My country's culture is sick: it is wounded, sometimes toxic and often infected with fear. Our preferred solution to almost any problem is violence whether that involves the "war on poverty or drugs" or our "fight" against cancer. Mostly what we Americans know how to do is overpower and destroy those things, people, places, events and realities that cause us pain or get in our way. It was easy to pretend this wasn't so when the destruction took place on the margin of society - or the so-called frontier - but now it is mainstream and we're killing ourselves.
There is another part of my country's culture, too - it is all about equality and finding common ground - but it has mostly been banished to shadows. It is feared and not trusted. So two thoughts haunt me tonight:
+ First, it will get worse before it gets better. That is why I am more certain than ever before that nourishing a small, tender, quiet and creative counter-cultural alternative in our faith community is part of the antidote to my culture's violence and fear. For me, doing church is pre-figurative - it tries to live into a new reality while being fully present to this moment in history - for as the Taize brothers used to say: It is a little bit of Christ's festival of grace amidst the suffering. And while what we do is always imperfect and broken, committing ourselves to the values and sustained practice of gathering beyond our isolation, reflecting on God's presence in our real lives, sharing acts of compassion and working for justice in peace is one way to bring healing and hope in these dark times. It always has been.
Sometimes people ask me, "Why are you so committed to your musical events?" Or why do you care so much about bringing people together for potluck feasts? Why do you saturate the Sanctuary with art? Or invite people to make music and sing together whenever we gather? Because we need to feel the change within us - we need to BE the change we are hoping for - and it starts within not beyond. Art, music, prayer, silence, beauty, feasting and community are all embodied encountered with grace. And so... things like Thanksgiving Eve or Fat Tuesday - or Sunday morning - or midweek Eucharist are all ways of meeting hope and revival at our most basic level.
+ Second, our people are weeping for a radical encounter with the gratuitous grace of beauty. Popular culture is filled with zombies and vampires - the half-dead aching for life. M. Craig Barnes puts it like this: "The primary symptom of a soul that has become sick is that it becomes blind to the poetry of life. This is not only because it can no longer see the beauty of the small miracles that fill a day, or that it has become so crazed with strategies that it can no longer enjoy the mystery of life's unfolding drama, but also because the soul has settled into its disappointments, which has left it angry."
And there is so much anger all around us - for a variety of good reasons - and a lot of bad ones, too. Wade M. Page, the Wisconsin shooter, was livid - and afraid of people he did not understand or trust. And like most Americans, he didn't have much experience in building bridges or going deeper in trust. Who knows the effects of his PTSD, too? So he fed his anger with neo-Nazi hate songs and then acted with an automatic handgun to obliterate people he considered to be a problem."The problem with anger," Barnes continues, "is that it makes us lose interest in the blessings of life... We obsess over it and become intoxicated with the hurt we feel until it makes us sick."
That is why I am dedicated to opposing the fear, hatred and anger with beauty. It is my deepest conviction that only artists can touch what hurts in a sick soul in ways that might move us from intoxication towards sobriety. Not rhetoric. Not agitation. Not even organizing. For unless the soul knows it is loved - opened to the light of grace - we always remain addicted to our wounds.
The mission of people of faith is to help us all "define life by something other than disappointment, anger and victimization." This begins with beauty. This includes healing our civic culture. This means living into alternatives that are more creative than the destruction and more satisfying than the violence.
And little by little - from the Occupy prophets and ordinary citizens who can no longer tolerate the "Wal-Martization" of our towns to those whose hearts and families have been broken by the killing and fear - something is being awakened in the American soul. It isn't ripe yet and will take a long, long time time to bear fruit, but if not now... when?
(Thank you to my friend Philomenia for sharing some stunning art work on her blog of late for I borrowed it. Check her out @ http://blueeyedennis-siempre.blogspot.com/)
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