Saturday, February 6, 2010

A New Vision

It’s been said that Eastern religious thought turns inward. To know oneself and to seek to live in harmony with what is given. With the Tao, or the Way of things.

Western religion on the other hand is said to be outward looking. Seeking a new vision for how things could be in a new world order, or for redemption for the community. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit as opposed to the introverted spirit. Both are important. Both seek different ends.

Whether one is religious or not, this outward looking redemption seeking is common to western thought. Thus, it is the west that has birthed the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the ecology movement. In Biblical narratives the prophet Isaiah counsels the people to seek a new vision in order to restore the people to well being. In this sense, there is a kind of merging of the two areas of thought. In order to accept a new vision, people must change the way they think. They need to know themselves.

When cultures are in transition, there always is difficulty for many people in accepting the new. Most of us try to hang on to what is familiar for as long as we can. We don’t want to leave our comfort zones. It’s an important survival instinct. Change is physically unsettling and emotionally disquieting so we often resist it until we’re forced to accept it. Eventually, we may discover that the old way just isn’t working for us anymore.

Music is a good example. We love the music of our teens because that music helped define us. But eventually the music the new younger set listens to and loves is different. We don’t always make the transition to the new music with them. We say we can’t understand why people want to listen to that awful music. Our response to music is largely emotional, even though in time we may become more skilled in our selection of the music we prefer.

Now a lot of new music really is awful for the same reason a lot of books or art or other things that people make are awful. Their creators are not skilled. And many of the people that enjoy this music, or read these books are not very skilled either. Not educated in the genre we might say.

But from a standpoint of style, there really is no such thing as bad music whether it’s rock or blue grass or rap or country or classical. And there is no reason anyway why a person shouldn’t enjoy awful music or badly written books. We can go so far as to say that there are no wrong reasons for enjoying anything.

But there ARE wrong reasons for NOT enjoying a thing, such as a new kind of music. Preferences are fine. But we can’t reasonably condemn the music people enjoy. When we condemn something new just because it’s different, we are letting our prejudices show.

Prejudices are not the same as preferences. Churches fight these losing battles about music all the time. Old timers think that the traditional hymns are the only ones appropriate for worship. The younger set wants newer music and turns their noses up at anything traditional.

Well, both need a new vision.

In the Lutheran hymn tradition, many of the tunes that Luther made into hymns by writing new lyrics once were drinking songs that were sung in taverns. There probably were plenty of people who objected to them also.

And time has weeded out badly written hymns from those that were skillfully written with lyrics that really spoke to people’s hearts. Good music hangs around and eventually is regarded as “classic”, like the songs of the Beatles for example whereas we never listen to some of the really popular music groups of the 50’s.

We need a compromise that acknowledges different preferences and hire musicians who are skilled in selecting really good music, new or traditional for our use.

I used music as an example in this meditation, but the principles apply to a lot of things. We all are guilty of clinging to myths when it comes to evaluating and trying out something new. These myths get in the way of understanding and change, especially in the realms of religion and politics. Political myths loom just as large in the public mind as religious myths and both hinder progress. That’s why we often hear people say that they don’t want to discuss either religion or politics in social settings. It’s because of unexamined prejudice.

We wouldn’t mind discussing our preferences.

So the question to ask ourselves is the same one we keep coming back to. How is that working for you. Is the position I’m defending really doing the job?

Are we shutting a class of people out of our lives or out of our places of worship or out of the political process because we can’t accept their ideas?

Can we really win by eliminating all our opponents?

Or do we need to step back, take a deep breath, and listen to what they are saying?

Do we need to try to change the way we think? Or at least, give them a chance.

Is it possible that we might stand to gain by this process?