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Friday, September 05, 2014

just get over it

A few weeks ago I arrived in Scotland in the middle of the Fringe Festival - a super-enormous art/music/drama/more street festival (claims to be the largest in the world!) that sprawls all over downtown Edinburgh for the month of August. After meeting my host, Michael Mair, and dropping my bags off at his home, we ventured back into the city to take in a bit of the festival.

After surveying some of the options listed at the "Half-Price Hut" and the phone-book size listing of shows for the month (unfortunately listed alphabetically instead of by time/location) and the phone app (more helpfully by time/location, but with a spotty connection), we settled on a show called "The Onion of Bigotry" that was showing at St. John's Episcopal as part of their corner on the festival, sub-titled the Just Festival. Just about every public open area had Fringe acts and just about every church, club, building with any group meeting space had Fringe acts. St. John's had decided to offer their sanctuary space, but line up shows that were all justice-oriented.  Check out this packed calender for only the St. John's venue during August!

Photo by Sandrine Cazalet
We watched The Onion of Bigotry, a dramatic-musical survey by the John and Gerry Kielty of political and religious sectarianism in England and Scotland over the last 500 years. Anticipating something much more depressing and somber, it was actually a respectful (and delightfully enjoyable?!; semi-Monty Python-esque) race through a significant amount of upheaval, intrigue, and fighting. Four actors, without set or even many props, represented historical figures as well as the Catholic or Protestant Church, and any other number of people and entities. It was an ingenious crash-course in that regions stake in Western European history. As one reviewer said, "This would be brilliant as a presentation to school-children of any age." (I'd agree, including adults of any age!)

BUT... having created so much education and buy-in to their presentation, the clever group got to the end and asked this question: "What shall we do?" And the answer: Just get over it.

It was cute; people sang along to the final song by that name. We left entertained and captivated. But as Michael and I rode the bus back out to his house and I began to process, I thought, "What an unhelpful and disappointing answer to a very important question raised after such a well-done education and engagement with a group of people!"  I've heard that line quipped by friends on both sides of an intense issue: "Why don't they just get over it!" The sub-text is either "their position is so ridiculous that surely they will come to their senses and just let that pointless view go"; OR, "the whole argument is so ridiculous that surely we just need a grown-up to come tell these kids to move along." The latter is the sense I got. These artists had summarized the whole era of political and religious fighting and were saying, "We're more enlightened than that now; just move along."

What "just get over it" misses - and to me this is a critical miss - is that NO ONE just gets over something, not an emotionally-charged stance, not a wounded-response counteraction, not an adult OR childlike opinion, not grief or loss, and especially not a deeply held conviction. In each case, feelings must be confronted or reconciliation sought or forgiveness extended or beliefs examined. And that kind of work is necessary and difficult, especially in relationship (close or broken) with another. I would even go so far as to suggest that "just get over it" creates barriers, animosity, and hurt rather than removing them!

The kind of questions and actions that invite real change (interesting that we are back to change) are ones like these:
  • Can we get together and talk? I'd like to understand your beliefs and viewpoint better.
  • How did you arrive at your position? Do you ever feel misunderstood?
  • Would you be willing to hear another viewpoint and help that person clarify any misunderstandings between you?
  • Are there things we can agree on and do together despite our disagreement on _____?
Just a start... it's not a magic formula and it's not easy. But I believe it's a far better approach than "just get over it." A few years ago, when folks in my home state (and congregation) were debating a controversial amendment to be voted upon, I wrote this: listening and understanding the other deepens community, and that is of benefit to everyone. (more)

While I appreciate the education and information I took away from The Onion of Bigotry, I think there was a real missed opportunity to challenge listeners to something more than "just get over it."

Addendum: prompted by good feedback in the comments

A completely different illustration comes to mind: someone facing an obstacle (something to get over). If I laugh at them, yell at them, ignore them, (get the crowd to sing a song about them!), etc.. - it doesn't help and may hinder. If I actually go with, push up, pull up, lead around, (pray for!), or remove the obstacle - literally or figuratively... that's helpful and relational and community building.

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