Living in This World

The Good Place

We’ve had the date on the calendar for weeks. Tonight is the season premiere of the first show I’ve considered appointment television in many years. My family was late to “The Good Place,” but caught up about midway through last season. The show began its first episode with Eleanor (played by Kristen Bell) opening her eyes and learning she has died and is in The Good Place, but we quickly learn that she knows very well she doesn’t belong there.

The basis for this exploration of the afterlife is not religion. As Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of Bell’s Good Place neighborhood, tells her, no religion got it all right, but “every religion guessed about 5%.” Instead, the show explores moral philosophy – yes, it’s a comedy, but with content – and how some scholars have explained what makes our actions good or bad.

The show’s creator, Mike Schur, imagined a point system while stuck in Los Angeles traffic…

A screenshot from Michael’s explanation of the points system.

…and from there he built the concept of the show. (Don’t use “Facebook” as a verb, for instance; it’s -5.55.) The point system mostly revolves around the things we do in relationship to other people; it’s about consideration, respect, and awareness.

Or as Jesus put it,

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.“ (Matthew 7:12, NRSV)

Eleanor is pretty terrible, selfish and defensive and crass and injured and broken. Would she have been different with even so much as a nudge toward goodness?

I hope I’m aware when I get a nudge, but most of the time I fear I am even more aware of the people I think could use a nudge. I wonder why they don’t pay attention to guidance that seems so obvious to me. I resent that many of those people call themselves Christian while committing what I perceive as acts of destruction. And it’s just not satisfying to think they might end up with a negative score. I want something to happen now.

How do we avoid despair? Humor helps, I believe, and knowing there are some people who think it matters how we treat each other, and how we treat the world. Still, we could use some help.

Jesus, be a nudge.

Originally written for the RevGals Weekly e-Reader.

Living in This World, Politics, Privilege, The Inner Landscape

Ferocious Humility

I note that the Left is, as we have come to expect, engaged in self-destructive internal wrangling, complete with name-calling and finger-pointing. We are not “on message” because that is not part of our DNA. We disparage the people who offer support to each other on the Right; their lockstep smacks of collusion.

Some voices say that we cannot afford to be so hard on each other in a time when there are forces we must resist, but I would amend that.

We cannot afford to forget each other in a time when there are forces we must resist. We must remember that there are life experiences and points of view different from our own, open conversation instead of assuming it will arise, invite relationship instead of taking it for granted.

The responsibility to act – to remember, to open, to invite – always lies with those of us who benefit from privilege, whether it derives from our race, our level of education, our economic advantage, our orientation, our gender identity, our ability, or our religious identification.

ferocious-humilityWhere can you open a conversation? It’s harder when, admittedly, we’re not all the same. We need to take the time to listen more closely, to ask and answer questions that may seem obvious but (maybe) are not, to be humble rather than defensive when we get things wrong, to commit to inviting new relationships, to be ferocious in our commitment to the greater good.

We all need to cultivate ferocious humility. 


America, Living in This World

Keep taking risks

Yesterday I saw a boy climbing a tree in the neighboring yard behind MPC’s Youth Center. He settled against the slender trunk of what is no more than a sapling, and he began to stare at Teddy and me.

He was holding a gun.

He held it up and pointed at something, not us, but to say it was disconcerting is an understatement.

He looked about 12. I reminded myself that I am an adult, that not everyone grows up in the kind of gun-free household that has been my experience, even that there has been a hawk in the neighborhood.

Teddy stood holding a ball in his mouth, staring back at the boy, silent and still.

“What are you planning to shoot at?” I asked.


“What are you planning to shoot at?”

“I’m not planning to shoot anyone.”

(Please note the rhetorical shift.)

“What kind of gun is that?”

“It’s an ‘airsoft.’ It’s harmless.”

Approximate representation

He continued to watch us, and to adjust his “harmless” weapon, while I Googled “airsoft” and tried to remember what an air gun can do.

This one was shaped like an automatic weapon.

He climbed down about the same time Kathryn arrived to meet us, and a few minutes later he returned to the backyard with his mom. He climbed back up; she passed something to him.

This one was the size and shape of a handgun.

As I said, I first thought the boy might be watching for the neighborhood hawk. I tried to take a picture of it last week, perched on the branch of a tree in the side yard of the Youth Center. When we walked Teddy in the afternoon earlier this week, the same hawk flew out of a tree close to our heads, carrying a squirrel off across the street, still hanging low as it flew over the church parking lot and beyond.

The next months and years will be full of such moments writ large, I think. The people in positions of power will sit in their trees, displaying their own threatening weapons: legislation, social influence, private funding, and an amoral lack of care for those deemed less than. And the very few who are most clever at finding an advantage for themselves will fly off like the hawk.

The rest of us will, I hope, react to stimuli, pull back and evaluate, determine actual danger, then figure out how to respond and resist. It may be tempting for those who can pass as part of the power structure to go about their business, to smile and pretend no actual bad things are happening.

Do not give in to the urge. Keep asking questions. Keep seeking answers. Keep taking risks.