The first sign of this cold crept into my throat Tuesday night at choir practice. Unquenchable thirst. It’s my tell-tale sign that a virus is battling inside my cells. Usually, I pump myself full of Chinese herbs, elderberry tincture, and Vitamin C and in a day or two, I’ve won. I’m back to my healthy self. Not this time. Each day since Tuesday, this cold has claimed more territory on my body. I am exhausted, unable to sleep, my head feels like it’s too full. I’ve given up my fight. I’m gonna keep taking the herbs and vitamins, but I’m staying home today, I’m gonna sleep when I can, eat when I have the energy, and let this cold run it’s course.
I woke up around 5:30 this morning, and couldn’t fall back asleep, though I tried. I got up around 7:30 finally, but in those two fitful hours of tossing and turning, I replayed recent events, mulling them over until I tired of them.
There was the excitement of connecting with someone from the creative writing MFA program I’m interested in, the thrill of finding a ticket to Hawaii for $365 (most were around $440-$500), and the satisfaction of having somehow done all the dishes before bed, despite how exhausted I felt. I spent some time feeling pretty blessed about these things. As I struggled to quiet my mind and find sleep again, I periodically glanced at the night sky through my window take on the rainbow colors of dawn, one by one, until it settled on the pale blue of day. I decided for the hundredth or maybe thousandth time, that such a thing as watching the sky prepare for the rising sun from the warmth and comfort of my bed was yet another thing to be grateful for.
But my mind mostly lingered on two vexing events:
First, There was the disappointment I’d felt last night when I heard that the Congressional Democrats decided not to put the Bush tax cuts for the rich up for a vote before the November elections. They are not going to force Republicans to vote no on a bill giving tax cuts to 98% of Americans before the election. They are not going to force Republicans to go on record as valuing more than anything else the interests of the wealthy. Why even have an election then? The Democrats are basically lying down and waiting for the worst.
I also learned this little tidbit: Did you know that the higher tax rates for Americans who make more than $250,000 that are set to re-instate if no action is taken by Congress ONLY applies to income ABOVE $250,000. That’s right people, so if you’re a small business that makes $260,000, the first $250,000 you make is taxed at the same rate as everyone else who makes below $250,000, it’s just that $10,000 above that will be taxed at the higher rate. Doesn’t sound terribly scary when it’s laid out like that, right? The fact that I, someone who follows this type of news fairly closely, didn’t know this is a failure of the messaging of Democrats and a failure of the leftist progressives to do it either. The Democrats’ haven’t been out there stumping on THIS very fact that could change a lot of people’s minds while Republicans have been plastering the media with the argument that if you make $251,000 you’ll have to pay an increase of 21% in taxes (depending on the politician, this number varies). They’ve just been straight up lying (surprise!). The super rich are the only ones who would have to pay a whole helluva lot more in taxes, and let’s face it, they should. We’ve tried tax cutting for the rich to stimulate economic growth and you see where it’s gotten us. It’s actually never worked in American history. Never. But that doesn’t really matter, because it doesn’t look like the Democrats are even trying to win the elections this fall.
Perhaps my righteous disappointment is unfounded, perhaps I expect to much of politicians in an election year, and that I suffer still from the belief that when there is “a right thing to do” and then it should be done, no matter what. Perhaps this cold, and my recent deference to it’s power, has disposed me to identify a bit too closely with the Democrats.
And then I replayed this dilemma in my head for at least an hour: I have a staff member who disclosed that their religious beliefs may come in conflict with some of our college’s themes, particularly around LGBT issues. It got me thinking a lot about inclusivity. Here at Oakes College (and in my life), we purport to be inclusive of everyone. But this is where the rubber hits the road for us: when we find amongst us people who may believe that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or intersex, is sinful and immoral and an act against nature and God. How does our inclusivity hold up then? Are we willing to be inclusive of even this kind of person? Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few weeks, it’s that this staff member is not the only one.
I wanted to be clear with this staff member that when I say that we’re about inclusivity, we mean it. I said that I will respect this person’s identity as a Christian who has concerns about how their beliefs conflict with LGBT folks as much as I will respect anyone else’s identity. I said that as long as it was clear to me that their intention was to connect with the students they’ll be working with, regardless of their identity, to value their stduents, and to work in good faith to honor our mission and themes, that I wouldn’t expect this staff person to change their beliefs. I asked them to come to me and talk with me whenever they felt like the job was in conflict with their beliefs. I talked about how I believe that in any conflict there are two sides and then there is the truth. That it’s not about one side being right and the other wrong, but about identifying the values (often shared) that underly the conflict.
I hope I did the right thing. I’m not sure what this person walked away with. I wanted to say that I believe that LGBTI folks are not immoral, are not sinning, are not acting against nature or God. I wanted to say that God/Spirit/the Universe speaks to all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, and regards us kindly no matter what. I wanted to be right. But what’s true, and leaves me feeling kinda stuck in these kinds of conversations, is that however a student identifies, I will not invalidate it. I will not challenge who they are or what they say they’ve experienced.
What I didn’t say, and wish I had, is that I will argue with ideas about civil rights, with offensive statements, that I do expect a certain openness to conversations that are hard, that ask us all to consider difficult questions. I want to, as much as I want this and other staff members who feel the same way, to be open to these discussions that push us to get beyond your side and my side, the right and wrong, to where we can find common ground, the big T Truth of our existence.
I only wish I knew how to get there.