One of the great ones of this era, Representative John Lewis, put it like this in a meme that went viral on Facebook: Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. He was, of course, speaking to the shock and awe many white, middle class liberals are experiencing as the Trump regime ripens.
The equilibrium and commitment to diversity, justice and measures of social cooperation that many of us grew up with are clearly coming to an end. Like much of contemporary Europe, nativism, misogyny, racism and economic myopia are ascending. Unlike Europe, however, the US lacks the insights of a long obedience. We are consequently condemned to relive our own tragic ignorance, naiveté and arrogant isolationism as we usher in a 21st century gilded age where American robber barons buy and sell presidents, Supreme Court justices, elected officials and regulatory agencies. Lewis asks that we not harbor any illusions: fascism 2.0 is the rule of the day in these once modestly United States. But this is not the end of the story.
Three other quotes have ministered to me as my soul wrestles with staying focused, faithful, and real in this season of cruelty. One comes from Pema Chodron, the wise Buddhist elder, who is crafting an authentically Buddhist message for the West. She writes:Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. Many of us who have been part of various US liberation movements know the old aphorism: Each generation must make freedom their own. Too often, however, I have considered this to be a linear truth when, in fact, it is inward and circular. "Things fall apart and then come together again before once again falling apart." Right now, things are clearly falling apart. This isn't the end of the story. The healing, as Lewis and Chodron know, is making room for the wounds and chaos. I am not good at this at all - but my heart tells me it is true.
Another quote comes from Toko-pa Turner who urges us to make space for the wisdom of our elders (like Lewis and Chodron.) She writes: If you are without elders in your life, or if the older people in your life aren't the wise ones you are longing for, consider befriending some in your community. Find those whose eyes still sparkle, who carry some gravitas, who are using their lives in service to something greater than themselves alone. Make a respectful courtship of them by showing up to support or keep them company in a consistent way. Listen to their stories, ask them for guidance, learn what they’re willing to share with you. While in Canada last week another wise friend told me that over and over she experiences big hearted young people who ache to live for compassion. What they lack are guides and elders who can help them go deeper. One of the challenges before those of us who are chronologically closer to the end of the race than the start, is to become soul friends with those ready for gravitas. And hope. And sober realism during this harsh season. Remember and trust: the story isn't over.
And then there was this article by public theologian and former Dean of the
Chicago Theological Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite. In an article based upon the recent public heckling of members of the Trump regime as they went out for dinner, she writes: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service at a Virginia restaurant, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Pam Bondi, the Florida Attorney General who has supported Trump throughout his tenure, and Stephen Miller, a Senior Trump Advisor, have all been recently heckled in public places.
Today, I am persuaded that this kind of prophetic witness is needed in light of the intolerable words and actions of this current administration and that it stands in the same line as the prophetic witness of the biblical prophets and Jesus of Nazareth. The massive amount of systemic cruelty, especially to immigrant children, and the extreme bigotry that has incited prejudice and even violence against minorities, is intolerable. When these are combined with consistent lying and undermining of constitutionally guaranteed rights, as this administration has done, these actions must be confronted. They cannot be allowed to become normalized. This isn’t normal. This isn’t right. And when you collaborate with it, you should be called out.
Her point - one that I endorse - is that normal public civility often becomes tacit support of unjust cruelty when a nation embraces fascism. Not ad homenim attacks, but rather calling out public figures' complicity with evil. She continues:
Theologian Dorothee Soelle, who grew up in the Germany that had been so morally corrupted by the Nazis, has written powerfully about why societies cannot tolerate the intolerable. For example, in her book The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity, she counsels against tolerating massive intolerance. She argues, in her profound way, that “if we love heaven, we find ourselves less and less able to tolerate hell.” (pp. 69-70). Make no mistake. For a child to be ripped from her or his parents’ arms and locked in a cage is the very definition of “hell on earth.” This administration has admitted plans to build concentration type camps on military bases for persons trying to enter the United States. The President has advocated denial of due process for these individuals. How much more evidence do you need that what America is becoming today is intolerable? Do not tolerate it.
Our elders are calling some of us to live as elders for those ready to go deeper into the way of compassion. Let us care for one another tenderly as we let go of our addiction to "passing the tests" of things falling apart. Shit happens. But it doesn't last forever. Shit gets better. Yes there is pain. To be sure there is struggle. But we can resist and even thrive as we make space for the shit, trusting that it has a place within the cycle of life and death, joy and sorrow, dancing and mourning. Holding my baby granddaughter this week in Brooklyn - laughing with my precious grandson, too - made those words flesh for me. The story isn't over yet - and our young ones need us.