Saturday, October 3, 2009

Confessions of an Egalitarian

I've known since I first became serious about my work as a photographer that a lot of what I do is about finding the beauty in the ordinary; helping people to see that the things they pass everyday without looking are just as magnificent as the more exotic locales to which they travel on their vacations. But I always thought that was JUST about beauty. Even though I know there are folks out there who write about finding the holy in the ordinary, I still thought what I was seeing was beauty, and what I was expressing was somehow tied to my own longing to be seen as beautiful -- ordinary though I am.

But over the last 24 hours or so I have become aware that pieces like this one, shot on the ferry from my car window, emerge from a much more deeply held conviction than that, a conviction that lies at the absolute heart of my belief system and informs most of the choices I have made in my life. That conviction -- though I have to be honest and say I am not always true to it -- is that, to phrase it lightly, "we are all equals on this bus;" that every human being has a unique value, a unique gift to offer the world, a unique role to play, and that it is our job as human beings to support one another, honor one another and encourage each other's gifts.

Which means, of course, that I get into trouble when other people -- Dick Cheney comes to mind as a glaring example -- fail to operate out of that conviction; when they speak or act in ways that set themselves above and denigrate or deny others' rights: in such situations I tend to demonize the authority figure, and it becomes hard for me to see that Cheney has value, too.

And now I suspect that my attraction to the ideas of awareness, mindfulness, and presence also stems out of that same conviction: that each moment also has value, that what is feeding our senses in any given moment has value. Because I am a visual person, that conviction most often expresses itself visually -- "I saw this thing, in this moment, and see how beautiful it is! What if we could always be that attentive? Wouldn't we realize how we are surrounded by amazing beauty?" -- but it does have broader applications than that.

Exploring the ramifications of these deeply held beliefs, I find it easier to understand my ongoing approach/avoidance issues with the Episcopal Church, which declares so absolutely in its very name that it is by definition about hierarchy (Episcopal means "bishop"). I was not, have never been, am not now and will probably never be fully engaged in a system -- however much I espouse its beliefs and love its rituals -- which persistently acts as if one person -- by virtue of a collar and/or training -- is superior to another, or has the right to lecture or talk down to another. There are teaching moments, things we learn and long to share, but I believe human knowledge can never be absolute, nor can it ever fully comprehend or define God. I subscribe to Rene Descartes' conviction that the only thing we can be sure of is that we are not sure.

Having been steeped in protestantism since birth, I am also a firm subscriber to the priesthood of all believers as it is described in 1Peter 2:9 -- "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." Somehow for me that passage, paired with Jesus' statement in the Gospel of Thomas (Logion 3) that "divine Reality exists inside and all around you" leaves me believing that some aspect of God resides within each of us, and that -- even though I know, for me, that Christianity and specifically the Episcopal brand of Christianity is what seems to resonate most deeply with that inner core -- the knowing of God is not now and has never been the unique province of the clergy, or even of the Christians.

I love knowing that so seminal a Christian theologian as Thomas Aquinas was deeply influenced by the thinking of the Islamic master, Averroes, and by Maimonides, the renowned Torah scholar. And I believe that despite differing belief systems the human race is all in this together, each entitled to moments of wisdom, each of us filled with and surrounded by God, each of us born to share that wonderful light, each likely to stumble and fall, all of us called to treat one another with respect as we walk together on the path of life.

At the same time I believe we are all artists, each operating out of the well of creativity that is the Godness within us to bring those resources to the unique challenges we face, whether it's creating a sculpture or a painting, writing a sermon, leading a core of squabbling volunteers, planting a garden, or driving a bus full of screaming children to soccer practice. If we bring our full attention to those challenges, seeing them as opportunities, we are reaching into the deepest recesses of being to know how best to handle whatever it is that arises. And for each of us there will be moments in the inevitable seasons of life when darkness, despair, and sheer exhaustion can hide that resourceful core from us, leaving us to stumble alone with only our thought-riddled egos to guide us through the maze and chaos of daily activity.

Whew! I realize that's an awful lot of belief statements to articulate in a single column, and thank you for listening as I preach/pontificate, doing that very thing I find distasteful! I am reassuring myself that it was okay to do it, just this once, because I'm not really telling you what YOU should believe; I can't even say -- as Oprah does -- "This I know for sure." All I know is that I seem to be a pretty passionate egalitarian, and I'm just learning that my art flows out of that space just as surely as my thoughts and actions do. Thank you for listening!


Maureen said...

There is much in your post today that echoes back to me, especially the to-and-fro over the church as institution, which I innately rebel against; and yet I am drawn to the need to have faith, to be faith-full, so that my heart is open to whatever presents itself to me as opportunity. Your art is a reflection of your heart and of what your eyes allow you and bid you to see. You occupy a large and open and ever-expanding space, it seems to me.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Whew! is right ... what a wonderful post which fed right into my thoughts today. Thanks.

Kimberly Mason said...

I think I'm too dang tired to make much sense, but I'll try anyway...

I love that I mentioned the different ways of worship in a private email before I read this post...I love it when we are on similar paths of thought.

I don't trust those who say they are sure of anything any more. "For my thought are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways..." you know the rest. "Shut up and LOVE people, already!" I want to tell them....anyway, *yawn* I live to fight the good fight another day...