This rings true to me.
The New Yorker Feb. 13 & 20, 2017
This rings true to me.
The New Yorker Feb. 13 & 20, 2017
Well now, here we are after our national election. And the result may be surprising or exactly what we feared. Here are a few thoughts for my beloved faith community:
First of all, peace be with you. No matter how we are experiencing the process and result of this election, God is still good. Which is to say that the Great Spirit of love is still our source and hope. What do we have to fear? As Paul says in Romans 8, “…neither heights nor depths nor principalities and powers…. No, in all these things we are more than conquerers in the love of Christ.” Now let us take a look at our nation.
We are a nation divided. It’s the dominant news message – a 50/50 nation. However true this is (and it needs some examination) only together will we move forward. Parker Palmer writes in Healing the Heart of Democracy “We must understand that we are all in this together.” We do great harm to others and to ourselves by failing to imagine all the ways that our destinies are deeply interwoven. We breathe the air together. We’re in each other’s heads – our mirror neurons are responsively firing all day long. We live in families that straddle all political divisions – the political turkey is often what is carved at Thanksgiving dinner.
We are in this together. And at the same time, as Kahlil Gibran wrote: “But let there be spaces in your togetherness.” The fact that we all live and move together can feel existentially claustrophobic. Being together in no way means everybody being the same. Unity at its best is a vibrant swirling mix of particularities, not sameness. Sameness is bred of anxiety and impulses to control. Unity is the fruit of constructive interaction.
We do well to live fully into both realities: “I am you and you are me and we are all together” as the Beatles sang. And at the same time we are all people of great souls and deep heart-giftedness. And the world will be so much richer for our particular gift and may in fact be desperately in need of it.
Prejudice, abortion, and pain
I think that the electoral response to what in my view was patent racism, sexism, and crude bullying rhetoric is an alarming clarification that awful prejudice is still alive among us, and may have just been restlessly waiting in the shadows. There is also the question of abortion (and its influence on our feelings about the supreme court). The politics of abortion has its own center of gravity that we need to attend to more thoughtfully. And there is the pain people are feeling as the world changes all around and under our feet, and the sense that mighty and unfeeling financial and political machines are having free rein.
Eugene S. Robinson (Ozy Daily Dose) wrote: “America, like the Dude*, will abide. Maybe not unscathed or unbowed but well beyond the slings and arrows of outrageous, and make no mistake we ARE there, fortune…. How [shall we respond]? By living, not on the couch but on our feet, for starters. ‘Civic engagement is not a four-year affair, I don’t think,’ said Salvatore Russo, a San Francisco social worker who focuses on affordable housing. ‘It’s an everyday one: Get involved, stay involved.'”
(*The Dude is the main character in the movie The Big Lebowski.)
These are good words – let’s live on our feet, and stay involved in our communities every day.
What is also required of us is a finer political conversation, one characterized, as Parker Palmer put it in Healing the Heart of Democracy, by both chutzpah (finding my voice) and humility (hearing well your voice). Where are the places where we can build and nurture conversations across lines of difference about abortion, taxes, and how we manage national borders? Donna Schaper wrote, years ago, that we say “I can’t even be safe in my living room.” She responds that it is correct – we cannot be safe in our living rooms. The only place we can truly be safe is to get out in the streets. We need to find each other again, and meet, and seek pathways together – to be restorers of streets to live in (Isaiah 58).
And if there is bullying that refuses to join the conversation? Then it is up to us to resist. Not from superiority or from a position of being right while others are wrong or to teach anyone a lesson but with the conviction that I must live courageously with the clarity that I have. This is how I will walk, and here is how I will love, and I will find a way into the future with you, God help me.
There is a new urgency in things. We don’t know what this moment means. But right now people are wondering if harm is coming toward them in a new way. Right now it feels like we have unleashed some scary beasts. So we must be those who are awake and who act with a divine sense of timing, so that we may, as God’s spirit would have it, show up and be present in the moment of great need, and that like the angels, we will announce to each other “fear not.”
Community of love
Finally, our primary allegiance is to the love of Christ. This is expressed and made real in local communities. So let us turn our energies and hearts toward loving and caring for each other in our communities of trust. And then also we may love and care for the stranger, the one in need, even our enemy, whoever becomes present to us. Let us meet and engage with our friends and also strangers, but let us especially do this with those who are immediately before us and around us. There are big questions and battles to address. Let us begin to address them with those who we next meet. Love is made real in local communities.
So let us give our hearts again to beloved community. At this moment, let us be in strong community together as black and brown people, lgbtq people, people with disabilities, those who do not go to war, those for whom this world often feels strange. Nothing can separate us from the love at the heart of all things, the love woven into the fabric of all creation, the Christ-love that is always faithful and strong.
Candidate Donald Trump’s recorded comments about groping women were an unconscionable flatuosity about sexual assault. This, as with so many shouts, exhalations, repetitions, fabrications, and most of all, I think, sheer carelessness and callousness from candidate Trump need to be resisted (I will write about Clinton another time – another rich person running for office). We are trying to have a national dialogue about things that matter, things that resonate through the lives of vulnerable people in our country and around the world, things that have the possibility of making our planet a more joyful or miserable place in the coming decades. And this polluted torrent is what we have instead, coming from candidate Trump.
Nevertheless, what is in my own id, inner self, and sub-surface soup of impulses is no better. My full self is not a vast, unbroken personal landscape of acceptability, incorruptibility, and responsibility. It is true that I have been faithful, to my wife, my family, in my work, in my friendships. There are no outright betrayals there. But this is only because of self and communal regulation, not because such inclinations and impulses are absent.
I had the good fortune to be raised by parents who taught, through their lives and words, in clear terms about honesty, responsibility, integrity, compassion, and related values. These values were enlarged upon and strengthened by our church community. The Mennonite/Anabaptist sense of community is that we live our lives transparent to God and to each other. It is not that there is no privacy. We do not need to know all the “gory details.” (Porter Osborne, in Ferrol Sam’s very funny book Run with the Horsemen, famously says that he keeps some things in the part of his mind that even God can’t see!) But in both the personal details and in our public lives, we speak and behave in ways that are communally supportable. This creates both a practice of self-regulation – I have internalized these values – and communal regulation.
Communal regulation happens not so much through following stated rules. Rather, it is primarily enacted through the dedication to draw near to each other on a regular basis. In so doing, we form an ongoing experience of mutual influence. At its best, this is influence fully defined by love, a love which has its ultimate source in the infinite outpouring of God’s own Spirit. It is unlimited, unconditional, and supports joyful, generous living with each other. All this may simply be called, as we say in the world of blues music, “taking it to church.” The core experience is repeatedly drawing into proximity in relationships of love. This creates an envelope or context or practice that supports lives lived well. This, as C. Arnold Snyder writes, is the only real sacrament in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. It happens whenever we meet in the presence of Christ.
But there is no pretense that this makes anyone any better or more worthy than anyone else. The Amish families in response to the horrific Nickel Mines shootings of their children offered forgiveness to the shooter. But, although they believe in heaven and hell, and they were offering an immense grace of forgiveness, the Amish refused to speculate on any difference between themselves and the shooter. Such questions are in God’s hands alone (Amish Grace p 168). This sort of spiritual deference underlines the idea that we are a community of sinners saved by grace and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as Paul writes in Romans. So we have no basis for self-righteousness. This is a hallmark of Mennonite/Anabaptist community.
Nor do we have any basis for taking joy in the failings or destructive behavior of others (schadenfreude). It is unwarranted: we’re not so perfect either. And it doesn’t get us to where we want to be. It simply does not advance the project of an intelligent, compassionate national conversation when we rejoice in the failings of others. Nevertheless, I do it! It’s fun, funny, and a way of blowing off steam. Fair enough. But I suppose we just need to understand that too much of this can damage our great political project. Do we want to be a nation of snark, or of constructive, courageous public life?
Wallace Stegner, in his great book Angle of Repose, writes at one point: “I don’t resent them; I just resist them.” I think this is exactly right. There is much to be resisted in the current electoral cycle. But we may do so without rancor or self-righteousness. It is enough, no, it is far more effective, to simply and forcefully resist, knowing not that we are better people than the ones we resist, but rather that we are simply living and acting on the basis of the best understanding we have at this time.
To be specific to where I started these reflections, it now comes to all of us to be more open, more forthcoming, and more attentive to the plague of sexual assault in our culture. It must be resisted firmly and comprehensively, out of a place that says “there but for the grace of God go I” and also, because of my commitments and all that I care about “this shall not stand.” This is a deep root of non-violence, both in what is resisted – sexual assault – which is a form of violence, and in how it is resisted, through humble but firm action.
I thought this article was very interesting. It is about access to abortions in Indonesia and self-administered abortions. I think of three key considerations from a Mennonite/Anabaptist perspective:
1) women gaining independence from men controlling women’s bodies – I think this is critical for human dignity. There is also the question about men’s responsibility for sharing the load in caring for children, a responsibility often evaded. The Mennonite/Anabaptist practice of community at its best creates space for personal ethical expression, but within a loving and responsible weave of relationships. No one’s body is controlled by another. And at the same time, we take responsibility to care for each other. It is an expression of a paradox of space and togetherness. Our model is Jesus, who wasted no time declaring independence from the harmful abuse of, for example, sabbath laws. At the same time, he made himself radically available to others, extending care, conversation, and argument! to those around him.
2) the value of intact communities sharing the risk, cost, challenges, and questions when women are face with unwanted pregnancies or ambivalence about their pregnancies. Here again, the weave of good Mennonite/Anabaptist community practice offers something of great value: no individualistic reckoning or action, but at best, a thoughtful, engaged, and intimate process of shared discernment for the sake of goodness for individuals and for the communities. In strong community, we are not drowned in a social soup of control, suspicion, and control. At the same time, we are not cut loose to live or die alone in the wilds of individualism. Jesus said “I am…” over and over, declaring personal agency. And he always said this in the midst of a “people.” He spoke his heart; he also immediately sought out friends and collaborators.
3) that abortion not be treated casually – interrupting the development of a human fetus has a resonance and import that we may not fully understand or be able to completely articulate rationally. We as communities need strong stories, deep listening, and nurtured mutual relationships to create a context for holding the questions and considerations that are presented by abortion. The Mennonite/Anabaptist practice of community provides a wholesome, open, safe place for deep listening and soulful speaking so that we may together find pathways forward. At its best, this is a practice that can constructively hold great mysteries, puzzles, and tensions, a place for the beloved presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
No finer politics
Dear friends, let us consider Christ as we walk together on the snarled pathways of our electoral process.
Not Christ as the subject of a particular religion, but Christ as the spirit of love, decency, justice, and compassion. May these be guiding principles of our democracy.
We need to find our true hearts again as a nation in which we aspire together to a finer shared humanity. The “better angels of our nature” are not to be coarse, to have a casual relationship to violence, to be mesmerized by big money, to sweep away people in need, to contemplate torture, to be addicted to power at all costs. Nor – and this is most important – are we a people of fear. We are, at our best, generous, open-hearted, strong, and willing to work hard together to make things good. We are, at our best, a “greatest generation” right now. Let us live into that destiny.
The world will not collapse if one candidate or another loses. The world is in more danger, however, if we give in to fear, just stay at home, and let intemperate and ill-considered voices rule the streets.
But we are not that kind of people. Let us once again find our way out of our houses, find our way to collaborations that matter: collaborations of generosity, and public well-being. We are all in this together. Let us learn again the great works of shared public life.
May love, decency, justice, and compassion be our watchwords. May we be a people of whom it will be said “No finer time; no finer generation.”
Better offPeter Maurin
The world would be better off
if people tried to be better.
And people would become better
if they stopped trying to be better off.
For when everybody tries to become better off,
nobody is better off.
But when everybody tries to become better,
everybody is better off.
Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried to become richer.
And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried to be poorest.
And everybody would be what we ought to be
if everybody tried to be what we want the other one to be!