Stand in the place where you live

Strong misgivings: Yossarian and the chaplain.

For the longest time, I didn’t have a quotation on my Facebook profile. This didn’t seem right. I’m all about words. I’m all about pithy expressions of one’s world view, yadda, yadda. (Although I fear that now that I no longer have the discipline of writing a weekly column, I’ve gotten somewhat lazy about it, hence the “yadda, yadda.”)

Loads of other people — people who were not overly thoughtful students of rhetoric, judging by the quotations they chose — had multiple quotations. They had all sorts of things they wanted to say — or rather, things they wanted to let other people say for them.

But the thing is, I like so MANY things that I read — one of my problems in reading books is that, as I read them, I follow people around reading great passages aloud to them (and a well-written book will have at least one such passage per page), which is why people avoid me when I’m reading books — that the idea of singling out one, or two, or even 10 such quotes just seemed too restrictive. I thought, What is that good that I’m willing to have it almost as a personal epitaph? People will see that and think this sums me up. What quotation is there that I like that much?

It would need to be semi-original (obviously, if it were entirely original, it wouldn’t be a quotation). It couldn’t be trite. I couldn’t have seen anyone else use it. It needed to say something I believe. And it needed to be something that has truly stuck with me over time, as opposed to, say, the funniest recent thing I’ve read on Twitter.

So one day it struck me that I should post this:

“I wouldn’t want to live without strong misgivings. Right, Chaplain?”
Yossarian, in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22

So I did.

And for the longest time, that stood alone, and I was satisfied to let it do so. I liked it on a number of levels. For instance, in a day when our politics are dominated by people who are SO DAMNED SURE they’re right and other people are wrong, it had a certain countercultural UnParty flavor to it. At the same time, it’s not an existential statement of doubt — the fact that he’s saying it to a chaplain, one who certainly believes in God (although in an unorthodox way, being an Anabaptist), anchors it in belief, but still expresses the idea that one should always be willing to question one’s assumptions.

It also said something I wanted others to know about me. Because I tend to argue whatever position I’m arguing rather tenaciously, even vociferously, people tend to think I’m inflexible. They’re wrong about this. I can usually think of all the reasons I might be wrong just as readily as they can, perhaps even more readily. (After all, one of the main steps in building an argument is imagining all the objections to it.) For instance, take our arguments over the Iraq War, or the debates I have with libertarians. My interlocutors think I’m a bloodthirsty war lover, and a rigid authoritarian. But I’m not, not really. I have a tendency to argue very insistently with your more radical libertarians because I think they go overboard, and that I have to pull REALLY HARD in the other direction to achieve any balance. And on the subject of the war, well… when you reach the conclusion that military action is necessary, and that action is initiated, I feel VERY strongly that you have to see it through, and that the time for debating whether to initiate it is long past. At least, that’s the way I saw the Iraq situation. That doesn’t mean I didn’t think there were viable arguments against it in the first place — I was just unpersuaded by them.

I suppose I could go on and on about why I like the quotation, but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about the fact that I thought that quote was sort of lonesome, so I added another today:

“Stand in the place where you live.”
R.E.M.

And here’s why I picked this one.

I’ve always had a beef with people who constantly tear down the place where they live. You know, the whiners who always want to be someplace else. The people who seem to think that if it’s local, it’s no good. These people are destructive. They’re not good neighbors to have.

You know that I’m a born critic, and I’m constantly expressing dissatisfaction with aspects of Columbia, or South Carolina. But I do it from a love of my home, and from a determination to make it better. If there’s something you don’t like about your home, you should be trying with all your might to make it better.

To me, this is a fundamental moral obligation. And like most true believers, I can find Scripture to back it up. Remember the passage that Nathan Ballentine came up with to encourage me when I got laid off? It was Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.

Well, when I looked that up, I found that I liked what preceded that just as much, the passage in which the prophet told the people not to whine about being in exile, but to affirmatively embrace the place where they were, and get on with life in it:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses to dwell in; plant gardens, and eat their fruits.
Take wives and beget sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. There you must increase in number, not decrease.
Promote the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare depends your own.

Let’s repeat that last:

Promote the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare depends your own.

Amen, I say unto you. Stand in the place where you live.

15 thoughts on “Stand in the place where you live

  1. Brad

    As for those who think the way they show love for their community is by NOT noting its faults, I quote MLK (this being his day): “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

    Reply
  2. Gillon

    Along with “Stand in the place where you live,” how about this one from one of my favorite human beings, Teddy Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

    Reply
  3. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Be the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

    I guess I’m really all about the Serenity Prayer–“God, grant me courage to change the things I can change, serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and wisdom to know the difference.” Most people I know could use more courage; I’m more short on serenity.

    Reply
  4. William Tucker

    “You know that I’m a born critic, and I’m constantly expressing dissatisfaction with aspects of Columbia, or South Carolina. ”

    This makes no sense, I thought you lived in Lexington.

    Reply
  5. Maude Lebowski

    I completely agree. I wish there was a way to imprint this on the consciousness of every single person currently living in the Midlands. Either work to improve the things you don’t like or move but for God’s sake stop whining.

    That is a great FB quote; I wish I’d thought of it first. 😉

    Reply
  6. Scout

    Maude said, “Either work to improve the things you don’t like or move but for God’s sake stop whining. ”

    I have a quote for that:

    “Stop stop talking about who’s to blame, when all that counts is how to change.” – James (they are a British band)

    I think that’s the one on my facebook page.

    I also like, “love all, trust a few, do wrong to none” – Shakespeare

    Reply
  7. bud

    I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.
    Mohandas Gandhi

    Reply
  8. bud

    Here’s a great place for bipartisan cooperation. Apparently the Tea Party budget hawks are in agreement with the liberal wing of the Democratic party on something. Here’s an excerpt from Buzzflash:

    GOP Rep. Campbell Wants ‘Huge’ Cuts To Defense Budget Beyond What Gates Proposes: ‘This Is Just The Beginning’

    Reply
  9. Brad

    Yep. As I’ve noted before, extremes often meet out there on the fringes. Pat Buchanan and Tom Hayden are brothers under the skin. (I’m reminded of the leftist professor my wife had in the early 70s, who announced that he was supporting George Wallace for president, because he would pull us out of foreign commitments, while the Congress would never go for his domestic agenda. Thought he was clever, that professor.) That’s why I think “left” and “right” are meaningless. I disagree with all of them.

    As for the Gandhi quote: If he’s right, then I expect Hitler and Tojo will bounce right back any minute now. You know, since violence doesn’t permanently solve anything.

    You know why nonviolence worked for Gandhi? Because he was up against the British in the mid 20th century. Had his adversaries been Nazi Germany, or China, or Iran under the Mullahs, he would have been dead, or thrown in a deep dark hole, so fast that you would never have heard of him.

    In other words, nonviolence worked because he was up against a liberal society. Which is why liberal democracy is a good thing, and… brace yourself… worth fighting for.

    But we digress (and I take full responsibility for leading us there). We were talking about taking positive responsibility for one’s community. And that’s an important topic, so I regret the digression…

    Reply
  10. bud

    I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.
    Mohandas Gandhi

    BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of police recruits on Tuesday, killing at least 52 people and undercutting Iraqi security efforts as the nation struggles to show it can protect itself without foreign help.

    So what is it exactly we were fighting for in Iraq? Dumbest damn war ever.

    Reply
  11. bud

    You know why nonviolence worked for Gandhi?

    Because it was the right thing to do. The British were hardly better than the Nazis. Their tactics were just a bit less brutal.

    Reply
  12. Mark Stewart

    “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right”.

    That’s the simpleton’s condensation of your Biblical quote – and my FB choice.

    I catch a fair amount of flak for it, though I’m still not sure who is misunderstanding who.

    The point is: Dig in and make a positive difference. Whining is fine, so long as it’s in pursuit of the general betterment. Too many people just want the place they live, like Columbia, to be some sort of unchanging backdrop. But it can never be that – unless we want it to atrophy into nothing. Dig in. Improve something. Enjoy the journey.

    Reply
  13. Phillip

    “Had his adversaries been Nazi Germany, or China, or Iran under the Mullahs, he would have been dead, or thrown in a deep dark hole, so fast that you would never have heard of him. In other words, nonviolence worked because he was up against a liberal society.”

    You seem to be rather casually dismissing the many prominent Chinese dissidents, including the fellow who just won the Nobel Prize. It’s also clear that there are a great many courageous Iranian dissidents, who are not necessarily taking a violent path themselves.

    Finally, you made this comment in the midst of the mass protests in Tunisia, not to say that there was a complete lack of violence, but primarily initiated there by police, and then the numerous examples of violence-to-self, in the form of the self-immolaters. One could not really call Tunisia a liberal democracy, and yet the protests are having a decisive impact, obviously.

    Reply

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