The things we never outgrow.
A friend of mine, a teacher, has been telling me about her efforts to ready her third, fourth, and fifth grade students for a pint-size production of The Music Man. Things aren't going well.
As enthusiastic as the children were to put on the musical-as excited as they were about trying out for featured parts, putting on costumes, and practicing the dances-the bloom is off the rose, now that it all comes down to actually memorizing lines, hitting marks, and, especially, emoting. Several of the parts call for outsized performances, and some players are feeling self-conscious.
You remember. What if I go big – step out – say the line – and: nothing? What if I'm standing there, flushing scarlet, as people look at each other and whisper, "Did he really say that? What a fool! Wayyy over the top." Better to just say the line as quietly, non-commitally as possible, and let the show roll on. Being "okay," even being "bad," is better than being embarrassed.
"Whatever you do, be cool," the kids tell themselves, and each other-just as we told ourselves, and our peers, at that age. You can't be cool if you stand out from the crowd. Rule No. 1 for being cool is: blend in. Makes it hard to teach showmanship. Or courage, for that matter.
That's what my teacher friend's plight makes me think of, as I watch the manufactured groundswell of public support for redefining marriage. I say "manufactured" because the big new media / political / intellectual show on this issue, like any well-rehearsed performance, invites the audience to suspend their beliefs and buy completely into the premise of the plot ... however fast and loose the drama may play with the realities of life and history.
Early reviews have been deceptively enthusiastic. Despite what studies have long shown, and what voting in polling booths in 35 different states have significantly revealed-that most Americans still believe marriage should be between one man and one woman-some change began to seep in with the last elections. Pop cultural and political pressures that have been building for years suddenly erupted in one massive, full-on, coast-to-coast promotional campaign, with seemingly "everybody who's anybody" in line to make a commercial or call a press conference or do an interview that suggests they've "always supported" matrimony for same-sex couples.
To favor this fundamental change in the most basic of human institutions … this seismic shift in every legal precedent from every corner of the globe … this complete reversal of every traditional understanding of right and wrong as established in every culture and society in human history … is now, officially, "cool." And to oppose it is very much otherwise.
If recent events, elections, and polling data tell us anything, it's that a lot of people are confused. The economy is in free fall, the culture's a cesspool, and society is caught in a hurricane of political crosswinds and upheavals. Most people are tired, worried, and deeply unsure of who we are and where we're going as a country.
But one thing everybody knows, whatever their political or religious persuasion: they want to blend in. They don't want the "audience" – their family, their friends, their co-workers, even strangers – to look at each other and whisper, "Did he really say that? What a fool! Wayyy over the top." No matter how old we get, no matter how secure or successful we become, for many of us, nothing ever takes the place of being "cool."
Is same-sex marriage "cool?" That's what the "cool kids" tell us. It's up there now with smoking, nose-rings, vampire romances, and holes in your blue jeans. Unfortunately, it also wreaks havoc on the home, shatters the social structure, confuses children, and corrupts the culture. History shows that no society has ever indulged it and long survived. Which is probably why it is so clearly and strongly discouraged by the God Who created men and women, marriage and sex for His own purposes. And why those purposes have never altered to accommodate current fashions.
But then God, of course, is not cool, and never has been. And moral conventions have always been so … conventional. Neither plays well against the standards constantly being revised by Hollywood and political opportunists. Neither is easily explained to, or widely respected by, our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our grandchildren, so many of whom are now embracing the hot, cool cause of redefining marriage.
Do we really want to not "blend in" with our neighbors? Do we really want to be seen as denying our loved ones whatever kind of "love" makes them happy? Do we really want the brutally negative attention that comes to churches, or candidates, or companies-or Supreme Court justices-who stand out by standing up for what no one is willing to stand for?
Better to blend in. Redefining marriage is the latest wave, and the lemmings are now in a mad rush to the sea. Being bad is so much better than being embarrassed.
The things we never outgrow. "All the world's a stage," Shakespeare said, "and all the men and women merely players." A surprising number of us have stage fright.