Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Why be negative about negativity?

Politics, Spirituality

When it comes to political candidates, most of us are pretty clear about what we believe makes a good one. There's really not much variety in those beliefs. They fall into the pot labeled "conservative" or the one labeled "liberal," with a few variants and outliers. 

From my pot, your pot doesn't make any sense at all. You can say the same about me. So we argue back and forth the same old predictable arguments and stay firmly planted wherever we were in the first place.

I'd rather hear how you came to believe what you believe. I'm not talking about books you read or philosophical arguments but the moments that seized your gut and told you "this is true, this is how things should be."

One of my deep beliefs: question everything with courtesy, curiosity, and deep skepticism until you are completely satisfied. Some people call this "negativity," and it makes them wild. I see it as looking for ways to make things better--a positive trait.

I certainly didn't get that idea at home. Mom hated controversy and wanted everything calm and nice. Dad was a dogmatic German--and I welcome you to apply the stereotype liberally in imagining him. His way was the only way, at least until he got old and was blessed with a blossoming of the heart and an opening of the mind.

It was the pastor of our church, William Downey, who set me on that path. He was a charismatic, brilliant man, and no one dared sleep during his sermons. Some resented that, believing that church was a good place to be lulled and soothed. A Lutheran, he'd been raised Catholic, and that complicated his viewpoint considerably. Even as a kid, I sat on the edge of my seat as he afflicted the comfortable in Fox Point.

But never in the front row. When he got brimstoney, you'd be showered with real spittle and metaphorical sparks if you sat there.

He had also been an army chaplain. If you collect WWII memorabilia, you may have heard his prayer for the crew just before the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima.

As my father's daughter, I carry the authoritarian gene, which comes into full expression in adolescence. Church was my first experience with someone who both let you turn things upside down and held you accountable for what fell out. If you were going to dissent, you'd better be able to back up your eccentric positions, and you'd better be prepared to be called on any claims that grew from only hot air and an elastic imagination.

I'm quite sure it was not Bill Downey's intention to raise up little hard-headed liberals who refused to walk the party line. But that was the effect he had on me. I was supposed to learn the catechism. Instead I learned to love questioning, argument, and the rhetoric of shaking things up.

Like too many ministers, this one went down in a sex scandal. Like many churches, ours put considerable effort into vilifying the woman involved. Unlike most ministers, however, this one took full responsibility for his actions. He'd never backed down from truths and right actions that weren't pretty or easy. He kept his family and atoned in a smaller, distant church. I don't know what happened to the woman. We almost never do.

My spiritual meanderings have moved me far from the beautiful Federalist church in North Shore, but never far at all from believing that the Word is supposed to wake you up, not put you to sleep.

Now it's your turn. Tell me one of your core beliefs and how you got there. Please.

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