Quiet reflections on July 4 2014...

A rainy and slow moving Fourth of July in the Berkshires: I have a cold, the dog is sleeping at my feet and I have more hot tea brewing. This is a hard holiday for me to celebrate this year. Normally, I love Independence Day - I take time to ponder the "dream" of America a la the poetry of Langston Hughes - and also prayerfully reflect on our failings. In my heart it is a somber and sacred time. 

But this year life in these United States seems terribly out of balance. The whole Hobby Lobby/Supreme Court debacle is not only bad news for women, men and children at this moment in history, but the implications of such a mean-spirited order suggests even more suffering and alienation for future generations. It is as if our obsession with free-markets has become the only vision viable for contemporary society. And while some would suggest that such flagrant selfishness is a sign that the old ways are starting to cave-in on themselves, I am not nearly so confident. Rather, my hunch is that we're in for yet another generation of wild social neglect. As the poet W.H. Auden wrote: "I and the public know/ What schoolchildren learn/ Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return."

There are, of course, other disturbing signs of the times that do not bode well for this present era, too. My nation is caught between a rock and a hard place in Iraq with no good options to consider. Throughout my part of the world we are experiencing an epidemic of heroin use with the concomitant tragedy of more and more deaths by overdose. A quick survey of popular culture suggests that just below the surface Americans are terrified of everything: think of the TV shows like the return of "24" - or our addiction to the zombie/vampire genre of "The Walking Dead," "Bitten," the upcoming "The Strain" or "True Blood" - to say nothing of the malevolence of "Orphan Black." Don't get me wrong, I enjoy some of these shows, but a clear theme of unmitigated fear is driving part of our entertainment industry. Could the same case be made for our movies, too? Hmmmm... "Godzilla," "Maleficent," "Edge of Tomorrow," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Sin City 2," "Dracula Untold," and the remake of "The Equalizer?" Yes, I think that case can be made here, too.

This grim reality, however, while needing authentic lamentation is not the end of the story. Perhaps for the first time in 50 years more and more Americans are open to an alternative to the fear and confusion of this generation. I trust in my heart that a more humble and joyful alternative is also gaining traction at this moment in time.

+ Pope Francis I put it like this in his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “We cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. . . Christians have the duty to proclaim the gospel without ex­cluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction."

+ Jim Wallis of Sojourners recently articulated this re: Iraq: America is stunned by what is happening in Iraq right now, and happening so quickly. We may be facing the worst terrorist threat to international security so far — despite all we have done and sacrificed. Both our political leaders and media pundits are admitting there are no good options for the U.S. now. But there is an option we could try for the first time: humility. Let me turn to two biblical texts that might provide some wisdom for both the religious and non-religious.
If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:20–21)  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
All nations use propaganda to tell half-truths and spread misinformation about their enemies, which should be honestly challenged. Even so, it is also true that we have real enemies in this world, as individuals, groups, and nations. To assume otherwise is foolish, from the perspective of history, certainly, but also in light of good theology about evil as part of the nature of the human condition. According to the Bible, even our faith communities will encounter enemies. Jesus’s teaching assumes that we will have enemies, and he teaches us how to treat them. In the passages above, Jesus and Paul the Apostle offer guidance for more effective ways of dealing with our enemies. It seems to be clear that our habit of going to war against them is increasingly ineffective. For the past several years, we have found ourselves in a constant state of war with “enemies” who are very hard to find or completely defeat. (read the whole article here: http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/06/27/iraq-humility-best-option)
+ And Parker Palmer posted these insights for Independence Day: As we Americans approach Independence Day — aka the Fourth of July — here's a modest proposal. How about adding an annual INTERdependence Day to remind us of something we seem in danger of forgetting: "We're all in this together!"
A society where that simple fact has been forgotten is not a society: it's a nightmare.
Of course, I value independence, national and personal. But I also value
collaboration because little that's good has ever been achieved without it. And if we did not take communal responsibility for one another, where would we be? I, for one, would be utterly lost without the many people who've invested time, energy and love in me — and without the many generations who cared enough for the common good to invest in such things as public schools.
Here's a poem I love that lifts up the common good, laments the ways in which we violate it, and reminds us that nature has much to teach us about interdependence and the good society:
by Julie Cadwallader-Staub
I am 52 years old, and have spent
truly the better part
of my life out-of-doors
but yesterday I heard a new sound above my head
a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward
I saw a flock of blackbirds
rounding a curve I didn't know was there
and the sound was simply all those wings
just feathers against air, against gravity
and such a beautiful winning
the whole flock taking a long, wide turn
as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
Oh if we lived only in human society
with its cruelty and fear
its apathy and exhaustion
what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being
here, in this curving and soaring world
so that when, every now and then, mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives
and when, even more rarely, we manage to unite and move together
toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it's meant to be.
These are genuinely hard times to celebrate America. They are also an important time to live more deeply into the promise and prayer of humility and compassion as a gentle alternative. There are so many among us who are truly hungry for the experience of living bread.


ddl said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
RJ said…
I am so very sorry for the depth of your pain right now. Lots of love and prayers from my heart to yours...
Peter said…
I saw Maleficent with my daughter and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the film is about how fear and greed distort our psyche, and how love and courage redeem us. In a way, Maleficent offers an alternative the the "scare" stuff you mentioned in pop culture, perhaps?
ddl said…
Rj-- this is what I woke up to read this morning... Shit-- what a lesson--

By Fr. Rohr: "Something about truth, truth-telling, and deceit: Truth is not just about "what happened" but also what you or any party has a right to know-- and can handle responsibly. For an addict, a gay person, a person with a preexisting physical ailment, there are people who have a right to that knowledge, and frankly people for whom it is none of their business, and people who will misuse it. Even our government recognized this in what we call the 5th Amendment, stating that people have the right not to incriminate themselves. To say to an unwelcome guest at the door, "No, Mother is not home," might factually be a lie, but in fact it might be very true on a level that could deeply matter: "Mother is not home for you." In confessional work, we called it a "mental reservation," and it was sometimes not just good but, in fact, the more moral thing to do to protect yourself or others, or even the party seeking the information. "Not everybody has the right to know everything" is a moral principle that our culture would be wise to learn."

I feel that I am learning this after the fact and lament that I didn't learn this sooner. I've never really thought this...I've always subscribed to that belief that the truth would set one free, but never really considered how truth may be misused...and this vastly complicates things...or perhaps makes things better. But it is a hard lesson and I wonder how it plays out on the international scale. How do our leaders know whom to trust? How do they discern over generations advisors (political and otherwise) who have a "right to know" or whatever? And then when you add "history" to the mix?
How do you continue to trust in this difficult discernment, and esp. if you feel burnt? It's like putting sun tan lotion on, going outside to a particular location, and realizing that you didn't put enough sun tan lotion on-- your nose or ears or some vulnerable place gets burned.

Morning prayers. Thanks for responding...Another jazz riff for you.
ddl said…
Peter-- thanks for the movie recommendation-- maybe a good sermon illustration at some point. :)
RJ said…
Wow... so rich and challenging. Given my head cold I won't reflect except to say thank you. And, Peter, I too suspect that the film offers a flip from the "scary" stuff so rampant in the culture at this time. My inclusion of it was more about how it was being marketed than its message. I should have been more precise. Thanks, my man.

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