Well, it’s time once again to remember that our lives are direct, first-person, face-to-face when possible, and heart-to-heart.
I’m a writer. Like many people in this culture, I need someone to pay attention to what I do in order to succeed at my vocation.
So today, if I wanted to get people to pay attention, I could weigh in with all my profound or superficial opinions on a specfic few seconds of an awards ceremony last night.
There are important issues and even lessons from this event.
But I’m taking it as a reminder that we live our lives–our lives, not their lives–in arm’s reach. With people we know and care about. We spend our days encouraging and loving or discouraging and ignoring (see what I did there?) people we pass on the street, those we notice or disregard at the grocery store, in church, at the pick-up game, and in the office.
Who in your life is suffering domestic violence? Yes, there is someone. If you don’t know whom, that does not mean it isn’t happening. Statistically, it’s almost certainly happening to someone–sorry, turn that around, it’s almost certain that someone is abusing someone else within your sphere. It’s not “happening” passively.
Who in your life will experience racism today? Can you do anything about it? Can you help support them? Or, perhaps, take steps to stop commiting racisms yourself? Most of us are committing these daily, actively or passively.
I do not like identifying as “white,” and if you know me, you know I’m extremely partial to identifying with my Irish roots. Nonetheless, I’ve benefitted from my skin color, in more ways than I’m aware of, which I know because I’m now working to become aware and have seen things I once ignored. What can we do today, or this week or month, to stand with others who experience prejudice we do not? Not as “white saviors,” but as people who understand, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny. I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.”
Ableism is also something of which I have started to become aware and I’m admittedly late to this party. I’m 53, and the ugly truth of my youth is that we spoke horrible things about those with differing abilities. No, I’m not talking about “political correctness,” I’m talking about the love of Jesus that sees the value and belovedness of everyone and builds them up accordingly. Living by grace means we don’t seek out the things that elevate us above others as proof of our value nor feed our urge to tear others down. How can you affirm God’s love and blessing in those with different abilities than you have? How can you counter the cultural voice that tells people in your life that they are less valuable, less inherently lovable, because they have disabilities or genetic predispositions different than yours?
I can say with a (reasonably) clear conscience that I was earlier to the party in opposing sexism and misogyny and affirming equality of those created in God’s image. Yes, including the calling to preach and pastor, which I want to assert at every opportunity.
Of course, it helps to have married someone as mighty and steadfast as Kim. When I had my 15 minutes of fame, a podcast mentioned our hyphenated name with a comment implying we’d done something novel.* In a few weeks, Kim and I will celebrate 29 years married. Our son Corin is quick to point out that there is absolutely nothing remotely new or novel about us. I’ve had countless conversations about why we chose to hyphenate our last names, summarized thus: “the two shall become one, not the two shall become him.” That’s it. In truth, I was far more sexist when I got married and have learned more from Kim and from other mighty women in my life than I can describe–or even list–in a single blog post.
Do you hear sexist jokes in person, where you can speak up against them? More insidious, do you hear people’s off-hand comments denigrating women, fostering negative stereotypes, reinforcing that it’s “normal” to cut women down and belittle them? Or maybe you don’t hear them, but I promise the women in your life do. Ask them. Talk with them. Let them know you think those views are bullshit and you see them, not the stereotypes about them.
I find “celebrity culture“–especially our obsession with famous people, our cycles of glorifying and worshiping, then tearing down and reviling them–absolutely bizarre. Remember, it’s all part of someone making money. That doesn’t mean I never get caught up in it myself. I see someone play a role I love and admire and I catch myself hoping that the person depicting this part also has these qualities. Why do we like to see people–remember, these are actual flesh and blood people, like us–lifted up far higher than anyone should be and yet also enjoy seeing them plummet and crash?
I love books, movies, and shows. I profoundly appreciate the part artists play in our lives and even fancy myself an artist (almost breaking my fingers fighting myself not to add a self-deprecating derogative disclaimer here). But we as a culture are way out of balance with how important to our lives we’ve made people whom we do not–and will never–know personally. Our seeming glee in watching some of them self-destruct is just another layer of this unhealth. I might dig into that another time.
As always, I’m sharing my observations and thoughts; I invite you to consider how much this applies to you personally, if at all. I’ll stand by this assessment and provide evidence if necessary, though to me it seems so obvious with People magazine, Entertainment Tonight, and TMZ, not to mention what’s trending on social media every bloody day. But I’m not attacking anyone personally, and I’m not even attempting to delineate where healthy appreciation becomes unhealthy vicarious living.
I am saying that this specific incident, which will garner massive attention for the next two-to-five days, should not be as important to me as the people in my real (not vicarious) life, and if I’m worked up about the issues arguably related to this incident, sounding off about them will do less than acting on them for those same real people. The good I can see from paying attention to the hubbub–this or any other–is learning for the benefit of others.
I want to say clearly: some folks out there have insightful, convicting analyses of this altercation to which I’m referring. I’m not saying it’s unimportant; I’m reminding myself, and now you, that I’m not the authority to tell anyone what it means. However, the uproar over it spurs me to live my life well, and lovingly, Jesus help me, rather than live someone else’s.
PS In case someone still feels inclined to argue, “But Mike, don’t you care about violence?” again I’ll say, I’m not dismissing this incident as unimportant. I’m simply not claiming authority to hold forth on it. I care very much about violence: the violence occuring today against women and children, against Black people, against the LGBTQIA community, the violence perpetrated by Putin and the leaders of Russia against the people of Ukraine, the violence unleashed during the insurrection on The Capitol on January 6, 2021.
*Quoting from The Holy Post podcast, Episode 361:
“This is a piece that Relevant published written by Mike Rumley-Wells. Mike Rumley-Wells.”
“You like saying that.”
“Is that one, how is that–“
“No, hyphenated. ‘Rumley hyphen Wells.’ So apparently ‘Rumley’ is his maiden name. I don’t know.”
“No, it’s his mother’s.”
“I don’t know, or his wife’s. Maybe his wife’s name is ‘Wells?'”
“Maybe he took her name?”
“Yeah, I don’t know.”
“Anything goes these days.”
4 thoughts on “Living Our First-Person Lives”
Mike: Thanks for another thought-provoking message, and for talking about your hyphen – I love it! I’m glad you go by Mike, though, because ‘Michael Rumley-Wells’ sounds like an English aristocrat. By the way, if you want to compare Irish roots, I was actually born in Belfast in 1968, though we moved to London the next year when the Troubles started so I didn’t inherit my dad’s accent. My mother is English but had an uncanny way of picking up an Irish accent whenever we went back to see my dad’s family!
Wow. So the movie “Belfast” was bascially about you?
Well, it might have been if my family had spent a few more years there – we left when I was less than 2 years old. I often wonder how differently my life would have turned out had we stayed.
Well spoken Mike. This past year I have prayed and worked to be more aware and open to strangers and co workers in the path of my daily life. Opening my heart to the Holy Spirit’s direction and initiating conversation or interaction with those that I normally would just keep out of focus and walk by. Not everyone we encounter are we meant to interact with however when the holy spirit gives you that nudge, I struggle to be bold and follow through; overcome the fear. Always willing and looking for that opportunity to be the light unto him and the tools of his Spirit. This has weighed heavily on me recently.