Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 13, 2021 - Fantasizing Vandalism

I have been fantasizing about committing vandalism lately. I know I won’t actually do it. But I really, really want to. 

Growing up is complicated. If only that process ever ended. Much to our chagrin, we are learning from cradle to grave. We are learning and expanding throughout our entire lives. Day by day discovering where we have either been misinformed, ill-advised, generally mistaken, or ignorant altogether. It’s a lot of work.

We also face an inner conflict between our baser human reactions and our higher-minded intentional responses. Sometimes we kick when we should have caressed. That is the purview of spiritual practices. Little bits of advice on how to enhance our inner calm so that we may share that sense of calm with others. 

Progress of any kind does not occur in a straight line. I’d really love to think that as a religious and spiritual academic who works quite hard to practice what he preaches, I would be above things like fantasizing about vandalism. But I have to confess I am not. 

The other day I drove past a house in a town near to mine. I pass by that house fairly frequently and have taken note of their political affiliations as displayed upon their front lawn. 

Their views are strongly different than mine. And while that is challenging, I certainly agree with their right to have their own viewpoint. However, their style of displaying it seems particularly targeted not for the purpose of promoting their candidate as much as attacking anyone who doesn’t agree. This is not in my imagination, but at the time I thought it might be. 

Two days ago, I drove past that house to find a new addition to their display. A brand new confederate flag. 

I couldn’t help but need to deliberately walk myself through the reasons why not to commit vandalism. I imagined everything from quietly taking it down during the night to setting it on fire. Not my finest moment. But it’s real. I’m certainly not the only otherwise non-violent person who has felt this way.

Perhaps people think a minister should be above such thoughts. Bull. As much time as I spend on introspection and examining these ideas, I’m still very much human. I struggled with how I should respond to my feelings about seeing that flag newly displayed this week. Especially considering that we are in such a racially divisive time, their message is clear.

As I often like to do, I talked about it with my staff. Three very wise women whose advice I am committed to following at all times. I confessed to them that I didn’t know how to respond, but that I wanted to do very unministerial things. I told them that I fantasized about vandalizing it. I told them that I wanted to take pictures of it and post it on online for everyone to… what, exactly? 

Even as I said it I could already hear the advice they might give me and I was mostly right. What’s the point? Especially if my goal would be to try to change the mind of the person who displayed the flag in the first place, what’s the point? My actions will not change their mind or heart.

Strangely, it hadn’t occurred to me that my point was to change that person‘s mind, but to acknowledge the existence of such things which still pervade this world. I didn’t want to talk to that person, I wanted to talk to everybody else. 

But obviously vandalism isn’t the answer, as supportive as I might be of the destruction and removal of public monuments intended to glorify racism in this country and elsewhere. This was a person's private property and they were exercising their First Amendment rights. 

And publicly posting photos only creates more animosity, not less; which cannot be my goal. My goal is to unify. My job is to find and highlight pathways of accomplishing it.

What do we do with our rage about this time we are in? It’s not just about being disagreed with. It’s more than that. It’s that our deepest ideologies and principles are being contrasted and compared right now, and with grave consequences. Is this what the battle of light versus dark looks like? 

Spiritual teachers have had some input on this subject. When you look at their advice, you start to get a picture of what their overall goal might have been. It is always about getting along. It’s always about improving one of four relationships: with other people, with the earth, with the self, and with a higher power. 

The point ultimately is that it’s all about relationship. Imagining it, creating it, fostering it, defending it. It is never about ending, destroying, or preventing it. It is never about making a point to alienate.

Of course every religion has a line or two in their scriptures which displays a recommendation to ostracize those who oppose or offend you. Even Christianity will tell you that it’s a good idea to cut your hand off if it offends you. That’s not to say it’s an appropriate interpretation of the line, but it is vulnerable to such misuse.

I guess that’s the point, really. It’s too easy for us to misuse our spiritual texts by picking and choosing the lines which resonate most with our fear. But that is not what the masters taught. They all taught unity. 

So ultimately I decided against burning down that flag pole with the confederate flag on it. Good call. And I decided against posting photos of it online either. I openly state here that I defend their right to display it on their own private property, despite my intense personal disgust. I would hope for the same from them about their likely intense personal disgust for me. That’s not carte blanche to display anything they want, but the flag represents nothing more than an opinion. And I can tolerate that. Their opinion has no power of its own.

So I talk about it here with you. Because I don’t always know what to do either. And I sometimes wonder how to channel my discomfort. Oh, let’s just call it what it is. Rage. Yet we should never act from our rage. Better to maintain anger with integrity. Rage has no capacity for rational thought or action. It makes us do stupid things. Like vandalism. Or public shaming.

I know there are those who think these strategies are the only way they’ll ever hear. And on some practical level that’s probably true. But then that becomes the constellation under which any forward growth occurs and will eventually need to be apologized for later. Better to stick to your principles even when it doesn’t feel like it gets us very far. That is and has always only ever been the surest way forward for all. 

Pray for those who disagree with you. Wish well upon all who hate you. Give even your birthday wish to any whom you disrespect. Wish them all a measure of peace and ease, and you will better know it for yourself.


  1. Sorry Wil.I really cant accept this post for posting in the Spiritual Path group. Too much politics mentioned and as we all are well aware, politics and religion are two subjects which in no way may be discussed.But everyone has a right to either keep their views private or let them out. And that is what should be considered first. After all, their flag is on their property.That is why destroying would never be considered anything else but vandalism.

    1. Of course I accept your position with regard to whether or not it feels suitable for your page. However, it’s important to note that spirituality is meant to give us a basis for coping with aspects of non-spiritual life. My spirituality teaches me how to interact with politics in a way that contributes to solutions rather than the problems. That is the basis for why I include politics in my spiritual writings. Because they weigh so heavily on our hearts and what else have we but spirituality and spiritual life practices to cope with them?