you can do this hard thing...

The wise Parker Palmer recently posted "The Soul of a Patriot" over at Krista Tippett's excellent sight: On Being (http://www. onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-the-soul-of-a-patriot/9146) The essay cuts to the chase with these words:

On January 20, 2017, the country I love will inaugurate a man who embodies many of our culture’s most soulless traits: adolescent impulsiveness, an unbridled drive for wealth and power, a taste for violence, nonstop narcissism, and massive arrogance. A man who has maligned women, Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and Mother Earth — a man who’d sooner deny the obvious than apologize for the outrageous — will become President of the United States.

How do I stay engaged and whole on the shadow side of democracy? I’ve been putting that question to my soul, and the response has been unnerving. It seems I’m being called to become a “patriot,” a word I scrapped years ago when it was co-opted by the “God, Guns, Guts, and Glory” gang. But a passage about patriotism by pastor/activist William Sloane Coffin — who spoke in the voice of the soul — has me looking for ways to reclaim that word for myself: There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover's quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with the world.


That gets it as right as can be gotten for me:  in an hour a vulgar, pseudo-populist authoritarian huckster will be sworn into the office of President of the United States. Mr. Trump's claim to credibility is his business acumen - what America needs is a savvy business man he tells us - although his track record is dubious and his business ethics appalling. What he's really selling, of course, is nostalgia and fear under the barely disguised mantle of white supremacy. He has seduced American evangelical Christians into making a bargain with the Devil (see Mt. 4:8-11) and crudely lied to the world about his business finances, conflicts of interests and all too cozy
relationship with Russia. And to add insult to injury has nominated a slate of cabinet officers as his policy enforcers who are fundamentally unqualified and woefully ignorant of the tasks they have been assigned to implement. Betsey De Vos for Education? Ben Carson for HEW? Rick Perry for Energy? (To be fair, a few others are wise and potentially credible, even if I disagree with their political perspective.)  Ironically, this inauguration is as if Mr. Trump decided to parody Gil Scott-Heron's biting proto-hip hop masterpiece, "B Movie" without understanding that Mr. Heron was pimping Ronald Reagan as a cheap imitation of John Wayne. 

To engage our new reality instead of denying or degrading it, Palmer offers four ways to live as a patriot as we enter the Age of Trump. His insights are worth reviewing.

First, it must be a quarrel about what is and isn’t true. The president-elect’s enablers have proclaimed truth passé. To cite three of them:

“There's no such thing…anymore as facts.”
Scottie Nell Hughes

“You [journalists take] everything…so literally. The American people…[understand] that sometimes [like at a bar] you’re going to say things [with no] facts to back it up.”
Corey Lewandowski

“You [reporters] always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth…”
Kellyanne Conway

We who hold the quaint belief that it’s often possible to tell whether what comes out of

a mouth is true or false need to assert the facts every chance we get. Last week, for example, the man who says that only he can save our economy claimed that there are “96 million… wanting a job [who] can’t get [one].” False. There are “roughly 96 million people not in the labor force, but that includes retirees, students and others who don’t want jobs. Only 5.5 million of them want work.” The unemployment rate, which neared ten percent every month of 2010, was five percent or less every month of 2016.

Facts are so tedious, aren’t they? And they won’t change the minds of true believers. But we need to preserve them for the same reason Medieval monasteries preserved books: the torches have come to town. Let’s try to remember that science and the Enlightenment gave us ways to test the truth-claims of potentates and prelates, laying the foundations for our little experiment in democracy. Until someone blows up the lab, we must proclaim the facts, then tuck them into a fireproof vault until we need them again.


Propaganda and intimidation depends on our ignorance, laziness and fear so let us not throw in the intellectual and ethical towel just because we feel defeated. As Winston Churchill used to say:  In defeat - defiance!  Let it be so among those who cherish compassion and truth.

Second, we must engage in civil discourse across political divides, without compromising our convictions. That’s been a daunting task to date, it’s going to get even harder for a while, and we’re not very good at it. But this much is clear: for dialogue to succeed, participants must have something in common.  I believe we have all kinds of shared interests. We breathe the same air, use the same roads and bridges, depend on the same institutions, and must find ways to live in harmony for the sake of our children and grandchildren. But appeals to the obvious have yet to bring us together. So my hope lies in a shared condition that isn’t yet with us, but soon will be, I believe.When he fails to deliver, people who were political enemies in 2016 will find common ground, and a Coalition of the Disillusioned will become possible. I’m disillusioned by the shell game that took this man to the White House. People who supported him because he promised to bring back lost jobs, revive the middle class, restore law and order, and kill ISIS will become disillusioned soon enough. That prediction brings me no joy, but it seems highly likely.

Less than two weeks ago, over 2000 Berkshire citizens came out in sub-freezing weather for the Four Freedoms March and Rally. As they filled our Sanctuary and streets, it became clear that these good souls were hungry for solidarity. They wanted to know they were not alone in holding out for compassion and hope. They ached to community. And as countless participants said at the closing, "I just needed to be here. Knowing that there are so many others who live and feel the way I do is healing enough for this day."  Bonhoeffer, whom I am currently studying again, used to teach that in every society there were a majority of people who may not be a part of a faith community, but who aspired to the values of Christ. They consciously chose to live for life rather than death, hope instead of despair, compassion in the face of oppression and violence. This is the hour when our work must reach out to this community:  they are waiting and will respond but need encouragement. 

Third, this lover’s quarrel needs to surface what’s not being said. This is a form of
fierce-love truth-telling as critical to the health of our civic relationships as it is in our intimate relationships. Amid all the talk about the “why” of the election results, we’ve not talked enough about the fact that, by mid-century, over half of U.S. citizens will be people of color. After 250 years, we’re at the beginning of the end of white dominance in this country. It’s no coincidence that white votes were key to the election, nor that white nationalists and supremacists rallied so enthusiastically to the winner’s banner, with precious little push-back from him. We’re either in the death throes of a culture of white supremacy, or resuming our unfinished American Civil War. Either way, we who care about the fate of this land and all who live in it need to invoke the soul’s help in trying to steer these death-dealing energies toward life-giving outcomes.

Finally, if it’s going to be a lover’s quarrel, we need to keep the love alive.Paradoxically, this means remembering that this country we love has forever fallen short of its own values and visions. I can truly love another person only if I don’t romanticize him or her. The same is true of loving my country.
The next time you hear the fanciful notion that we must make America great again, think slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, the Great Depression, Vietnam, Joe McCarthy, Iraq, homelessness and hunger, the greed-driven financial meltdown of 2008, and much, much more. Then note how we double down on our illusions by claiming that we are “a shining city upon a hill.”

There is new and exciting work to be done in this age of despair. It is soul work. It is the work of cultural healing - and truth telling in tenderness - for this is the age of reclaiming integrity from the inside out and sharing it with courage and trust and humility. Like many of my sisters and brothers, I won't be watching the inauguration today. I will be listening to Carrie Newcomer and other doctors of the soul who invite me into the "beloved community."  We can do this hard thing...

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