Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Confronting the Not-so-Great Divide

Can we remember that this is a motto of our country?

I have been trying very hard to reflect on the events of the last week. One of the worst things that has happened in this country is that we do not listen to each other, even when-- especially when-- we do not agree. I just had a friend unfriend me on Facebook because she thought I wasn't listening to her regarding our political differences, and I am very sad about that right now.

We MUST listen to each other. There is too much "talking past each other," and we have been encouraged to do just that as we isolate ourselves more and more in the echo chambers we live in, where all we hear is a constant drumbeat from information sources whose only purpose is to reinforce our disdain and hatred of "the other side." One of the things I think that too few of us realize is that there is more pain and uncertainty about where our lives are going on both the left and the right (meaningless terms, really) than we realize. And we are MEANT to not be able to see that in each other. That's what really dismays me.

One thing I think many of us on both ends of the spectrum can agree upon is that the whole damn system IS guilty as hell. We can never rebuild this country, though-- and it seriously needs rebuilding; that's another thing most of us agree upon, I think--if we play into turning on each other, which is exactly how the system has been allowed to be set up so that the needs of the many, the common good upon which our country has been founded, can be ignored so that a few people can remain in power.

Look at the Constitution. The genius of the Constitution is that it has remained flexible enough to survive and even grow during the 227 years it has been in existence. It has been able to remain functional because it is subject to interpretation based upon the changing needs of the times (same thing with scripture, by the way). But its basic vision is laid out in six guiding principles laid out in the Preamble, which starts out with these very important words: WE, THE PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES. We. People. United.

These principles are: 
1- to form a more perfect union (and look at what we had before the Constitution- it was chaos!) 
2- establish justice 
3- ensure domestic tranquility 
4- provide for the common defense 
5- promote the general welfare 
6- secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity 

 (Who's singing the School House Rock song now? C'mon- admit it.) 

Notice that ALL of those things talk about the fact that we live together IN COMMUNITY. All of those things are about living TOGETHER. That's the only way good government can work-- to start with the undertsanding that government is generated from community. Anything else is not freedom but anarchy, which serves no one and leads to everyone's doom (think about South Sudan, and Iraq, and Somalia, and the Philippines right now. We Americans better never forget that we REALLY don't have anarchy in the streets, and that most of our protests are actually signs of that). 

We formed and continue to form this government SPECIFICALLY so that ALL may live in peace and security. Now, over the years, the "we" part has expanded. To be honest, at first it just included white men of property. For a LONG time. And we have to be careful that we do not fall back into that default, because when that has happened in other countries, anarchy and warfare has ensued (at the time the Constitution and Bill of Rights were being written, a terrifying example was happening in France, for instance). But over the decades, the hopefulness of those six promises have been seized upon and rightfully demanded by more groups as they have gotten the right (and I would say the responsibility, former US history teacher that I am) to vote. Universal white male suffrage (regardless of property qualifications) didn't really get introduced until the 1820s. African Americans in 1865. Women in 1919. Native Americans in 1923. Asian Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color in 1965. So, not that long ago, actually, and certainly the rights of these groups are still not in any way universally secure, to put it mildly.

BUT. Here's where I am perhaps to be criticised as an optimist. And I will plead guilty to that. As one of my favorite hymns goes, "Through many dangers, toils, and snares, we have already come, 'tis grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home." Yes, US. Not just "me." 

So, yes, BUT. There is more that unites the majority of us in this country than any political party wants us to know, since political parties are themselves a sign of the tendency we all must fight against to division. So we are urged into a frenzy against each other that not only harms the political and social unity which is required for our political life, but our spiritual life as well. At the heart of the gospel is a message of community and caring for each other that I too often do NOT see reflected in the actions of those who use religion in this country as a political tool to instead turn on others, to exclude, rather than include. That is bad enough when we are talking about hurting others. It is worse when it used to deny people basic dignity and justice, not to mention compassion and mercy. 

Real peace and justice cannot be built on a foundation that deliberately deprives others of their basic dignity and worth. Not in the name of politics. Not in the name of religion. 

And that, I fear, is exactly how some people use religion in this country: to draw boundaries that fly in the face of the plain teaching of Jesus. If we were to take very seriously the very real pain that many of us endure and protest on both the LEFT and the RIGHT, we could begin to work for REAL peace and justice in this country. Whenever the idea of "freedom of religion" has been perverted to mean the freedom to divide us and to impose our own will upon others, then it is wrong. True religion is not tyrrany. True religion is founded on hope and faith, not fear. For Christians, that means hope and faith in God, AND hope and faith in EACH OTHER (the Great Commandment, Matthew 22:36-40). I believe that if someone tries to tell you that you, as a Christian, can have faith and love for God without having faith and love for each other, they are merely using the guise of religion. They are one of those false prophets many of us were warned about in the gospel (Luke 21:5-19) this past Sunday. And that includes having faith and hope in those with whom we disagree. ESPECIALLY then. 

We HAVE to understand that there are a lot of hurting people on both sides of this political divide. It's the DIVIDE that is the problem. It is the DIVIDE that is the threat to democracy. 

A political divide that keeps the vast majority of us in chains. 
A political divide that keeps us from considering each other's perspective and pain, by creating an artifical "us" versus "them" that serves to prevent us from working together for real change, especially at the economic level. 

For regular folks like us, for workaday America, economic questions are not about having "more"-- it's about having enough, about having peace of mind. About feeling at home-- that's the Greek root of the word "economy." And when we have that peace of mind, we are a greater country, because we are not prone to respond to the exaggerated fears from theoretical directions. Our economy right now does not serve the most important needs of a vast majority of the peope of this country, but we are distracted from that by arguments about other things like guns or abortion that have nothing to do with making sure we REALLY feel secure and at peace. Because democracy, like religion, only works if we have faith in each other. 

I hope and pray that we can come to see that the real threat to our well-being is mistrust and hatred because we were created by nature itself (whether you believe that is through God or not), to live in community with each other. Mistrust and hatred of liberals, of conservatives, of immigrants, of refugees, of blacks, of whites, of gay people, of atheists, of Christians, of Muslims, of poor people, and so on and so on. It all serves to wound us, not help us. "US' is better when "US" includes everybody, and we get RID of the idea that we should be comfortable with calling some "THEM."

One of the worst things that the current political leaders have done is to attempt to divide us in order for them to keep a grasp on power and take of themselves rather than the common good. And we must resist their use religion as one of the best tools to help them do that.

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