Saturday, August 20, 2005


No pictures tonight. I'm not in the mood.

Call me thin-skinned. Call me oversensitive. I'll even agree with you. This is a fault I've worked to overcome over the years, but I've never entirely succeeded. For example, I always get upset when a conservative Christian pops up out of nowhere to attack something I wrote online. Usually the comment is anonymous, so I can't even respond directly. Instead I look the comment over, and consider again whether the criticism has merit. I second-guess myself. I feel guilty for any deficiencies I think I see in my own writing, beliefs, or character. I get upset and frustrated for not having communicated effectively enough to be understood, to win the person over.

But really, it usually comes down to one thing. What parts of the concepts of compassion and tolerance don't these people understand? I'm not talking about all Christian conservatives, mind you, but occasionally I get a comment like this one, that basically takes me to task for loving my neighbor.

This St. Michael's Arts blog is ancillary to the main church (news) blog, started so that parishioners can contribute photos, essays, prayers, poetry, art--well, pretty much anything, as long as it is compatible with the fact that it's a church's blog. But nobody sends me (or the church) anything for it, so rather than leave it completely neglected, I occasionally post something on it, usually adapted from something in my personal blog, Musings from Mâvarin.

Tonight, someone left a comment to this blog. (Actually, it's the second one this week. The first was commercial comment spam.) It was posted to an entry of pictures and a tiny bit of text provided by Ila Abernathy, about her annual trip to Guatemala to help displaced Maya in remote villages with medical supplies and training. That happened to be the oldest entry on the face of the blog at when the comment was posted. The newest entry at the time, the one this anonymous person was talking about in the misdirected comment, was my rant from June about how poorly a Wiccan friend of mine is treated by doctors, social workers,etc. because of her affiliation with a fringe religion. The commenter felt that I --and St. Michael's generally--was betraying God by advocating compassion and tolerance toward this friend.

But for me, the story of the Good Samaritan, the edict to love one's enemies, and any number of other passages from the New Testament, demand no less. The idea that you can and should be mean to someone, discriminate, condemn, maybe even beat up or kill that person, all because he or she is not one of Us, not a Christian/ Muslim/ Jew/ Democrat/ Republican/ American/ Whatever, is exactly the sort of thing that leads to suicide bombings, the Holocaust, and really, most of the evil in the world. Not that the commenter was advocating anything of the sort, but clearly, my plea for tolerance was being condemned. So what is the person advocating, if not intolerance? The difference between that and those other horrors is one of degree, not one of concept. A person can be wrong about something, terribly wrong, but that doesn't give us the right or the responsibility to treat that person with hostility.

So as I said, it's appropriate for me to disagree with my friend's religion, but it's not appropriate for her pain doctor to refuse to see her, or someone to label her a troublemaker and deny her services, solely on the basis of religion. And really, how does preaching at her, shunning and mistreating her, and implying that anyone who defends her is betraying does any of that follow Jesus's teachings and examples, or convince D/S to become a Christian again? How does the song go? They'll know we are Christians by our hate? Of course I want her to find her way back to Christianity eventually, but this is no way to accomplish that.

Maybe I'm being harsh here. Maybe it's a mutual misunderstanding between me and Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. Maybe I made this person feel attacked, and this was the response.

But either way, I'm feeling all hurt and insecure here. I want to go in a corner and whimper. You don't like me! You think I'm bad! And in this case, I was already feeling a little guilty. I wanted to post something early in the week about the losses St. Michael's has recently suffered, the deaths of Janet Womble and Sherwood "Woody" Bowker. I wanted to say that in the midst of death we are in life. Ila is back from Guatemala, school is starting at St. Michael's, and the choir will soon be singing for us again. Life goes on, and no doubt in the coming months we will have new arrivals, baptisms, renewal. But I got busy with work and other parts of my life, and didn't post in time to give you a heads-up for Janet Womble's funeral on Wednesday. Woody's Mass and reception is on Saturday, August 28th at 8AM. So even before I saw this comment, I was feeling guilty about my recent performance as Webmaster. I could have, should have done more, posting at least an announcement to the news blog if nothing else.

But the comment was not about that kind of shortcoming. It struck at the heart of what I believe as a Christian. And have you ever noticed that saying you will pray for someone can sometimes be a passive-aggressive attack on a person with whom you disagree? The implication is that I'm on the fast track to Hell, and only your prayers can turn me around, so that I will agree with you and go to Heaven after all. Yes, sure, go ahead and pray for me, and for my friend. I pray each night for everyone everywhere, no exceptions. I pray that we will all come to know that God is real, that God cares, that we will all understand better what God wants fromeach of us, and for help to get through the difficult times in each of our lives. I pray that we will learn to live up to our potential, using our talents well. I pray that we will learn to truly love and help one another, not just our particular insular groups but everyone. But don't tell me you're praying that I will see the error of my wicked ways. I'm far from perfect, but I'm not all that wicked. Your prayers will neither keep me from Hell nor send me there.

One of the commenter's criticisms was the claim that I had posted an "evil symbol" on a church blog. This confused me at first. I looked at the entry where the comment was posted, and saw pictures of Guatemalans, and a picture tha a child in Guatemala drew. Was this person seeing something in the drawing that wasn't there? But no, I later noticed that I had a right-side-up pentagram in the entry about my friend, mostly because I didn't have any other illustrations for it. This symbol is not Satanic, but perhaps I should not have put it on the church blog, even as an illustration of the beliefs of others.

Understand: I am not a minister, priest or deacon. My only formal course in religion was nearly thirty years ago at Syracuse University. I've read much of the Bible but not all of it, and I've read some modern translations of rejected (non-canonical) scriptures and other modern scholarship. I am the church webmaster, and I help out at Mass in minor ways, mostly as crucifer and lector. But I don't speak for the church, except to post announcements, mostly written by others. The opinions I post on the Arts blog are my own unless otherwise marked. They're intended to be one person's opinions and spiritual journeys, to be interspersed with the contributions of others. Unfortunately, others don't contribute.

So what should I do? Should I let this comment spook me, again? Should I stop posting to the Arts blog until I find others to contribute, so it's not all me, assuming an authority I don't have or want?

Or should I still express my opinion from time to time, and hope that most people will see Christian values in my words, instead of anti-Christian ones?


P.S. Obviously I took the advice of readers, and posted a version of this entry, originally written for Musings, to the SMAAARTS blog. This probably pushes the entry with the comment off the front page, but it's still there to be seen in the Archives. I also emailed Father Smith, who was also attacked in the original comment, asking for his input. And I received a lovely, loving email today from a self-identified conservative Christian and fundamentalist, saying that I was right to love others, to keep my chin up. Thank you, and God bless you all--whether you agree with me or not.