Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Opinion!

“Why I have a strong opinion about some matters!”
by Charlie Leck

“I read you for stimulation and insight, Charles… I do enjoy your point of view and everyone’s opinion comes from life experiences only they have had… I would love for you to flesh out some of your own reasons for why you have a strong opinion about some matters…”     [comment posted by a woman on one of my recent blogs]

I have thought a lot about this question – an awful lot. I’ve not been feeling too good the last few days and I’ve laid back and thought about what this very kind and good lady has asked me.

Before plunging into the deeper and murky water, let me play around for a moment in the shallow edge of the pond.

Why do I have a strong opinion about some matters?
That question raises other questions for me. I’m guessing that most people who hold opinions hold strong ones, especially if those opinions have been formulated after a considerable amount of thought and study. I am not unusual, am I, in holding strong opinions? Or are you saying that I hold rigid opinions? That would worry me if it were true. Though my opinions are strong, in most cases they are not inflexible. However, I can’t imagine flip-flopping 180 degrees on many of my opinions.

There are some matters that I classify as human truths
and I cannot budge on those! A little church upon on the hill, in the town where I grew up as a child, had an enormous impact on my thinking in this regard…..

I grew up paying attention to matters of faith, trying to figure it all out. My parents weren’t particularly religious. We were not a spiritual or prayerful family at all. Yet, it was important to them that I, scrubbed and polished, trudge on up to Sunday School on the big day each weekend.

I didn’t pay careful attention, but things occasionally interested me and I’d find myself wondering about something here or there.

Who is this Jesus character anyway? I wasn’t much interested in his divinity. “Who do you say that I am,” he asked Peter. It was as if he had asked me. Who was he? (Or, is it more appropriate to ask: Who is he?)
I didn’t much care that he rose up – or that he sits at the right hand of God – or that, in a triune sort of way, he is God or a part of God.
I like what he did when he roamed around. I liked a lot of the very plain things that he said about justice and righteousness. I paid careful attention to the simple, unadorned things that he said.
“If you want to be perfect,” he said, “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come and follow me.”
Whew! What does that mean? I wondered a great deal about it. Could anyone really do that?
You know, the guy was obsessed with the poor. He came “to preach good news to the poor.” He also worried about prisoners and the lame and blind. He talked about “the oppressed.”

All that stuff affected me. I never stopped thinking about it.

So, our responsibility toward and on behalf of our fellow-man ranks very high with me and here my opinion is rigid. Jesus, in the scriptures, called it “love” for our neighbor or brother. The apostles (especially John and Peter), writing later, would actually equate it with our love for God – that is, the only way we could love God was to love our fellow man.

In such matters, I am not looking for a return – for reward or recompense. It is just, according to our faith, something that is supposed to be natural and certain and spontaneous. If we wish to love and honor God, we must love and honor our fellow man.

We cannot leave brothers and sisters unsheltered, hungry, ill and addicted. Turning from them in their need is, according to Christian teaching, turning away from God.

My attitude is the same about the earth that God put into our hands for care-taking. That is what our faith says. Ignoring this spectacular and totally unusual planet is to ignore the Creator. Not caring for the planet with utmost caution and tender love, is not caring for God.

These are two matters that I am rigid about: (1) Our calling to love and serve our fellow man; and (2) our calling to protect, serve and love the earth upon which we live.

Now then, there are matters upon which I hold firm opinions that are, I suppose, debatable.
I am thinking of some examples… and it is not easy, because my opinions about these matters have been solidly informed by experience and study.

What, for instance is JUSTICE?
Well, my goodness, I’ve asked myself a terribly difficult and complex question. With certainty, there is no certainty about such a complex question. Here one must proceed with caution and careful examination.

Let me use two of the most incredible of the possible examples: (1) Slavery in America and (2) the Right to Marry the person one loves.

On the first of these, 99 percent of you are going to say there is no question – no reason for debate – no possible reason to consider whether slavery can possibly be just. Indeed?

Well, put yourself back 155 years ago in our history – to 1857 – and then ask the question. At that time there were dozens of books written by American scholars of the south and by southern churchmen that posed arguments that justified slavery. Indeed!

There were plenty of southern thinkers who believed the world was ordered the way it was for a reason; that is, that there were the weak and there were the strong. They believed that this order was created by God and that human beings ought not tinker with that order. It was a natural, organic conception of stability in the world. Southern thinkers were writing that freedom is not an absolute concept and that no one is born equal. Freedom, they said, must be balanced with order and with tradition.

Churchmen argued that slavery was a biblical institution and was divinely sanctioned. How often they quoted the New Testament writings of Paul: “Slaves, be obedient to your masters!”

Instead of arguing for natural rights, southern philosophers were proclaiming that there was a “natural inequality.”

William Harper (Memoir of Slavery) wrote that “man is born to subjection” and that “man struggles with evil choices and must choose between them.”

Henry Hughes argued that slaves were “charges put in the world for slaveholders to care for and develop them.” Hughes strongly supported the idea of a master race.

The Yale University Scholar, David Blight, has pointed out that nearly every slave owner’s library included an anthology of pro-slavery writings of 400 to 900 pages.

Now it may seem I am making a lurch away from the subject, but I am not…
I had a remarkable lunch on Friday with one of our little town’s most distinguished residents, who also happens to be one of our state’s most remarkable citizens. He wanted to make an important point to me in reply to one of my questions.

“You know,” he told me, “if you go back to the years before 1860, you will find that about 25 percent of the nation’s population was firmly, rigidly and unbendingly against slavery.” Then he pointed out to me that approximately the same percentage of people were solidly and unyieldingly in favor of slavery and the importance it had to the American economic engine. And in the great middle, were 50 percent of Americans who, for some reason or another, had no real opinion on the matter at all.

This brilliant fellow looked across the table to me for reaction. He was dumbfounded. From today’s perspective can you imagine that there were so many people who had no opinion about anything that we now regard as so unjust? Can you imagine?

He went on to talk, at considerable length, about a book he had just read with his book club: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

It was Stowe, as far as President Lincoln was concerned, who called our nation to examine itself – to examine its thinking and its fairness and its right to own human beings.

“It was Stowe,” my neighbor said, “who set the other 50 percent thinking and pushed them over the edge. The book was terribly popular. It sold like wild-fire!”

I’d read the Stowe book (and recently another wonderful book about it, Mightier Than The Sword by David Reynolds). My neighbor wasn’t aware of that and he went on to recount the story that Stowe’s novel told and how real and gruesome it was. It was wonderful to sit and listen to him.

“Can you imagine? That it was a book that did that?” he said.

I must tell you, this friend is one of the leading members of the Republican Party and always has been throughout his adult life. He knows that I am a committed member of the Democratic Party. We talked about some issues over which we differ, like the voter identification constitutional amendment on this year’s November ballot.

“In the end, I’m not going to vote for it,” he said, relieving me, “but I’m not so sure it would be a bad thing.”

About the marriage amendment, which would change our constitution enough to define marriage as that between only a man and a woman, we also talked at great length. Like I, he opposes that one with all his heart. He likened the issue to the feelings of the nation about slavery back in the 17th century.

“About 25 percent oppose it and 25 percent favor it. The other 50 percent pretty much don’t care and aren’t mobilized by the issue.”

“We need someone like Stowe to move the 50 percent – to define the injustice of the amendment – to side with people who have no choice about being gay or lesbian; for they just are!”

Now I understood why he had told me the story. He travels around the state speaking about the issue. He always introduces the subject with the story about Stowe’s book.

“I have a son who is gay,” he said to me.

This man – this conservative Republican – has given thousands of dollars to the local organization that is fighting the marriage amendment (Minnesotans United for All Families).

You see, sometimes these issues go beyond being an issue and they become personal matters; and because they are personal we see the questions of justice and fairness differently.

These are fellow human beings we are talking about – our brothers and sisters in life upon this earth – and the great scriptures urge us to love them and care for them and to be fair to them in all ways.

I can not but have strong opinions about an issue like the marriage amendment. To me, there is no question about what is just and right.

The commenter on my blog (titled Fred), posited that “everyone’s opinion comes from some life experience only they have had.” There’s probably some truth in that. If so, let me say that I can think of two life experiences that have formed my opinions.

(1)   One is that little church upon the hill, about which I wrote at the beginning of this blog and from which I learned that every man is our brother and every woman is our sister and we are called to love them without reservation (and that means being fair to them, just to them and helpful to them). 
(2)  Second, was that trip to Mississippi in 1964, about which I have written so often in these blogs. That journey was my Harriet Beecher Stowe book. I saw injustice and mistreatment as I never dreamed it possible. The KKK was not just something someone wrote about – not anymore. The journey rattled me to my core and changed me forever. I would not stand on the sidelines again about matters of justice and fairness to my fellow human beings – never!

I have “fleshed out” for you, as best I can, what experiences cause me to hold such strong feelings. I thank you for the good and thoughtful comment and for motivating me to write these words.

Perhaps there were other impactful, influencing experiences, but those mentioned above are the two most forceful ones. Meeting and spending time with Saul Alinsky dramatically changed me; as did sitting in the living room of Jesse Jackson’s home (in 1967) and chatting with him about justice and injustice; as did reading Noam Chomsky carefully (that reading proved to me that Chomsky was no communist but called for capitalism of a different, more just order); as did coming-out publically in 1968 against the War in Vietnam with the ability I’d gathered to talk about the war’s history and turning points; as did the extraordinary and mind-bending sermons of the Reverend John Fry in the late sixties (sermons I cannot retrieve as hard as I try). Oh, as I think about it, there were dozens of experiences and people that impacted me greatly and formed my thinking – the poet Arthur Mampel nourished me with extraordinary wisdom; meeting Arne Carlson before he became widely known made me more open to political possibilities; listening to the Welch pastor, Vivian Jones, calmed me and made me more rational about seeking justice; a professor named Tom Campbell (who died too, too young) taught me how to read a book properly and with goals; Professor James Nelson and his triangle of love for God and man helped me understand how to love God in reality; a single evening in the presence of Brenda Ulend made me want to write and write; and having four incredible grandchildren made me regret so much that life can’t go on and on and on.

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  1. For someone who is not feeling well, this is a great post. Lots to think about. Hope you are feling better.

  2. Very well done and interesting. So much of what influenced you also has influenced me. I have that little book of Uncle Tom's cabin as well. I have a cousin who is gay and she is a wonderful member of our family. I think it is good to uncover reasons why we do or feel one way or the other on things of importance in politics and society. Also, to remain open in case our viewpoint can or should be changed for a good reason that we may have missed.