Friday, October 15, 2010

A Tale Of Two "Better"s

By now, of course, you have seen the "viral video" of Joel Burns. On the off chance you are the last remaining person on the internet who has not seen it, here it is:

It is a remarkable speech. It took courage, but I doubt Councilman Burns felt he had any choice. To see the problem, as Burns did, and to do nothing, was not something he had in him. When the end of the year rolls around, and TIME magazine is fishing around for nominations for "Man of the Year", I hope they will remember Councilman Burns. His measured (if emotional) speech is one of the finest examples I have ever seen of what it means to be a good and moral person.

I am tempted to write more, but frankly, there are no superlatives strong enough to describe Burns's courage and goodness, and writing more would merely distract from his message.

But I am not writing to speak about Mr. Burns. I am writing about another man I respect, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, about whom I have written before. Bishop Robinson has also contributed to the "It gets better" project:

I am very glad that he has contributed; I respect him tremendously for this action. I know it has not been easy to walk the path he has walked, and that he is demonstrating bravery much like Councilman Burns. I do not mean to take away one bit of the true goodness I see in Bishop Robinson.

But listen to the two talks. Burns does not, to my recollection, mention god, not once. Robinson mentions god 14 times, repeating that "god loves you beyond your wildest imagining". Now, there are some very good aspects to Robinson't talk--for example, noting that not only does it get better, but that it is getting better; that views are changing, prejudices are diminishing, equality is, in his view, inevitable. And his position as a religious authority allows him a different approach than Burns can take.


"God loves you beyond your wildest imagining" is, when compared to the real world that features in Burns's speech, rather thin gruel. I was regularly beaten up as a kid; I hated it, and yet I know I did not go through a tenth of what either of these speakers did. My wildest imaginings might include going a whole month without getting jumped on the way home. Their wildest imaginings might include going a day, or a week, without a bruise, a cut, or a word that might be worse than either. Bishop Robinson's god, who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings, is letting kids die, at the hands of others or themselves. Councilman Burns's adults (whom he addresses, saying they we cannot stand by and let this abuse continue) are much more present than Robinson's god. They We contribute to the problem today, by our inaction; they we can contribute to its solution by our action.

Gene Robinson is a good man, a very good man. Joel Burns is a good man, and a model for the rest of us (at least in this--I don't wish to put him on a pedestal no man can live up to). The difference in their speeches is, in my humble opinion, the vapidity of religion.

If someone who "loves you beyond your wildest imaginings" neglects you in your suffering--and worse, contributes to it--it is time to end that relationship. And when you do...

It gets better.

No verse today. You want poetry? Listen to Councilman Burns's speech again.


Rhacodactylus said...

<<< *Applauds*


Clare said...


Sadly, I've seen negative comments out there saying life might not get better or attacking Dan Savage's opinions and behaviour. But whatever you think of the individual, he started a Good Thing and it is more than him now.

Joel Burns' talk was truly courageous and very moving. And I agree that it's up to us adults to work to make the world a place where it does get better and, indeed, to eventually make it a place where "it gets better" is no longer needed.

Joan said...

As the last remaining person on the Internet who had not seen this, I thank you. This heartbreaking and very personally emotional appeal should melt the hearts of the most hide-bound self-proclaimed ‘religious’ haters. Sadly we know it probably won’t. Apparently in all their zeal to quote scripture and damn everyone to hell, they forgot that one which says “Judge not lest ye be judged.” This has ironically come back to bite some televangelists who were dragged kicking and screaming from the closet.

This, of course is two issues. Bullying and gay bullying. Bullying and bigotry often go together, but sometimes the victim is just the weakest or not the most attractive in the herd and therefore fair game. Along with the messages to the victims to try to hang in there until their lives improve, there ought to be some stringent laws or school rules against bullying, many assemblies or informative talks about the problem, and a zero tolerance for intolerance policy by each school. The kid who is bullied is often unwilling to summon help because he is then considered both a wimp and a snitch, which is added agony. Parents are often forced to remove their children from school and move to another district or home school them. These options are not available to the average family. People who have some familiarity with the problem pretty much roundly cheered the outraged father who leaped on the school bus a few weeks back and basically threatened to take out anyone who bullied his handicapped child.

Of course the larger problem is that we still have laws against gays. It is difficult to prevent the kids from acting out in a society which still views gays as second class citizens who are gay by choice, and not by birth and are conviced they are somehow intent upon polluting the ‘sacred’ rite of marriage/and or the military.

Thanks again for the terrific posts. I hope I live to see it ‘get better’. .

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