My kids and I went to the Monterey Aquarium this last week. It is one of our favorite places to go and though it is not close (two and a half hour drive if there is no traffic, but when is there no traffic in the Bay Area?) we try to get there when we have a vacation space to do so. Most of our time on this trip was wonderful, but I found myself struck once more by the amazing sense of individual entitlement that I think has a lot to do with where we are now as a country and where we are heading.
The day we went to the Aquarium it was very crowded because it was over Christmas break. There were a lot of people packed into the space, and while many of them were "well-behaved", there were also a shocking number of folk who would do anything to make sure that they were ahead of everyone else, that they had the perfect spot, that their "rights" superseded the rights of those around them.
To give a very specific example: We especially love the otters. And there are several times a day when they have "feeding time" at the otter tank. Lots of folk cramped into the tight spaces in front of the glass windows. The trainer who talks to the crowds and explains what is going on said to the crowd at the beginning of the presentation, "We know that there are many of you, and we encourage you to look around and if there are children shorter than you, please let them stand in front of you so that they can see too." I was struck by the fact that this needed to be said. Does someone really have to TELL us to let children stand in front so they can see? To let children move to the front so that they are not blocked by our taller bodies? Shouldn't this care for others' education, this care for others' enrichment, this attention to the needs and desires of others, and especially children, just be part of who we are? But unfortunately this no longer seems to be part of who we are. And people no longer even seem to feel they need to pretend to care about other folk. Aislynn, my 4'9" kid, was trying to get to a spot she saw that was a little empty and she asked a woman, "Excuse me, can I please get by you?" This 5'10" woman snapped at Aislynn, "I'm standing here! This is MY spot!" Aislynn wasn't even trying to take her spot, but was simply trying to walk by her to another spot that she saw. This entitled and fearful woman didn't stop there. She literally shoved in front of Aislynn who stood there just incredulous. I was incredulous too. Is our sense of fear that someone will take away what we have, what we want, so strong that we see even a little child trying to look at an otter as so much of a threat that we have to push them behind us, in a public place, in front of everyone?
It feels to me that that is where we have moved as a country. We claim "Christian values" and yet we ignore the first call of that faith which includes loving our neighbors as ourselves. If we truly see the other as a person equal in importance, equal in needs, equal in value, then we will care about their well-being. We will not be so focused on our fear of not having enough, not getting what we want, trying to grab from others or block others getting what they want so there will be enough for ME; and instead we will be focused on the privilege we have to work towards the inclusion, the rights, the well-being of every one of our brothers and sisters. The times I experience grace, real grace, are the moments when I work for the well being of others. I don't need their acknowledgement or gratitude or even awareness. But in my own awareness that we are not different, we are the same; and what hurts you hurts me, and what slights you slights me, and what comes as a gift to you comes as a gift to me, and when you are doing well, I am doing better too - all of that awareness brings grace to me, brings life to me. We seem as a people to be more and more in the mode of grabbing our rights at the expense of others, of demanding what we want by pushing others out of the way (even children!!), of insisting that our wants are so much more important than others that we behave in ways that threaten to wipe us out as a people. We have to get beyond our prejudices, our racism, sexism, heterosexism, Islamophobia, anthropocentric world view...we have to get past the fear. We have to get past grabbing what we insist is ours instead of caring for "the least of these" in whom we find Christ again and again. We have to get over the word "mine" and instead start using the word "ours" in relation to everything. There is no "mine". Everything we have belongs to God and is entrusted into our care for us to share, and to be stewards over. It's very simple. And very clear.
We also have to have faith that there really is enough, and more than enough, for all of us. God is the God of abundance (look how much water was turned into wine!) after all! But if we insist on grabbing more than is our fair share, there won't be. So it has to start by sharing, and it has to end with sharing. For each and every one of us.
I realize how hard this is to do. I realized it as I watched this situation with my daughter at the Aquarium. I was too far away to interfere in that moment. But if I had been closer, it would have been impossible for me to not react to this woman's "grabbiness" by grabbing back. As she pushed in front of my daughter, it would have been all I could do to not shove her in response rather than talking calmly and clearly. But the more we are reactive, the more we demand our own, even in response to others doing the same; the more we respond with "an eye for an eye," the more we become part of creating the reality of an increasingly blinded world. There was a reason Jesus argued against that very passage and insisted instead that we respond to evil and anger and even violence with love. He is the one we are supposed to follow. If you insist on demanding your own rights over those of any other human being, if you insist on revenge thinking, if you insist on denying any other person food, water, shelter, love; if you choose fear and anger and hate over grace, forgiveness and love, then do not tell me you follow the Prince of Peace. Do not deceive yourself about what you really follow and what you really believe.
We have to get past our entitlement thinking. Just because we were born privileged does not mean we are entitled to that privilege. It is a gift to be shared, not one to be boasted of and kept to ourselves. Again, I realize our media, our culture, our current political situation claim otherwise. They teach us daily that what is mine is MINE, not to be shared, but to be guarded and hoarded with everything we have. But that is not the way of our faith. Our faith stories, all of them, teach us love instead. Again, we are all on this path, and getting there will be imperfect for each one of us. But we must try. The grace we will experience through that trying is the only thing that can save us.