Friday, November 18, 2016

Post Election: Do Not Grow Weary with Well Doing

The Year the Bat Cracked

The year was 2003, and I was quite distressed and growing weary.  The United States launched a war in Iraq, the consequences of which we are still dealing with. I was opposed to the war as was half the country. There were demonstrations in major cities with people chanting “No Blood for Oil.” It was a misguided endeavor from the beginning, and in 2003, the news reminded me each day of our nation’s misdirection.

That year, baseball, the national pastime, was a great national distraction for many of us weary of the drumbeats of war. Sammy Sosa was on a roll as he continued what he was best known for: hitting home runs. A few years earlier, he and Mark McGuire had been in competition as they were both trying to break the world record for the most home runs in a single season. He seemed to still be on top of his game when in March of 2003 he stepped up to the plate, got a solid hit, and his bat cracked revealing that it was corked. A home run hero was found to be using an illegal bat. It was symbolic to me for so much of what I was seeing in the country.

This year we have seen another crack that is showing us who we are as a nation: what values we hold at our core. There was an ominous foreshadowing soon after Barrack Obama’s election in 2008. I was elated as I watched that first inaugural ceremony and thrilled that we had finally taken further steps toward racial equality in America. Yet almost before they could get the folding chairs put away, we began to see the hatred and racism that had been just beneath the surface breaking out into the open. Racist memes about President Obama were appearing in the social media and angry Tea Party protesters were disrupting Democratic as well as Republican town hall meetings, using racial slurs to protest healthcare legislation.

With the 2016 Presidential election, our bat cracked. The racism and hatred that we tried to keep under wraps, and which some of us hoped we could move on away from is suddenly exposed to the world, but more important, revealed to ourselves.

A Divided Nation

Many have been writing about what the election of Donald Trump to the presidency means for the days ahead and for our future. My initial response of how to go forward was a bit humorous, but also a serious call to carry on with daily life:
  • Jesus said to love your neighbor.
  • St. Paul said to take a little wine for the stomach’s sake.
  • The only thing I would add is to eat your vegetables and get some sunshine and we will make it through this together.
In other words, we go about our daily tasks of doing what we need to do. We keep our social ethic and we also practice self-care. I see this as being in line with the Zen proverb, “Before enlightenment, tote water, chop wood. After enlightenment, tote water, chop wood.” 

Neal Gabler wrote a bleak commentary about the election outcome in an essay,  “Farewell, America.” He wonders if we as a nation will recover, yet he finds some hope in quoting from W.H. Auden’s poem. “September, 1939”:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

As disheartening as it is that we have elected a man who demeans women as sex objects, who spouts words hatred and fear, and who taps into the racism of the populace; and as distressing as it is to hear Christian leaders thanking God for his election victory, we must remember that fully half of the country also rejected that vision of America.

It is that other half that carries some hope going forward, yet also underscores the fact that we are a nation divided. Whoever had won the election would have to face governing a polarized and divided country.

Nothing Really New

I am not an expert in history, so there are people who can recall dark times in our nation’s history better than I, but the two great evils that continue to characterize America are the institutionalizing of slavery from the very beginning, and the acts of genocide committed toward the indigenous population. We were born out of a conflicting ethos of securing freedom for all while condoning slavery and ethnic cleansing.

History tells the story of how the Cherokee Nation made use of the legal process in order to remain in their ancestral lands. They took their case to the U. S. Supreme Court and won. Yet that victory did them no good when President Andrew Jackson disregarded the rule of law and implemented the Indian Removal Act by military force. There were some highly shameful acts that established our “sweet land of liberty” of which we love to sing. The evil in our midst that we must face is nothing new. 

There are three things that I take away from the lessons of the 2016 election cycle:
  • Our country’s racism, hatred, and bigotry has been exposed (like Sammy Sosa’s bat) to reveal what is at its core.
  • It is dismaying for me as a Christian that so many Christians were willing to overlook the corrupt character of a presidential candidate in order to keep their ties to the political empire.
  • It is also true (and herein lies some hope) that fully half of the country voted against a legacy of hate, racism, and bigotry.
We have made it through some dark days of division in the past, and we can make it through these times as well.

Now What Do We Do?

We must now face the reality of our hatred and bigotry. Like Sammy Sosa's cork filled bat, we would be more honorable without it, but it has been exposed. Now we can choose to celebrate the points of light in our darkness (as W. H. Auden noted in his poem). “We must not grow weary in well-doing,” as St. Paul encouraged the Galatians who were living under another corrupt empire years ago. 

The thing we do now is what good people have always done in our country. Christian groups have the example set forth by Protestant Evangelicals of the 19th Century who advocated for the abolition of slavery, prison reform, education, and an end to child labor. There is also the Catholic tradition of advocating on behalf of the poor and implementing works of mercy to create a better society.

In the 20th century during the Great Depression we saw the Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, which sought to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ, taking the Sermon on the Mount as their social ethic.  We witnessed the long struggle for civil rights, voting rights (first for women, then for African Americans), and equal rights for all. We saw a new awareness of people with disabilities as we made room for them in the public square rather than shutting them away from society. We saw safeguards put into place to provide a safety net and access to healthcare for the elderly as well as the poor and disadvantaged.

All of these changes that have benefited our neighbor and helped us as a society were hard won by farsighted people who understood the ethics of living together with peace and justice. It was good people of all faiths and of no faith who understood the need for a better way and saw many changes slowly put into place.

Charity vs. Systemic Change

There is a difference between charity and systemic change. Growing up in the South, I saw that difference. Charity would help some poor black families have a little more to eat and clothes to wear during the holidays, but with civil rights legislation, we saw systemic change that enabled those same families to make a way for themselves in society, allowing them to have the long-lasting and substantive benefits of full participation in society. 

That systemic change, however, is not yet complete and that is the thing that people of goodwill must ensure for all of our citizens. It will require vigilance and advocacy for the vulnerable groups in our society that now feel threatened by the advent of a new administration. 

None of our efforts need stop with a new president in the White House. We still have half the country eager to see those points of light. We still have people of good will who will hold our government accountable. We will continue to do what we have been doing, so that in spite of setbacks, we will still make it a priority to work for the common good.  

Now we have to carry water and chop wood, which reminds me of those matters of infrastructure. We'll save that topic for another day. 


Photo by Marco Vincenti: Zen sand garden



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