Not that anyone has been pounding on my virtual door begging for my take on life and politics, but I have been silent about the state of our world, now more clearly defined by the word Orlando. I have been silent for mostly good reasons—I have not had much to add to conversation and certainly did not want to add to the irrationality, polarization, and politicizing of our current reality (perhaps realities). I have "liked" a few things on Facebook and have felt my heart beat in rhythm with Ben Irwin’s articulate outrage and several other voices who are equally articulate and thoughtful—and often recoiled from and sometimes shut down (i.e., unfriended) the voices of anger and hate directed at victims and the president.
Yet, now, here I am writing to post on Facebook. Why? I’ve been struggling with an idea that will not go away and, finally, sat down recently with a friend at Starbucks and asked, “As dark as these days seem—and are—and without any desire to take away the pain, anger, shock, or bravery of people in response (and I certainly do not want to diminish it), I wonder if we are not in one of those times that Thomas Cahill calls “hinges of history?”
We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage—almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recounting of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstances….
"[a time when] everything was at stake, when the mighty stream that became Western history was in ultimate danger and might have divided into a hundred useless tributaries or frozen in death or evaporated altogether. But the great gift givers, arriving in the moment of crisis, provided for transition, for transformation, and even for transfiguration, leaving us a world more varied, more beautiful and strong than the one they found." (Cahill, Thomas. (1995). How the Irish saved civilization. New York: Doubleday)
Here we are, perhaps, in one of those times. The hate is very strong and the fear often feels stronger. We are all struggling to understand how we came to recite such a growing litany of places and names where hate lashed out and claimed lives and destinies. I know I am. I find myself fighting against—as I hope all of us would—the fear in my own heart. The fear in my own heart that makes we want to run away and hide even as I know there never has been and never will be such a place to hide—“No hiding place down here.” This fear that makes me angry enough to want to inflict pain somewhere. I hate that I have to sit on the couch with my great-grandson as I once sat on the couch with my son during another war and attempt to explain why people want to hurt each other so badly.
I have to make myself watch the evening news, listen to NPR, and read The Oregonian because I’d rather pretend that my little bubble will protect me—even as I grow anxious; anxious every night when I double check the locks on our doors; anxious nearly every time I walk into a classroom, have a difficult conversation with a student, or walk out of my night class into a dark and empty parking lot. Anxious that nearly every time I am in church, at least once, I think about Charleston and how vulnerable we are. "No hiding place"—but oh how I wish there were.
Resistance is a term that is usually associated with unfair governmental practice: the French underground resisted the Vichy Government as the Polish underground resisted both the German and Russian war machines and governments. After Rick Blaine and Captain Louis Renault sent Ilsa and Victor to safety, they marched out to join the Resistance. The civil population resisting the government. Resistance also means a refusal to comply. I resist and I refuse and J’accuse!
I must practice another kind of resistance. I must resist my desire to avoid; I must not run from the darkness; I must not yield to it; I must not give ground to any hate monger who asserts his or her “biblical” conviction or second amendment right or wall building plan or “better than anyone else” rhetoric. However deeply I may fear the stranger, I must resist my desire to run from the stranger. I must work to turn strangers into friends. I must try to see through and beyond the strange and unfamiliar and faithfully maintain that not all is as it is presented on the news. I must even understand that there are reasons why others hate my country and, by extension, me. I must try to understand and live out of my conviction that “love is love” and that I am called to love God and love others without condition.
I must keep my eyes open, tuned to the eyes of God, to see where despair butterflies into hope and hope into faith and faith into action. “Hope is believing in God’s future now. Faith is dancing to it”—this quotation, a beautifully calligraphed aphorism was given to us by some very dear friends; it hangs in our dining room, impossible to miss.
I want to dance.
Even though this is a time when it is hard to conceive of light at the end of the tunnel let alone to actually see that light, I am wondering if, maybe, something more is going on. I remind myself of the time when our country in conflict with itself almost came permanent divided; the times when we found “strange fruit” hanging from our trees; the times when we thought the country was about to fall apart, again, over race; all of the times when the best and brightest of our youth marched off to war never to return—or never to return whole; the times when the water cannons were brought out and turned on those who said can’t we be better than this; the time when our own were killed by our own on college campuses.
Sometimes it feels to me that what I should ask is what Yeats asked in “The Second Coming”: “What rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” I know the dangers of romanticizing and the risk of trivializing—but is it possible that we are living in one of those times when we will look back and see another kind of story altogether. A time when we again discover our better selves and repent and change our ways?
I am thinking of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., summarizing Theodore Parker:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I keep thinking we are better than this. And I remind myself that we used to call the Middle Ages dark because we couldn’t see beyond plagues and fears to the real and emerging brilliance of that time. I remind myself that there was a time when the early Christians had every reason to expect to be destroyed, even while God was at work calling faithful Jesus followers to something more and greater. I remind myself that as dark as it may be—and as it has been—we discover that we are better than we thought we were.
We discovered that we can be better when we owned again our own values. A statue in a harbor still sings, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" From time to time it surprises me to realize that my father was an immigrant and that on his side, I’m a first generation American. True, my father came from England through Canada at a different time; still, he was an immigrant who chose to become an American and stood, like so many other thousands, and pledged allegiance.
Shall we now build walls and say "Go home, stay away, we don’t need you"? Shall we turn away from those who have always given us new hope, new vision, and new purpose (not to mention new good food)? No, I don’t think so. I want to affirm hope and faith and the promise of our own lives—and our lives together. I want to appeal to our better selves. I want to call us to remember our own stories and our own story. I want to remind us that the journey is often hard and always demands courage (heart strength), but that we need to be on the right side of history—the side Martin Luther King was moving on when he called us to remember that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The side of history described by Jesus when he told us "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the sorrowful, the gentle, the hungry for the right, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers..." (Matt 5:3-9 REB).