Sermons from Outside the Walls- 2

He Called Our Mother a Dog

June 5, 2018

If a sermon does nothing but make you feel good, why bother with it?

Nobody goes to a gym to sit in an easy chair, open a beer, and smoke a cigar while watching the big screen TV. No! If they want a return on their monthly fees, they want to sweat and be out of breath for an hour, then go home sore. They want to lose weight, or tone muscle, or increase the capacities of their cardiovascular system and that doesn’t happen by osmosis or being pampered. It happens with hard work- being intentionally uncomfortable for awhile, so that you can live stronger and healthier for more years than you might have lived otherwise.

The same with learning about your place in the kingdom of God. And, time out: while we’re at it, right now, let’s put that word “kingdom” aside for the rest of this series. “Kingdom” is a word which is loaded, after 20 centuries of military maneuvers, royal trappings of royal weddings, and seven seasons of “Game of Thrones” with so much gold, blood, land-grabbing, and intrigue that it is misleading to a tragic degree in imagining anything Jesus intended for it to mean when he was referring to the community God wanted for humans to live within on earth.

So, from here on out, we’re going to use the word “Community.” The Community of God, as in “thy Community come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” etc. OK? “KIngdom” was only a metaphor, anyway- a word used to help humans imagine something they did not know, by comparing that something to what they did have experience with. The word “kingdom” in the year 30 would have been imagined in a very different way than we can imagine it today; therefore, let’s get it out of the way.

(If you’re stuck on thinking of Jesus as a PRINCE of Peace, like a Prince Charles or Prince Harry, remember that on Palm Sunday he came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a little three foot high donkey. In doing so, by dragging his feet on either side of that bumpy little donkey, Jesus was, if anything, demonstrating himself to be the exact opposite of anything princely, regal, or royal. He was just a guy, just like all the people, people like me and maybe like you on that road that day who were cheering his arrival even as they were thinking, “what the..?” Little did they know of the extraordinary events of the coming few days. Little did they know what Jesus would be called upon to do, or that by doing so, he would be demonstrating the extraordinary things they- we!- are also capable of doing.)

OK..now, back to learning about “your place in the Community of God.”

I’m going to point something out here that you might not like- not at first, anyway:

Jesus didn’t do what he did, say what he said, or go where he went for people like me, a gentile. In fact, for much of the time after we first meet him in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, he had his back to the gentiles. His message was for his people, the people of Israel- the Jewish people. If gentiles heard him, it was accidentally. For a Jewish man to have contact with gentiles was not a good thing by the Jewish standards of the day. By some of those standards, it was even a dirty thing to do, especially when it came to sick, dead, or female gentiles. Yikes!

And Jesus was, make no mistake about it, Jewish. A Jewish man. And he proves it right here:

Mark 7: 24-30 (Common English Bible)

24 Jesus..went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

Jesus called the gentile immigrant woman a “dog.” Try to dress that word up or soften it a little as many biblical commentators have tried to do over the centuries and it’s still a dog. It’s what a Jewish man of the year 30 or so would have called an immigrant woman. It was a default word, an unthinking but common word, a go-to word- like we might hear the words ‘wet back,’ or ‘illegal,’ or ‘hoe,’ or worse. That kind of word. You can’t soften it, it’s too sharp, and it usually leaves a scar.

This uppity gentile Greek woman was being pushy by speaking up when she had not even been invited into the room! She didn’t know her place and, indeed, there wouldn’t have been a place for her in a roomful of Jewish men! So, when Jesus was interrupted by her, when she deliberately threw herself in front of him, Jesus was spiritually, culturally, and personally upset.

syrophoenician woman“Dog!” he says, and we can only imagine the murmured agreement from others who had just witnessed this woman.

But, the woman persists! She insisted and persisted that Jesus pay attention to her. She loved her young daughter more than she cared about her own low status, so she persisted..

And Jesus’ eyes were opened. His eyes were opened by this woman in ways that revealed to him just how big this Community of God he preached about, really was. In her speaking up to him and daring to speak back to him, he heard her desperate cry of need, and he understood that God’s love did extend beyond the Jewish people “in front” of him.

There were others with ears to hear. There were others living desperately at the edges of life who also needed to know God’s love for them. In the woman’s plea, he heard for the first time, the gentiles who had, so far, been “outside” of his community. When said to her, in surprise, “Good answer!” he was, in effect, inviting her into that community. He was inviting her to stand in front of him!

But not only her. One by one, other gentiles began to come to Jesus- and were seen now by Jesus. God’s chosen people, through the example first shown by Jesus himself, were now able to witness others besides themselves hearing Jesus, being seen by Jesus, and being accepted by Jesus as people worthy of God’s love, too. No longer would “those people”  have to pick up mere crumbs!

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is regarded by many as the holy Mother of us all. And she is worthy of the honor and love shown her- she raised a really good kid, after all! But for those of us who are of the gentile persuasion- and that includes everyone who is not Jewish- isn’t this unnamed, brash, pushy, but loved Syro-phoenician Greek woman our true mother in the faith?

gentiles2

We who were not worthy in the eyes of Jewish legalists were made worthy by invitation to join and become a part of the Community of God being gathered together by Jesus. On our part, there is room for no emotions other than humility and gratitude when we accept that invitation. There is nothing for us to brag about, or to congratulate each other about. We may lead some people within the Community, but we are not leaders of the Community.

The leader remains a man, a very Jewish man. He is an Israeli man, and our cues should always be taken from him and not from false teachers who try constantly to usurp his role or make the United States or England or any other country or culture the “shining city on a hill” Jesus referred to in his sermon on the mount.

His invitation was for the woman, and us, to stand in front of him, and then to follow him. And how close and how far are we to follow?

When Jesus was on the cross, nailed, bleeding, in pain, and suffocating, among the last persons he would have seen as his head tilted forward for the last time, were the group of gentile Roman soldiers gathered below him- the ones who had lifted him onto the cross, secured him there, threw dice for his discarded robe, and finally stuck a sword in his belly to hurry his dying. His words as he looked down on them?

“Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.”

How far are we to follow?

That far.

David B. Weber

syrophoenician woman

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The Flapping of Butterfly Wings (connections)

November 15, 1951 Memorial Hospital, Decatur, Iowa.
Danny is born to Bob, a veteran of D-Day and his wife, Gloria,
who really did believe when she was twelve that she would marry
Clark Gable. But Bob is nice. And Danny will go to college.

November 16, 1951 Café d’soleil, Rue Montorgueil, Paris:
Ho and Nguyen gather up scribbled-upon napkins and
slip them into their pockets as Vlad, the Russian, rises to go.
He thinks it is possible, Ho says, as Nguyen’s hand trembles.

December 4, 1955 a living room floor, Decatur, Iowa:
Danny helps his mother separate aluminum icicles for the Christmas tree
while his dad is washing blood from the rocks of Utah Beach
with 2 oz. shots of Four Roses. “Don’t bother Daddy,” Gloria whispers.

December 5, 1955 in the basement of the police station, Saigon, Indo-China:
Nguyen is struck above the ear with a slug from a .32 caliber MAB pistol which has discharged accidentally during a heated and secret interrogation. The young French soldier, who has acted so belligerently during the questioning, vomits when blood and brain matter spray over his hands.

April 4, 1970 Greenwood Cemetery, Decatur, Iowa:
Danny’s flag-draped coffin is lowered into a dirt hole beside the grave of his father.
A week before, Danny stepped on a mine in a rice paddy about 50 kilometers north of Saigon. The last thing he saw was his shredded right leg as it rose in front of him.

On an afternoon in May, 1975 a temple in Hanoi:
Ho lights a candle near the foot of Buddha. He lights it for Nguyen and two million others. He holds an old and rumpled napkin over the flame and watches the smoke from it rise to the Buddha’s face.

Later that same afternoon- in an apartment
near downtown Des Moines, Iowa.
Gloria comes home early from her job at Universal Insurance, because of a headache.
She lies down while watching an an afternoon children’s show.In an hour or so, just as Walter Cronkite is signing on, Gloria will die from a burst aneurism of the right frontal lobe of her brain.

David B. Weber 2007

Jose Saramago on George W. Bush

My disappointments with the current democratic administration continue to outpace my ability to forgive the actions of the previous administration- actions which guarantee that I will never vote again for that political party. Never. The following is from a recently published translation of Jose Saramago’s blog, O Caderno. Agree or disagree with him, Saramago always had a way of making his points in a way that few others dared to make them, or were skilled enough to make them..

 September 18, 2008: “George W. Bush, or the Age of Lies”

(from The Notebook, a collection of Jose Saramago’s blogs, originally published in Portuguese. Verso, 2010, p.7)

I wonder why it is that the United States, a country so great in all things, has so often had such small presidents. George W. Bush is perhaps the smallest of them all. This man, with his mediocre intelligence, abysmal ignorance, confused communications skills, and constant succumbing to the irresistible temptation of pure nonsense, has presented himself to humanity in the grotesque pose of a cowboy who has inherited the world and mistaken it for a herd of cattle. We don’t know what he really thinks, we don’t even know if he does think (in the noblest sense of the word), we don’t know whether he might not just be a badly programmed robot that constantly confuses and switches around the messages it carries inside it. But to give the man some credit for once in his life, there is one program in the robot George Bush, president of the United States, that works to perfection: lying. He knows he’s lying, he knows we know he’s lying, but being a compulsive liar, he will keep on lying even when he has the most naked truth right there before his eyes- he will keep on lying even after the truth has exploded in his face. He lied to justify waging war in Iraq just as he lied about his stormy and questionable past, and with just the same shamelessness. With Bush, the lies come from very deep down; they are in his blood. A liar emeritus, he is the high priest of all the other liars who have surrounded him, applauded him, and served him over the past few years.

George Bush expelled truth from the world, establishing the age of lies that now flourishes in its place. Human society today is contaminated by lies, the worst sort of moral contamination, and he is among those chiefly responsible. The lie circulates everywhere with impunity, and has already turned into a kind of other truth. When a few years ago a Portuguese prime minister- whose name for charity’s sake I will not mention here- stated that “politics is the art of not telling the truth,” he could never have imagined that sometime later George W. Bush would transform this shocking statement into a naïve trick of fringe politics, with no real awareness of the value or significance of words. For Bush, politics is simply one of the levers of business, and perhaps the best one of all- the lie as a weapon, the lie as the advance guard of tanks and cannons, the lie told over the ruins, over the corpses, over humankind’s wretched and perpetually frustrated hopes. We cannot be sure that today’s world is more secure, but we can have no doubt that it would be much cleaner without the imperial and colonial politics of the president of the United States, George Walker Bush, and of the many- quite aware of the fraud they were perpetuating- who allowed him into the White House. History will hold them to account.

The Scapegoat..forgive us our sins

Leviticus 16:6 "Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. [a] 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat…
21 [The priest] is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.

I grew up at a time when there was a universally identifiable American scapegoat. International Communism was always-increasingly ready and able to reach into our churches, our schools, and into all levels of local, state, and federal government, according to everyone from the head of the F.B.I, J.Edgar Hoover to the local president of the American Legion. Our fifth grade teacher told us how Communist teachers in Russia would tell their pupils to close their eyes and pray to God for candy. When they opened their eyes, of course, there was no candy.

The Russian teacher (ugly, old, and rough) would then challenge her school children to close their eyes and silently thank Premier Khrushchev for leading the great Soviet Socialist Republic. While the Communist children had their eyes shut, the Communist teacher would distribute Communist candy to each miniature Communist.

Those kinds of stories (and there were a legion of them!) embeded themselves in the cognitive topsoil of pre-pubescent children. I am 60 years old now and I still default to some of them. I still hear the word “Communist” and I really do think first of both Khrushchev and his lackey, the teacher with candy. (Who, we also knew with 10 year old sighs of disgust, hated both God and America!)

Later, we would learn (in college while the hysterical heat was dissipating but still ever-present) about Sen.McCarthy, the House on UnAmerican Activities, and Hollywood blacklists. Simultaneously, we watched our peers leaving to fight Communism’s newest evil manifestations in Vietnam. And Cambodia, and Laos, then all of Southeast Asia, then the worllllddddd!!!!

But, just as T.S.Eliot prophesized the whole world one day ending with a whimper, thus did Soviet Communism in fact end. Spread thin around the world, the Soviet war machine led the Republic into bankruptcy, Premier Gorbachev saved face through pretended negotiations with the Americans, and Humpty-Dumpty the Empty Communist Promise fell off the Berlin Wall with a splat.

Ding dong the witch is dead! Which old witch? The Communist witch- our enemy, our evil nemesis, our scapegoat!
It is upon scapegoats that a nation, a family, a political movement, or even a group of teenaged bullies, can project their own fears about themselves, their own disappointments over their lot in life, their personal or national cowardice, their jealousies, their lusts, and their insatiable greed. That goddam Soviet Union just wanted the iron rich mountains of Eastern Europe! That National Liberation Front only wanted to control the seaports and off shore oil drilling in South Vietnam! We simply wanted to spread democracy, religion, and love, sweet love.

We had had such a good scapegoat! We could all focus on that big Red, gluttonous, ill-dressed, rough-talking sword-dragging Soviet Empire that wanted our wealth, our women, and our way of life. But now they were no more.
In fact, now we were doing business with them! We were building churches there, going to college there, drinking their vodka here!!! Our scapegoat was gone! Our great historic means of ridding ourselves of guilt, shame, lust, and unnatural sexual thoughts, was gone!

What could we find to replace it? What could we possibly find that we could hate again with patriotic zeal and God-blessed righteousness? What would give us illusionary friendship with the high and mighty of our nation, companionship with the movers and shakers of Big Business, the attention of that cute brunette in the front office at work? Who could we pile our sins on, blame for all of our personal and national failures, and send into the wilderness to experience the fear, the loneliness, the powerlessness, the fear, the fear, the fear that we so feared…?

Who? What? Tell us..lead us..in the name of the God who looks like us, wants what we want, and will understand if throw out big chunks of Matthew and Luke for the time being and replace them with bigger portions of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the dark and disagreeable Amos. Who What will our new scapegoat be?

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil evilevilevil, whimpering cowardly posturing evil the kind of evil people not like us want to force down our throats just like the communists wanted to spill our precious bodily fluids on the battlefields of our morality..give us this day our daily bread that we have a right to, worked for, demand in the name of all that is holy for thine is the kingdom, our kingdom…

Amen

The Dilemma of Death (part 6 of a series)

“Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with.” (Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, The Free Press, 1973, p.26)

I watch my dogs lying in the early afternoon sun. They are on their sides, utterly relaxed into the small variations in grade beneath them. A dandelion clump pressed against a ribcage does not seem to have the power over them that the corner of a misplaced pillow might have over me. Both of them are asleep within moments of lying down, utterly at ease in a safe place with their “pack” (myself, the other dog, and the cat who will occasionally make an appearance). They sleep as if they have been very busy all morning, like they’ve been running and running and are now exhausted. But they have not been especially busy at all. This is how they always rest- wholly and completely, without a single anxious thought about the future gnawing at their psyche. What looks like exhaustion to us is, in fact, perfect relaxation, complete wholeness between the dogs’ consciousness and physical bodies, without a single thought toward “splendid uniqueness.”

“The lower animals are, of course, spared this painful contradiction, as they lack a symbolic identity and the self consciousness that goes with it.” (ibid.) In other words, animals have no awareness of the one way journey through physical life which they, like everything else, are on. They give no regard to their own Death; they are not anxious about tomorrow. (Tomorrow? What is that anyway?) Obviously, on some level, carnivorous animals are aware that the physical death of their foodstuff is a desirable state. And it may well be that some animals- dolphins and elephants come to mind- may recognize a consciousness within themselves that is finite. But humans are the only ones who institutionalized the awareness of Death Impending. Humans are the only animals who allow “Death’s second self” (That’s Shakespeare for Sleep) to be interrupted, ever, by thoughts of Dying. Humans are the only ones who can become neurotic about the prevention of things which might be harmful enough to cause death, or who are able to be addicted to substances which alleviate- in always failing measure- their preoccupations with Death.

Every faith tradition has some dogmatic and/or doctrinal tenets that deal with the awareness of Death with which all humans live. All faith traditions acknowledge the pain- fallenness, insanity, suffering- that accompanies this awareness of Death, and the vital need for acceptance of both that awareness and of Death itself. In lieu of that acceptance, the adherents of some faiths are given the option, within their faith’s teachings, of looking beyond death, into eternity. (I’m not here in this series to judge the content of various end of life scenarios, only to acknowledge that do exist and perform vital functions in the whole lives of many persons and communities.

The commonality of our pain takes different specific forms but all of them have dirt in common. All of our lives, after Death, end up in some way, in the dirt. As ashes, or sealed within a metal vacuum which slows down but does not stop the process of decomposition, or laid directly onto the dirt which begins immediately to absorbs the liquids and fats of life, dirt is our bed, sometimes quickly, always eventually.

It is dirt over which we stand in “towering majesty.” It is dirt which contrasts so harshly with our names, our perceptions of our Selves, and the legacy we imagine ourselves leaving behind. It is dirt which covers our face to the world and finally blocks the world to our face.

Dirt is just..so damn final!

And that’s our dilemma. It is a dilemma for every human being on earth, too, and has been since the very first time human consciousness reached into an imagined future and put the 2+2 of life and death together. It added up to dirt then and adds up to dirt now, despite all kinds of conveyances, rituals, religions, and proposed alternative scenarios which have been placed in front that final “resting place.” (And note that phrase- “resting place.” It is one of many, many, many phrases and words used about Death which attempt to take a little bit of Death’s sting away.)

Elysian Fields await, beyond the River Styx, near the New Jerusalem, in the sweet by and by. We’ll visit some of those places and see what they might reveal about our fears, and our hopes.

Obama’s Speech to the School Kids- What I learned on the way to the end of my fears

At Booker T. Washington High School in downtown Dallas, they gave President Obama a standing ovation when they saw him enter on the large television screens. Booker T. is my daughter’s alma mater- it’s the performing arts high school. It’s Norah Jone’s alma mater, too. And something she is proud of, also.

So, when I saw the kids there jumping to their feet as the President appeared on-screen, I knew that the people to whom the president was aiming this speech were going to hear it. And as was evident from their comments, they heard it loudly and clearly in a way even most of us adult supporters of the president could not have heard it.

“He was speaking to me,” one small 9th grade boy said.

“He makes me want to get all As this year,” said another.

Many adults, especially- it appears- those of the Caucasian persuasion, were fearful of what the president would inculcate their children with today. I heard them breathing hard and sweating into the cameras pointed toward them as they screamed that the president had no right to tell their children what to think. Maybe they were afraid he would reveal the secret message of the fist-bump to curious fifth graders, or describe the joys of his parent’s interracial sex to shy high schoolers. Given the level of anger and suspicion many of these parents displayed, it is hard to even guess at what kind of jive they were afraid the president would brainwash their un-brainwashed children with.

And, despite the fact that even Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich endorsed the content of Obama’s speech, we know that in today’s America the facts don’t matter nearly as much as what a person wants to believe. If you want to believe Obama is a Muslim, there’s nothing anyone can say, show, or demonstrate that will dissuade you from that belief. In America today, among a certain crowd of fellow believers, you will even be applauded for hanging on to a belief despite the Truth that lies dying in the ditch nearby.

And there are still people waiting for the release of Michelle’s “Whitey” tape and for the Belgian Congo birth certificate of the president. And they’ll wait and they’ll wait because they KNOW they’re right and it doesn’t matter that that astronomy reveals the sun to be the center of the solar system, you silly fools, you can see that the sun rises and sets around the Earth, can’t you?

So here’s what I’ve learned today: All of that noise was preceding the speech was irrelevant. A whole lot of parents kept a whole lot of children out of school and away from the Internet and television today because they were afraid of something that bore no fearful meaning whatsover- liminally, subliminally, or otherwise. They were people being afraid, and that’s all. They would probably call it being protective, but they could have been protective at home, with some intelligent conversation around the dinner table tonight. They could have introduced their children to genuine critical thinking. I assume most of them are capable of that.

Since the noise was irrelevant, I should consider it so as well. AND SO SHOULD THE PRESIDENT! My argument with the president so far, indeed, my disappointment with the president so far is that he is spending too much time trying to be friends with people who don’t like him, did not and will never support him, and whose candidate in the last election was convincingly defeated.

President Obama: those of us who voted for you voted for change, significant change to happen. We wanted our country out of the twin sinkholes of Iraq and Afghanistan that we were lied into. We want war criminals tried, if that is what a grand jury deems them to be. We want sexual preference among adults to not be a factor at all in a person’s enjoyment of their full civil rights. Those are the changes we voted for above and beyond the need this country had for a president who was smart and who didn’t look like every president before and who was running with a vice-presidential candidate who didn’t scare the living socks off of us as we imagined him possibly becoming president. That’s what we voted for, Obama, not how many friends you could make among the people who had gotten us into the military and economic quagmire we are in now.

So, while many many, many of my friends are Republican, most of whom I would take a bullet for (and they know it), I must tell them that I will not listen to their political views with any more fear. Theirr politics are coming to an end. The world can’t be the way it was in the 50’s; they’ve spent us into a hell hole of unimaginable depth, and while they can try to blame the other party for that, the statistics of Reagan, Bush, and Bush tell another story. Unfortunately, I voted right there beside them until 2006, when I saw the light. It’s not a bright light- Pelosi and Reid are both standing in it after all- but it is a whole lot brighter than the dim fluorescents pirated out of Enron’s headquarters.

And I know this: that the loudest among you old-timers- those who fussed the most about Obama’s Svengali grip on the minds of school kids, some you made asses of yourselves. And your kids saw you doing it. And while they no doubt still love you, they have seen you be wrong, over-reactive, maybe even goofy. Statistics show that that has happened a lot recently. During the 80s and 90s you preached and preached and preached about the takeover of schools and government by those with a gay agenda. You made bogeymen out of young men dying of AIDS so that you wouldn’t have to confront the sympathetic response you deeply felt toward them. (We all know it is easier to fear and hate than it is to give in to love, especially if that love- holy cow!- might be misconstrued as fag love!).

The point is, you painted the homosexual community into something it wasn’t. At all. Your kids went to college, got jobs, and moved into apartments near and with these men and women. They even became friends with them! They found out that you had been wrong about them, and that some of you and some of your preachers had been lying about them to you. They even found out that there seems to be a direct relationship between the loud rantings of an anti-gay protester and his desire to passionately kiss the object of his fury!

So you lost more young people in your loud and silly protests over this speech today.

Good.

And knowing those things, I won’t be so upset the next time. Your numbers are decreasing even as the spittle from your radio and television leaders is increasing. Even as the crazed rantings of Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity grow louder, more and more young people are hearing them, and the demographic slice of their advertising pie grows older by the day.

(Thank you again, young people of Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, Texas. I’m giving you my own private standing ovation right now!)

Death? Not me! (part 5 of a series)

“[The] philosophy of exemptionalism, which supposes that the special status on Earth of humanity lifts us above the laws of Nature. Exemptionalism takes one or the other of two forms. The first.. is secular: don’t change course now, human genius will provide. The second is religious: don’t change course now, we are in the hands of God, or the gods, Earth’s karma, whatever.” (E.O.Wilson, Creation- An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, W.W.Norton & Co., 2006, p.83)

The philosophy of exemptionalism is an easy one to adopt as one’s personal worldview; in fact, we’re naturals at it! Here it is, stated in its most elementary form:

“All that bad stuff that will happen to you won’t happen to me- I’m special.”

This a belief that seems in history to just as easily evolve into a real psychosis of specialness. There are those persons who believe they can fly. And people on the sidewalk below them discover they how wrong, how not-special, they really were. There are those persons who believe they have been exempted from the side effects of tobacco, alcohol, or general slovenly living. Most of them discover by the age of 55 or so that “tomorrow” was not the best time to have waited to change their ways. And whole empires have thought of themselves as eternal when in fact, as the Holy Roman Empire discovered, they were just one angry, marauding hoard away from being a mere collection of sovereign nation-states.

And many of us harbor that deeply held and precious, but absolutely stone cold crazy belief that we will not die because there is technology just on the horizon that will save us, or a medicine that will cleanse our bodies of 40 years of smoking, or because our own ability to get out of the way of explosions, highway accidents, and gunfire. (“I never thought such a thing could happen to me!” the lucky ones say.”Those things aren’t supposed to happen in our neighborhood,” the formerly exempted ones proclaim.)

Or (we say) that Death, while important, doesn’t really matter because eternal life, with Jesus or with forty grape-laden virgins or any of a number of other scenarios based on one’s doctrinal beliefs subscribed to while one was still alive and of sound mind and body, will be the order of eternity. We SAY that, but then we pour fortunes into squeezing an extra couple months, a year, or a few years out of an increasingly painful, weakened, or dependent life.

In both ways of approaching Death (or not approaching it), fear is the prime mover. It is the fear of meaninglessness, nothingness- the bottom line fear that maybe our professions of faith are only words we have said, or that maybe technology or pharmacology might be too late for us. (“Damn the FDA!”) We don’t want the days and years to add up to a whiff of smoke or the memory of the last friend or relative left standing. So we are afraid, living our lives in a reserved but ever-present dread of the end.
The profession of faith can dull the sharp edges of contemplated death, but- for whatever reason(s)- the ‘sting’ is still present.

I think there are superficial reasons why that is so; and some deep reasons why that is so. And there are even deeper reasons that every human being on Earth shares. All of the various reasons are interesting (I think) and need to be talked about. The deepest reasons, however, are profound and- once we understand how we share them with all human beings- they can serve as areas of new empathetic relationships among various human groups from whom we might otherwise feel separated. They can further help us understand why we want to shoot over the heads of those who others are telling us to call the Enemy. And they can help understand what it is about us, and the Other, that truly is special.