One of the great contradictions in the world right now is the relationship between spiritual matters and gay people (think of the Catholic Church trying to ban gay men from becoming priests), so I think it fitting to quote from the often used 23rd Psalm. In it the psalmist says to God, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." The most radical thing we can do is to sit down with those who are different from usnot to change them but to change our relationship with them. When we begin to see one another as family, as friends, and as neighbors, our differences no longer matter so much.
Being radical at age 51 is not the same thing it was when I was 21. Then it was about making a lot of noise, and about making a bold statement. Now it's about turning those statements and the other proclamations of our youth into a reality. "Make love, not war!" The Vietnam protesters used to say. But sometimes loving the world around us is a lot harder and far more radical than hating it.
Last week, a man stopped us as we were leaving the CAMP Rehoboth office to go to lunch. "What is this place?" he asked. "We're a gay and lesbian community service organization," Steve said quickly. "Oh good," said the man, "I'm glad someone is looking after them." As we continued on our way, I thought, "No, that's not it. We're here to help all of usgay and straightlook after each other."
As we continue to develop and build the CAMP Rehoboth Community Center we must be radical in the way we define community. In order to make the Center the "heart of the community" that its vision statement calls it to be, we must create a new way of being in community with one anotherand I'm not sure we understand yet what that is going to be.
Murray Archibald is an artist and President of the Board of Directors of CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 14 October 14, 2005