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Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Mind of a Liberal

Earlier this summer I played in a summer festival orchestra. Being last chair in the second violins didn't exactly provide me with thrills, chills, and challenges, but it did provide me with something rather useful and necessary - money.

It also provided me with a fascinating glimpse of the inner workings of The Mind of a Liberal. Here are a few snapshots, for your education and edification:

A friend I hadn't seen in years sat right in front of me. He's a nice guy, and closer to my age than the 50-year-old twice-divorced women that made up most of the 2nd violin section, so we (along with three others that made up the "under 30's group") had a good time talking and goofing around. His bio in the season concert program proudly proclaimed that he is somehow involved with the Queer Arts and Artists Coalition, or something to that effect, at UCLA. (A family friend asked me at a concert intermission, "Maybe I'm still in the dark ages, but I thought it was an insult to call them queer?" "I think it's like the N-word for African Americans," I suggested. "If you're one of them, you can refer to each other that way and it's sort of a compliment. If you're an outsider and you use that word, watch out, because the Politically Correct Coalition Working For Openmindedness will come and get you." He nodded in enlightened agreement.) Might I add that this young man doesn't have to pay to attend UCLA; the "prestigious" Point Foundation gives him a scholarship because of his orientation. ("Hey Grandpa," I announced, shortly after discovering this fact, "I've found out a way to avoid taking out loans for school. All I have to do is boldly proclaim myself a long-repressed lesbian, and progressive organizations will pay for me to attend school! Then, when I've graduated, I'll send a nice thank-you note, with a P.S.: 'Just kidding about being a lesbian. Thanks for the money!' What do you think?" "I'd rather you didn't, doll," he replied with a laugh. "Don't put yourself in with those queers." Grandpa missed the memo about being Politically Correct.)

I went out to lunch with the second violin section one day, as part of a longstanding section tradition. Snippets of conversation drifted to my ears: "...oh, so I heard... well I hope he's faithful to HER..." "I heard she's getting married for the third time; she says she thinks this one will last..." (were the other ones just frolicsome flings, neither expected nor intended to last?) " %@#$ ex-husband..." "How's your girlfriend? How long have you been together now?" "Things are going well. It's been nine years now..." (NINE YEARS and no sign of commitment? Run away, sweetheart... he's a loser.) Finally Ann, a nice local violinist, announced quietly, "My husband and I have been happily married for 35 years..." This helped restore in me some basic optimism about mankind and marital bliss. Thank goodness for Ann.

The orchestra's artistic director asked me how my brother Jonathan has been doing. "Oh, he's doing very well," I replied. "He doesn't play the cello much anymore, but he's studying engineering out at a university in Texas, and he's really happy." "Texas?!" the director exclaimed, "They'll ruin him there! Too many conservatives and Republicans! Save him and bring him back here at once!" He was serious. So I learned that in a group of musicians, it's just assumed that you're left-leaning in your political and religious beliefs. It didn't even cross this man's mind that I might not share his beliefs. I could have been offended, but instead I just laughed it off later with my family. Jonathan laughed and said, "Yeah, all those horrible conservatives - I fit right in there!"

By the end of the two week festival, it was getting a little harder to laugh. I overheard numerous conversations ridiculing or even lashing out against every person, moral standard, and philosophical or religious belief I hold to be dear and good and true. I stopped going to the evening parties, stopped rubbing shoulders with my open-minded, wine-guzzling fellow musicians. I went home and thought nasty things about Democrats and People Who Are Open-Minded (open-minded, that is to say, about everything except Christianity and the possibility of absolute truth). I didn't disagree with anyone out loud or start any arguments; I've long since realized that it's futile to attempt to reason with people whose worldviews are so, well, vague. There's a hint of New Age mysticism surrounding most musicians, so it's not just that they're staunch Democrats, pro-choice, Bush-haters, gun-control supporters, and all-faiths-are-welcome-except-Christianity types; they like to say things like "I try to make every experience as real as possible... yesterday I spent some time contemplating how the ground beneath my feet was dirt..." "I feel so grounded today; I feel I've come to a new place..." and other such things that sound free-thinking but don't really mean anything. (Call me a cynic; if you can decipher these statements I'll hire you as a translator for my future entanglements in the world of music.) It's hopeless to try to tell someone "Actually, I'm a Christian," when they will most likely just reply, "Jesus was a good being." I might then say, borrowing from Lewis and many others, "He was either the Son of God or He was mad..." and they might answer, "He? That's a narrow perspective... I feel..." and so on and so forth.

Absolutes are so last millenium; did you miss that memo?

It's so inspirational to read Douglas Yeo's articles on being a Christian musician and reaching that sector of the world for Christ, but then I venture out into the "real world," and it all seems so... unreachable. The chasm is so wide. Our paradigms are on different pages; completely different books even. And my idealism sinks.

I'm buoyant. I'll try again.

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