It is hard to proceed right now.
Before the holidays, the president pardoned men that brave and diligent military officers brought to light as guilty of war crimes and dangerous to their cause. Now, mere hours into 2020, POTUS has committed an act of war, causing further damage to our collective integrity, leverage and safety and further destabilizing the middle east. Happy New Year.
I’m finding it hard to proceed because for me, despair and anger are low-hanging fruit. I have to work very carefully to dissect and dismantle the ego, my ego, in response to the thundering ego writing our national narrative. Despair and anger (expressions of ego) seem like ways forward and feel good sometimes but they are at best lateral movement. There’s a bad aftertaste. They are not the essential self. And I’ve come too far and we are too dear and near to God to tarry too long with their siren song. The world needs more from us.
It hurts though. It hurts to look and wait, to feel the feelings underneath the anger and despair. It’s painful to consider the gruesome murder of a little girl and the loss of humanity that comes with posing with dead bodies for photos. It’s frightening that the Commander in Chief has shown a dedicated rejection of the value of life, the Geneva Convention, and other people in authority. It’s disorienting to witness no opposition to the president’s recklessness from those who esteem all things military and the Bible.
I recently visited with a dear middle-aged Jewish couple in the hospital. They were grappling with mortality and responsive to my offer to join them in the fray. Their faith did not give them all the answers, like any good belief system, but it was a bedrock from which they could and will find their footing again. After some time together, shuffling through the hurt and the hope, he looked at me with sincere eyes. “Can I ask you a question now? You’re a Christian. How can you Christians say you’re pro-life? How can the evangelicals stand how we’re treating the immigrant lives? How can they say they follow Jesus?” Pain and compassion were etched in his face, behind the mask supporting his breathing. My mind jumped to the priest’s account of ICE stealing the shoes of people who had carried their children for weeks to reach our border. I returned his pained expression with my own. I took a deep breath of sorrow.
This man, so recently backed away from the brink of death, asking me “how?” about my faith, those people wanting to save him and his wife, asking on behalf of the sojourner, immigrant and refugee. A Jew, leaning upon the story of Jesus, baffled and upset at the story Christians are telling all too clearly in the Trump-era. How indeed. I reflected his humane and Christ-like sadness and compassion. I apologized for the impact of my religion on our national conscience and predicament. I added his story, his sincerity, to my looking and waiting this week.
Not one of us is innocent; not one of us is without work to do. I lament dualism, nationalism, racism, and the co-opting of Jesus as collective and catastrophic sins. And I admit as an individual my particular pride, faults and fears do not go away in the naming of the collective. No, I must consider my response, my participation, and the ways I other people and weaponize the Bible. I must sit with us and me, the victims and the perpetrators, to keep my soul intact.
As I continue abdicating parts of my ego, I want to say aloud that it’s awkward and it hurts and it has been that way for a long time. Some days my heart is heavy and even the best devices — a Wendell Berry poem, a psalm prayer, a close examination of a flower, a drink, or the love of my family — just make a dent in the scale. Some days I detect such purpose and community in the grief and disorientation that I find peace. Some days the sunlight is enough, the daily brims full, and my thoughts stay smaller.
So yes, it’s difficult right now in a land where humanity and compassion seem endangered. Where Christian silence is deafening and violence begets violence.
Here are things I know:
- We do well to not accept the lowest common denominator of our national identity, mainstream religion, and manmade laws. Insofar as we avoid the passable in search of the sacred, we maintain our true self.
- Any work we do to expand our soul, the effect of God on our lives, and the connection to other people is urgently needed.
- When we exercise other options, the love we’ve received, and compassion, we find even more and more stones are laid before us.
- We grow peace with the rejection of othering so accessible in the rhetoric and our own egos. To reach out or be kind or give when we would like to judge, ignore or withhold defy the present darkness.
Some initial ways to get through the hardest moments of this difficult road:
- Breath prayer. Steady your weight on both feet, or sit comfortably. Relax the muscles in your face. While you inhale slowly rehearse something like “God loves me” or “God be with me.” Exhale a response, “I choose peace” or “I am not alone.” Repeat this for a minute or so until the shadow lightens.
- Take a day off from the news, a social media outlet, and/or driving. Expose yourself to a poem, a book of wonder like James and the Giant Peach or Harry Potter, or a familiar sitcom.
- Light a candle. For the one whose voice you miss in this time. For the children you’ve seen pictures of and haunt your activism. For the part of you that is triggered and needs to remember God’s loving gaze.
- Send a note to someone and tell them how much they mean to you. Generosity of spirit reassures our own steadiness of heart.
- Subscribe to an independent news source. Put cash in your glove compartment for the next person you see needing lunch. Lessen your physical ownership.
- Bake something. Give thanks for your access to calories, sources of heat, refrigeration and water.
- Let someone help you. Overshare to a trusted friend in person.
The invitation to stay tender, to pay attention to the inner and outer worlds, and deny half truths stands as a powerful witness and alternative way. I say yes; I know many of us do. For the murdered girl. For my children. For the Jewish patient asking how. It is hard. And it is worth it.