where is the knowledge we have lost in information...?

I have a love/hate relationship with politicians - and I don't think that is too strong a confession to make - love/hate. I admire almost all of our elected officials for their courage, genuine dedication to the common good, tireless commitment to compromise, hard-nosed realism about what is possible, and profound personal stamina. It is an exhausting life putting your soul, integrity and ideas on the line everyday for evaluation. But that is only the start of the trial by fire because then you must be willing to carefully listen and evaluate the instantaneous critiques born of your action, discern the public's wisdom from their ignorance and/or fear, and get up and do it all over again the next day and the next. Like Steely Dan put it, "You go back, Jack, do it again, wheels turning round and round" for so goes in the relentless grind of a politician's life. I stand in awe and gratitude to the women and men who respond to such a calling. They are everyday heroes in my world.

Take the recent filibuster by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut concerning new gun control legislation: after the Newtown massacre, Connecticut's politicians began a serious overhaul of their state's laws. Now, in a moment of personal anguish and political savvy, Murphy seized the day. It is still unclear what the end result will look like, but Murphy knew how to marry the momentum of public anger and grief with his own convictions, so he spoke truth to power. For nearly 15 hours, he called into question the deepest convictions of his colleagues who had sold some of their soul to the NRA for campaign funds. For complicated reasons, some were able to respond to Murphy's chutzpah and we all await the details of the real deal. This was a pol using his voice to make a difference: calling out compromised hearts and minds, invoking our better angels and doing it with bold humility

I love politicians who do this. What I hate has nothing to do with cutting deals - that's how life on the street works. No,what I hate is that too many politicians don't know how to honor silence. Either they feel the need to fill every moment with a comment (or else are forced to do so by the media or their constituency) or they attempt to spin events in ways that give them an advantage. There are times, however, when nothing should be said.  "To everything there is a season," noted the wise, old preacher. "and a time for every purpose under heaven"

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Sometimes our elected officials really don't have anything of value to say. They may have deep feelings. It is quite likely they have ideas in formation that could have value with a bit more incubation, too. But over and again, when asked to respond in public to a tragedy, blessing, challenge or surprise, what comes out of their mouths sounds flat, canned, predictable or even useless. Most of us are not grand orators, but political spin makes all things worse, not better. The common good would be better served by modeling silence in a culture already saturated in sound.

I was struck by this love/hate dissonance yet again when four hundred plus people gathered in Park Square to mourn in solidarity the hate crime in Orlando against LGBTQ Latinx dancers at Pulse.  Everyone's hearts were raw. Each player's motivations were pure. But not everyone knew how to honor the wisdom of silence in public. So, at least for me, it seemed as if too many words were spoken. Some words were clarifying and holy, they bound us together and gave meaning to our wounds. Others...? Well, they merely filled the silence - and that's the best that can be said. Like our politicians, I too I am often asked to comment or analyze a public issue moments or even days after it has taken place. The Scriptures are clear that without an articulated vision, the people perish. But after shooting my own mouth off too many times spontaneously - or offering words without wisdom or depth because someone demanded a sound byte - I have tried to practice listening and waiting before writing or speaking about anything.  I just don't know enough about anything all by myself. I need to connect with the larger pulse of the holy - and that requires silence. I don't always get this right, I know, because there are those in my community who kindly say: put a sock in it for a time, ok? We all need such accountability.

So I wonder does our penchant for expression come from the loss of poetry in the culture? The absence of practicing and experiencing good liturgy regularly? The addiction to the round the clock cable news cycles and infomercial TV? An aching loneliness that confuses noise for intimacy and reverberations for presence?  A spiritual dis-ease that aches for healing but refuses to accept the still, small voice of our hidden God?  T.S. Eliot put it like this:   

              The endless cycle of idea and action, endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; 
knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word. 
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
Nearness to death but no nearer to God. 
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? 
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries brings us farther from God 
and nearer to the Dust.

I was just about to bag this post as perhaps too snarky. But then I heard an NPR clip about the funeral and vigil for Jo Cox in Britain. The spoken description of the memorial emphasized silence, brief comments, music and somberness. It concluded with a tag about all campaigning for or against remaining in the European Common Union being suspended over the next week in respect. But before that could sink in, an NPR reporter, who clearly continues the dumbing down of American culture, asked an English MP to say a few words about how she was feeling about this vicious murder.. Even over the air waves you could sense the Brit's discomfort as she stumbled over her words:  We are all too stunned to speak now... and that's the best thing she could have said for us all. I stand in support of all of our politicians' thankless work and hold them in my prayers daily. as they strive to make ours a more perfect union. There are times, however, when I wish they would just be still so that together we might enter the silence - and maybe go deeper into the complexities of life for at least a moment.


Barbara Barkley said…
I guess I'm more cynical than you are. I didn't find your blog post "snarky" (to use your word) at all. My cynicism comes from the fact that I am not convinced that our politicians really DO care about our best interests. I see too many of them bought (caring about money more than our needs), and for too many it is about popularity and fame (hence our "reality show" politician). You are much kinder in believing they are doing what they do because they care, have convictions or want to make things better. I'm struggling to see that. Not that there aren't a few, there are. But they don't appear to have the loudest voices or strongest voices. That narcissistic charismatic charm of many of our politicians seems to be very seductive for Americans. We vote for that over our own best interests (or the interests of the world) time and again.

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