Who is My Neighbor?

Wow. I know it’s cliche to start off a conversation with the weather, but if you live in the greater Philadelphia region, the past week has been absolutely extraordinary. Mid 70’s and sunny all week. This is the kind of weather that makes you want to eat/drink something with pumpkin in it. Not only has the weather been perfect, but the Phillies have found a way to make the wild-card race interesting. Meanwhile all the little kids are off to school, we old kids are back to our fancy overly expensive schools, and wedding season is coming to a close.

What a spectacular time of the year.

Unless you watch the news and/or listen to talk radio.

In that case, everything is the worst and we are all about to die.

Election season is in full swing, buckos and with that comes as much hatred, acrimony, and finger-pointing as you can handle. It’s like an all you can eat buffet of madness. This election feels a little like a perfect storm to me. I was listening to the first season of This American Life from 1995 and they were talking about this new GOP strategy that Newt Gingrich was championing. Basically, the point was the make your opponent seem SO terrible so as to polarize as many voters as possible. He thought that this would help create a strong base and bring in the undecided independent folks.

What a difference a few decades makes. Here we are in 2012 seeing the logical conclusion of that kind of intentionally divisive strategy. I cringe whenever politics gets brought up around friends or family because I really don’t want to get into it with people. I won’t get into to it here either because I think that neither major candidate speaks for me, but I do want to talk a little about unity.

As I’m sure that most of you have heard, four Americans were killed in Libya this week after a group of radical Muslims stormed the embassy over a poorly made movie that depicted Mohammed as a murderous, manipulative, pedophile of a false prophet. The film was in no way representative of the views of the consulate or even of the majority of Americans, but the lines that divide us often seem bolder and straighter than they really are, and tragedies like this continue happening. Meanwhile in bizzaro campaigning land, both candidates have tried to use this tragedy to strengthen their position and weaken their opponents. I’m sorry, but that level of divisiveness makes me sick to my stomach. The subliminal racism of the Tea Party, the degrading elitism of the liberal media, the covert colonialism of the middle east, and the dehumanization of a war fought with drones. Meanwhile, there are still kids being bullied for being gay, women being sold into slavery like cattle, and people being abused for simply looking different than someone else.

I need to take a breath. This is all too heavy and I feel myself drawing very definite “us vs them” camps. Even in my inclusivity, I can already feel myself lumping all those who are not open-minded into a single group as if they all had a single mind shared between them. No. We need a new perspective.

In 1971, Edgar Mitchell stood on the face of the moon, looked back on that blue marble from whence he came, and had a change of heart. He later wrote about it, saying, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

If you watch videos from the International Space Station, you will notice that there are no dotted lines across the Earth. There are no tiny stars where capitals are. The name of the country is not emblazoned across its soil, and the only evidence that we even exist are the massive amount of lights we created and a few oil slicks that still litter the seas. Have you seen pictures of the Earth from the Voyager spacecrafts that are now almost out of the solar system? Earth is nothing but a pale, blue dot suspended in a sea of nothingness. Look up at night and look at the sea of stars above you. From their perspective, our sun is nothing but a tiny dot in an endless expanse of twinkling lights. How much smaller is our tiny blue rock?! How much smaller is my country? My state? My city? My block? My house? My room? Me? I am nothing in the scale of creation. Our differences are basically meaningless.

If you were to take DNA samples from me, a Muslim woman from Egypt, a Hindu child from India, an Atheist at Harvard, my dog, a panda, and a killer whale, the differences would be minimal! In fact, if you were given the DNA without knowing where they came from, someone from another planet might think they were just variants of the same species. I talk about carbon a lot in this blog, but seriously folks, if you understand that we are all made of carbon that came from exploding stars and has been a part of trillions of living creatures and you STILL can’t get along with your neighbor, then you aren’t paying attention! Every cell in your body will have died, fallen off, and been made a part of a different living creature every seven years. That means that you are a completely different person than you were seven years ago. Your cells once belonged to cows, grass, birds, bugs, and other people. What a profound slap in the face to all the racial supremacists out there. Their own bodies are comprised of cells that were almost certainly a part of another human of the race that they hate.

And if our bodies are completely regenerated every seven years, who are we? I have had a similar face for my entire life, but it is not the same face. It is made of completely different pieces. Am I my collected memories, feelings, and personality? Those are the result of squishy grey matter in my skull. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, and personalities are just electrical impulses and chemical reactions.

How splendid!

We are not as unique and amazing as we like to think. God’s love makes us special, but we are not gods within ourselves. Our cities and monuments do not make us immortal. Truth be told, the life we see around us is just interestingly arranged star dust that we had no part in doing. If you were to take the entire history of the universe and cram it into a single calendar year, humans only come onto the scene with eight seconds left until midnight, and recorded history (3600 BC) begins with 13 nanoseconds left until midnight.

The world looks different when you are scientifically literate. Differences between humans seems less important and there is less reason to fight. The same is true for those who have experienced God’s love. If you truly believe that God loved us while we were bumbling idiots, it’s easier to love our fellow-idiots. If you have experienced God’s love AND you understand how insignificant we are in the cosmic scale, then you have no excuse but to love your neighbor and enjoy life in the face of the political absurdities around us.

Happy election season, friends. Go pet a puppy and enjoy yourselves.

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