This is the inaugural edition of “First Church of the Streets.” Like most things in life, it is an experiment in the making, so the frequency and subject matter may vary from issue to issue. The running agenda is that it will appear 12 times a year.
The reason why I began this zine is to recognize the validity and importance of every human being on this planet. The articles written in the first issue, including this one, were completed in the beginning of the American-Iraqi war called Operation Iraqi Freedom. It’s tempting to say that in a time of war, it’s more important than ever to find a common thread of humanity. In reality, it was always important. Interconnectedness has the same value it always had, but relative peacetime tends to bring with it a spirit of indifference. With the exception of a small percentage that have always pursued interconnectedness, some people don’t feel the need to see things in a larger context when they believe their world is at peace. Their own world is busy enough.
Somehow in a war, interconnectedness is more apparent. You watch CNN and watch a missile crash near Baghdad and realize that it could be your city being hit. You see the mayor of New York City cut into regular programming explaining the steps he is taking against a potential terrorist threat, and his words don’t just sound like an emergency fire drill that will never happen, because you remember where you were when the World Trade Center fell on September 11, 2001. The rise of newfound patriotism seems to have sprouted up with the buds of springtime, creating with it the bonds of war. We’re all Americans, we’re in this together, we’re all British, we’ll unify in our cause. Bonding together in a time of crisis is nothing new at all; the twelve-step self-help groups thrive partly because of the commonality of experiencing the same disaster in their lives. It certainly provides a kind of camaraderie. The only problem with bonding on one sole characteristic, be it race, nationality, or a common disaster, is that it excludes anyone who is not lucky enough to be part of this elite group. It assumes that those outside the group is somehow, one some level, not to be trusted and must be kept at arms length.
To some extent, this makes sense; the American disaster of September 11 meant something different to a man in Cameroon who heard about it on the Internet than a woman in Massachusetts who lost her childhood friend on one of the planes. Though September 11, 2001 saw people of many nations losing their lives, it was seen and experienced as mostly an American tragedy. Therefore, it is natural and logical that Americans would want to bond together after this situation. They could find rapport with each other, while other nations could only provide sympathy and empathy. It would only seem logical to see someone who is outside the context of the situation to be somewhat “other”.
There is a dark side in this thinking. The perceived “other” could slide from sympathetic outsider, to a nonentity, and then to an outright enemy; just by a change in perception. Already, in the United States, a typical war pattern has ensued: now that we are at war, we must all show a united front against the “enemy”. The “enemy” in September 2001 was Afghanistan, and in 2003 it is now Iraq. But very quickly, the “other” who is fast becoming the enemy is anyone who breaks camp from the war chant. Various rhetoric are used to counter any debate against the war and those who protest it: dissenters “don’t know what they are talking about”, they are “un-American” or they are “feeding Saddam’s propaganda machine”. They are told they are disrespectful to the men and women risking their lives fighting the battles overseas. On some level, it seems that the objective is to shame these dissenters into recanting their beliefs, and to ostracize them until they do. If history is any indication, this hard-line thinking will only increase the resolve of the antiwar crowd.
All this opposition to others’ beliefs seems to have done nothing but create schisms within the “American” identity: those who support the war on one side, those against it on the other. In the middle is the vast silent majority who are more concerned with paying their bills and keeping their kids off of drugs milling about in an invisible mass. They just hope that the war will be over so they don’t have to worry about a draft and not seeing their kids anymore. The antiwar and pro-war groups suddenly notice these huge cluster. They get together for a short time, and lament this mass indifference. But the minute a bomb goes off in Baghdad, it’s back to the respective camps again; their common barrier of fighting against indifference blown to pieces.
A bond based on a single commonality can only go so far. There must be some other way to resolve differences. But what is it?
That is what this zine hopes to explore, but most likely won’t answer, considering that many times what seems to be the answer to this question may seem unrealistic or unpalatable. A pat answer that we are all human beings created by one God seems insulting. An American might feel insulted that Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden was crafted with the same loving care that was put into making him or her. A Palestinian may feel that way about Ariel Sharon. A woman anywhere in the world might feel that way about her ex-husband, and vice versa. How could one prove to these people that their common bond is a loving God that loves them all equally? Or tell them that deep in their hearts they all want the same thing? If everyone really wanted the same things, wouldn’t getting along be a whole lot easier than it seems to be?
Some people have answered this question by saying God has deserted some people and just is not present in some areas. This makes sense on some level, to describe what could be construed as “evil”. The problem with this is that each camp claims God for himself, and evil turns out to be a relative word.
What if God, however you may define that term, is present in all things and people? Eastern religions have been famous for threading all of existence together in their thought patterns. How would it be, that even in this chaotic existence that seems so rife with destruction and obliteration, a higher source was omnipresent to it all? If that is true, how does one rectify the fact that all this evil is taking place in a scenario overseen by perfect divine and infinite love?
Maybe the only way to believe that love is overriding all things is to look for it, no matter what the encounter is. Viktor Frankl was one of the great modern examples of this. Despite surviving the concentration camps and the extermination of his family in World War II, Frankl resolved to live a life of love and peace. He decided not to let evil pervade the filter in which he saw his life. It takes a lot of conscious effort to do this, but it is possible.
I believe that on some level, each person in the human family is looking for the same things. Oprah Winfrey has said that all people seek validation. I believe that, as well as the idea that people are striving for their highest self. Maybe many people are receiving misdirection, but all the actions of people lead to a need for autonomy and self-direction, and a belief that they were created for a purpose. All people want to matter.
This is what I hope to cover in the articles I write. The aim of all the articles included in the zine will is to show how similar we are despite our differences.
Not all of the writings are religious querying. The essays featured will cover sports, politics, the arts, health, and many other topics. These subjects are part of the universal nature of humanity, and if God is present everywhere, God is present in all of these aspects as well. Even in an Eminem CD.
Welcome to the church of the streets. Higher consciousness is everywhere, if you look for it.