Is My Tolerance More Important Than Yours (or Vice Versa)?

I’ll just get this out of the way up front: if you are a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being, you’re a hypocrite. Obviously this includes me, but it also includes you, whoever you are.

I say this because I’ve been trying to figure something out. Why is it okay to call someone an idiot or a garbage person or spew some other sort of hatred at them because they have said or done something you disagree with? Better stated: if someone does something that you see as an act of hatred, why does the preferred response seem to be the return of hatred.

I’ll be more specific. Yesterday, a group of American pastors and church leaders released a statement on the beliefs regarding marriage that they felt should be embraced by the church based on Biblical tenets. This so-called Nashville Statement contains nothing that should surprise anyone who understands even the basics of evangelical Christianity. Essentially that marriage is meant to be monogamous and between a man and a woman, and the expression that concepts such as homosexuality and transgenderism are sins. The decision to go against these in any regard is a choice, just like a decision to lie, cheat or steal or commit adultery or any other sin.

Not surprisingly, the backlash has been quick and angry, and this is where I am lost as to what opponents of this see as acceptable. I just find the hypocrisy of telling someone that they are an asshole or unloving or worse because you think they are being unloving is ripe with irony. Furthermore, and this has bothered me for years, but why is the supposed idea of tolerance only a one way street? Doesn’t anybody see that by denouncing someone’s belief system because they disagree with you is the exact thing that tolerance is allegedly meant to avoid? Instead, it looks like this:

“Oh, everyone needs to be tolerant of everyone. No matter if you’re gay or straight or bi or transgender or Jewish or Muslim or Agnostic or Atheist, people must be allowed to make their own choices.”

“I believe that my faith is correct, which means, frankly speaking, that those other religions are wrong and that all non-heterosexual relationships are essentially sin.”

“Well, then you’re wrong and I can’t allow you to think that way, so I’m going to call you an idiot and continue to tell you how wrong you are at every opportunity.”

Okay, yes, this is an oversimplification of the issue; and I grant that it works on the other side of things, too. There are people who are Christians who actually are hateful human beings, who may consider themselves correctly motivated, but whose actions are far from that. The situation in Charlottesville shows me that without a doubt, all humans are capable of hatred and violence, of being wrong about what they believe.

And I guess that’s where I struggle the most on this whole thing, and I feel this way every time these issues cycle back through the news feed. Why are those who look negatively on the issue allowed to tell the other side they are wrong, but if the situation is reversed, there’s no accounting for how hate-filled the responses will be? And those responses will be applauded, even though they are essentially the same level of hate that these people claim is coming from the other side. So even if the creators of the Nashville Statement never said they hated anyone, those who oppose the document read their words, see hate and then spread hate right back at them?

Do I have that right?

Because if I do, it doesn’t seem very tolerant. It just feels like hypocrisy piled on top of a brand of tolerance that allows most people to say and do what they want, but not all.

Look, I do want to make it clear that the timing on this is not good. Clearly there are more pressing issues happening in our country, especially helping to clear the devastation in Houston. But I think it’s also unfair to say that people aren’t capable of handling more than one situation at a time, or to assume malevolence on the part of the signers regarding Houston and this document. Furthermore, and more ironically, a thing’s existence does not automatically give it power; so by hating it and the people who created it, those who oppose this and similar ideas, there’s a sense that power is being given. In a technical sense, all this Statement does is affirm what has always been true about the Christian faith; there is no call to arms or new action to be taken.

Ultimately it comes down to this: I believe what I believe and others believe what they believe, and to me it’s more important to dialogue about issues of contention than to simply respond with the first emotion that comes to you, most commonly anger and aggression. But if the goal is really tolerance (and honestly I’m not sure it is), then there cannot be caveats or addendum to that; you must practice full tolerance of me and my beliefs and I of you and yours.

Otherwise, what is tolerance anyway?

The Trials and Tribulations at the Department of Motor Vehicles

As it turns out, on a random March evening in 2016, a man with my very same name (first, middle, last) and nearly the same birthday (two days after, but several years before) was pulled over by one SC State Trooper M.S. Greene and given a ticket for a seatbelt violation. This Mr. Robert S Morrison got lost in the ether, and, as it turns out, I got dragged into the whole ordeal due to a clerical error.

I found all this out today while attempting to obtain–for the third time in a week–my South Carolina driver’s license, and the nice woman who helped me informed me that I couldn’t get what I wanted because I had a suspension on my license (I previously held a DL in the state, but the last time was in late 2011). This began a chain events that included me driving all the way to York to visit the magistrate’s office; paying the $25 fine to get it off my record; returning to the DMV office in Fort Mill; finding out that I would then have to pay a $100 reinstatement fee; the ladies at the DMV attempting to have that dismissed since it was clearly not my ticket; finally being told they couldn’t dismiss the fee; then being told that the magistrate had gone ahead and realized what they should have realized when I was there and informing me I would get a refund on the $25 fee, but that it wouldn’t clear for a day or two, so I STILL wouldn’t be able to walk away with my driver’s license after all this. To top it off, obtaining my license was only step one in my plan for my last weekday-off before I go back to work, as I needed to pay my car tax and get my registration and SC plates to get all that out of the way.

I dropped little L off with my mom around 10 AM; it’s nearly 3 PM now, and I almost literally have nothing to show for it, minus a hold being taken off my account and–for now–$25 fewer in my bank account. You could argue that removing the suspension is a good thing, and I’d say that’s fair, but that it wasn’t my fault that the ticket was there, and in a year and a half it should have become clear to someone in the magistrate’s office that there was an issue. Barring all that, I find myself frustrated with the entire process. I understand caution in light of the nature of our society these days, and that technology has made it easier for people to create false identities or steal them from others, but I find myself caught in a whirlwind of problems that I didn’t even create. I try to remember that I am dealing with human beings, and that clerical errors are a true sign of this fact, but it feels like an excuse, even if it is true.

Over the ten years since I first moved down to the Carolinas from Virginia, I have now had the opportunity to see how much processes like this have changed. When I first went to get a SC license in 2007, I swear I gave them my birth certificate and my old Virginia license, signed some papers and all was well. Moving from South to North Carolina was relatively easy, minus the fact that I had to go back twice because I failed the written exam the first time (confounded farming signage!), but the required paperwork part didn’t faze me in the least. This time around, I went twice before I even got through the vetting process with completed paperwork, each time after standing in a line for 20+ minutes prior to being sent home due to that improper paperwork. In short, the increased security, or at least what I perceive to be so, has complicated the process, stealing my time and my patience.

The point here isn’t to rail on the SCDMV, even though in general I still find the idea of a state-wide department for drivers to be a hotbed for insanity, but to merely point out that I believe this process has reminded me that we are all flawed, all often incapable in spite of our best efforts. As I’ve said, the people who helped me today were wildly helpful,  especially upon my return to the DMV, where they allowed me to avoid standing in line the second time and dealt with me directly, and with a promise that once this is all clear, they’ll do the same when I return. But the biggest lesson is this: no matter how much people try to organize or streamline an operation, there will always be complications, always be setbacks, always be human error to contend with. And the thing is, those things always win out in the end, so it stands to reason that I’d be better off tabling my frustration in favor of grace and optimism. My wife will tell you that she tells me this all the time, and she’s right about that; but sometimes it takes a run-in with a lot of things you can’t do anything about for the words to really hit home.

Counting Down

I’ve always been a big proponent of counting down days. In my line of work, it’s pretty par for the proverbial course: how many days until the weekend or the next long break or summer? So I’ve gotten good at keeping up with countdowns. Here’s my latest:

2 months, 1 week, 6 days

or

7 months, 6 days

or

72 days

Whichever suits you best.

If I’m being dramatic, then this is the countdown to when my entire life changes forever; but if I’m choosing to go a little less so, it’s the months or weeks or days until I get married. The story of how we got here is long and complicated, and it will likely find itself the focus of many a blog post–if not something longer–in the coming months; but the getting to the big day over the last few months or so has been a much more trying time than I anticipated.

Our engagement has mostly existed during E’s semester of student teaching, meaning she’s been anywhere from knee-to-neck deep in her school, all the while making sure that L is taken care of and other relationships are covered, too. So while my schedule is all over the place and constantly changing, E’s has been consistently asking much of her. And while the time constraints have begun to melt away in recent weeks, my crazy mind is already trying to think ahead to complications that may arise during the summer months.

And that’s the problem: may arise. I’m a classic over-thinker, especially in terms of thinking ahead and trying to anticipate potential issues that may come up. But the truth is I never know, there’s no way for me to know, and that in all honesty, all I’m doing is adding unnecessary stress by majoring on the not-yet. The extra stress pushes me to the edge of anxiety, forcing me to add more stress on E that she doesn’t need.

And this is all self-inflicted and wildly detrimental.

Here’s the thing about the countdown, though: I think it’s a very telling obsession of mine. To be honest, I’ve gone back and forth on my feelings regarding wedding planning and the whole process of getting past the next 72 days and onto the rest of our life together. There are days where I want to be heavily involved (although for various reasons that doesn’t always work out anyway) and there are days (and this is my overwhelming go-to position) where I’m just ready for it all to be over. And that’s the thing about the counting down in my eyes. I’m looking so far ahead because that’s where I prefer to be, not necessarily because I fully hate being a part of this process. But it also means I don’t stay in the moment and am easily frustrated by the fact that I don’t own a TARDIS so I can skip ahead to the “good” part.

But that’s dangerous, because it assumes that no good can come from this period of life, that it’s just a piece to survive or get through as opposed to enjoy or learn from. Instead of embracing opportunities to grow, I get stuck looking forward and forget to live in the now. In doing so, I also signal what I’m trusting in and I miss this:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)

And that should be the most vital thing here. Yes, I am also missing out on chances to grow my relationship with E, to show her my best self as often as I can and embrace more of my soon-to-be wife and her family; but those elements feel secondary in this case. The thing is, it’s on me to give of myself and get out of my own way.

Maybe I’ll still keep the countdown, though. It maintains the high levels of excitement. And that matters quite a bit, too.

On Stepfatherhood

Since this isn’t supposed to be strictly a music blog, I figured it was high time to shift the focus a little. Over time, I’ll be looking to write about film, other writers, poetry and other literature, as well, as my last blog was a small attempt to do, some cultural commentary as viewed through my own lenses.

This latest post, however, is going to be my most personal to date, so I’ll lay a few ground rules for these types of posts that should continue to hold true whenever things of this nature come up.

First, I’m getting married this summer (that’s her in my profile photo with me), but for the sake of keeping things at least somewhat anonymous, I won’t divulge the date or location or time or any other elements like that. My fiancé will also remain nameless, as will her daughter (whose face also won’t appear anywhere on the blog). Instead, they will be E and L, respectively, and I think all these stipulations will be best for all involved.

With all that said, I can now press forward with the topic at hand: namely, that in just a little time from now, I’ll be at least partially responsible for the upbringing of a small child.

L is almost 3 and she’s a spunky, smart, thoughtful and stubborn little girl. None of these traits is lost on her mother or anybody who spends any time with her at all. She can be sweet, and often is, but can also be a typical two-year-old, pushing back on expectations, testing the waters of how much she can get away with, and trying to use the tools at her disposal–things like being cute or her innate ability to whine her way through things if she wants to–in order to get what she perceives she wants.

And that’s the kicker: she’s two and in many cases doesn’t really know what she wants, and certainly can’t tell us, at least in the long-term, what she needs. This is about as difficult as you might expect, but thankfully it isn’t L’s normal modus operandi. She is, more often than not, a good, cheerful child, and I’m proud to able to help continue to shape the person she is going to grow up to be.

All that said, parenting of any kind is a difficult thing, and I’m saying that having not really been fully invested in the process with E and L for very long in comparison. It requires a lot of thinking on your feet, flexibility and the ability to, ironically, simultaneously stick to a plan and schedule, skills that, in large part, aren’t ones I’d call “areas of strength” if asked. Making it even more complicated is that our present situation is a busy one: E is student teaching, all while trying to plan a wedding, take care of L and deal with my neediness. Oh, and she lives at home with her parents, which is a gift for her in many ways, but also means those relationships are more at the forefront of her life than they might be if she were living on her own. As for me, I teach full-time at a community college, but otherwise the rest of my life is focused on E and L and making sure the rest of our lives are ready to start once the wedding festivities are done.

I should be clear that I don’t mean to disparage any of this or anyone here. Relationships are complicated and life is busy and difficult, no matter who they are with or how much you love those people. But the situation brings in a lot of voices into little L’s life, and as the person who entered into the picture most recently, I find that I’m okay with getting pushed to the back of the line in terms of who should be heard. And this isn’t because I don’t want to be involved or that I don’t believe I can handle things, but because I am constantly aware of the eyes and ears on me, and my perception is that as they are watching and listening, I am being judged.

This may be incorrect. For all I know, the other people in L’s life could be cheering me on, encouraging me to step up and take over responsibilities (and, if I’m honest, many of them often do so), but I’m so stuck in my own mind, it’s difficult to ignore the voices and be confident in my role. The truth is, when I’m on my own, I mostly feel in control, so why I am unable to take those feelings, that confidence, and translate it into the rest of my experiences, no matter who is around, is baffling to me. My guess is that like most things, this issue is multifaceted and too intricate to cover in this space.

The biggest thing is the confidence issue. I depend on my intellect a lot to get me through life; it’s why I’m in academia for a career, and why jobs like waiting tables or schlepping coffee never really appealed to me. The problem is that child rearing isn’t always an intellectual thing. Sure, you can know things or believe things are true about children, but since they are human beings, they can’t be boxed into expectations all the time, and that’s where the feeling of the raising kids comes into play, and where my confidence becomes fully shot. Add to that a room fully of people who have raised more kids than I probably ever will or a person who I think probably has more “right” to discipline L or take care of her needs, and suddenly I even lose the intellectual side. Suddenly I’m left feeling pretty helpless about it all.

E and I talk about a lot of subjects fairly regularly, and my role in L’s life is one that comes up rather often. She, being the best person I know, reassures me that I’m doing a great job, and this is what I try to keep in my mind as I’m interacting with L and other people in her life. But my mind, I’ve started to realize, isn’t my ally very often, and the sabotage that takes place in these moments is deafening and debilitating. This is not good for anyone: L loses a sound adult mind, E feels like she has to take care of me when it’s really L that needs the attention and I am frustrated because damnit-I’m-an-adult-and-this-shouldn’t-be-happening.

I do not expect there to be a quick fix on any of this. My mind has spent a lot of time building up mechanisms that it thinks might be beneficial to me, but more often than not become detrimental to my being a successful human being. And so there’s this:

26 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

“We have a strong city;
    he sets up salvation
    as walls and bulwarks.
2 Open the gates,
    that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
3 You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:1-4)

I’m not very good at remembering this, especially the emphasis (mine) in verse 3. I’ve known this verse for a long time, but I’m not even moderately proficient at implementing it into my life. And here’s the craziest part about this: God trusts in me, and yet I am unable or unwilling to trust Him. If anything, the opposite should be true.

And so in reality it is far less important how I feel in these situations with L and really all about who I lean into when the confidence is shot and I have no clue what I’m doing. It’s about trusting that He is who He says He is, that He’ll do what He says He’ll do, and that He’s got all of us–myself, E and L included–under His perfect peace.