Yesterday I sat with my intelligent, sensitive, and big-hearted undergraduate class as we tried to make sense of the election. These students spend hours every week in service to marginal people — isolated elderly shut-ins, prisoners, behaviorally-challenged children, the poor, immigrants. It is both part of my course requirement and a significant element of their sense of right livelihood. Service to those who don’t have a seat at the table is something that you just do.
“Who have we forgotten,” they asked me. “Who have we not heard? We are trying so hard to change society’s balance of justice, yet there are those who feel rage — people who feel shamed, excluded, disenfranchised — what do we need to do that we aren’t doing?”
I have a deep sense today of the information vacuum that has divided us as surely as have any economic forces. One constituency of voters consume one set of information sources; the other group, a very different set. Until we — calmly, persuasively — dispel disinformation, wrong information, distortions, spin, and outright lies with the truth, we will continue to be blind men with a very large and dangerous elephant.
Newspapers in small rural areas, even in small cities, have fallen to the economic tsunami of the web. News and information sources accessed online are curated to provide consumers with only what they want to hear. For all the good that “citizen journalism” has brought to the public conversation, the authority of objective truth too often goes missing.
Enlightenment is freedom. The free exchange of ideas, stories, points of view, is essential to the functioning of our system. When ideas get muddy, or inaccessible, when points of view are systematically or habitually unheard, we are left not with honest disagreement but with demagoguery.
This is where we find ourselves. It is the place to begin rebuilding, to restore mutual respect, healthy listening, and reconciliation. It won’t be easy. Radio, theatre, books, podcasts — we have the technologies. We just need to become more creative in how we use them.
We have all — writers, teachers, citizens — be preaching to our own choirs. It has been our downfall. We need, for the first time in a long time, to keep a broader audience in mind.
I want to share a post from an Episcopal priest whose daily blog often enlightens and teaches me.
Grace and peace to you.
When some were speaking about the temple, he said:
Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.
Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” Do not go after them.
When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified;
for these things must take place first,
but the end will not follow immediately.
Nation will rise against nation;
there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you.
This will give you an opportunity to bear witness.
I will give you words and a wisdom
that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
By your endurance you will gain your souls.
—from Luke 21.5-19
Not since the morning of September 11, 2001 have I felt more deeply the profound sorrow and dread people must have felt at the destruction of the temple. Only then, if ever, have I felt such deep anguish and wanted to raise such a desperate lament. I have never before ached with such terror that is not eased, sought sleep that would not come, cried out for comfort that will not lend itself, tried to pray and been unable.
The temple will fall. Fear, anger and self-absorption rule; disregard for the suffering of others has ascended to the seat of power,. There is no longer a safe place to retreat to, a sacred center of hope and belonging where the world is all right. Even in the temple in my own heart not one stone remains upon another.
When the temple falls we are awakened from the illusion that the world is just fine. Power structures will not save us. But this is nothing new. We finally know what others have known all along: we are vulnerable. We are exposed to the cynicism, violence, greed and hatred of the world. From the Roman Empire to the Holocaust to today’s unarmed young black men, or the people of Aleppo, or refugees or the trafficked and exploited—they know: there is no guarantee of justice, no illusion that everything will be all right. The whole world is at risk. There is no refuge. There never has been.
When the temple falls what do we do? When we can’t look to our power structures, what do we do? We become the temple ourselves. “Destroy this temple,” Jesus says, “and I will raise it up.” He says, “When you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)—the good news of the Empire of God will be proclaimed throughout the world. And the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
For some today is a day of rejoicing, but for me it is Good Friday. This happens. This is how God works. Human power structures fail us, and then God raises up life out of death. So what do we do? When the temple falls we become the resurrection. We let ourselves be raised, let ourselves be changed. Don’t look to the temple or the World Trade Center or the White House. Power structures will not save us, but God will. God pours love directly into our hearts. Live that love.
Now more than ever the world needs our love and justice and mercy. It needs our courage and community. It needs for us to be the crucified and risen Body of Christ. Realize that you are at the foot of the cross. Give voice to your pain, and let it rise as courage. Love this world with all you have. Connect with each other. Connect with strangers. Notice beauty. Celebrate the things God is doing in this world, the miracles that pass before us each day. Work for justice. Get involved. Now is the time to live resurrection. Live what really matters, as if these are your last days, and then maybe they won’t be.
My dread and sorrow are deep; but in that dark tomb hope is already rising. May the peace of Christ that passes understanding fill and guard your heart and mind today.
Yesterday I told my students: Don’t retreat. Get involved. But be smart about it. Use your gifts of intelligence, education, understanding of how our system works, not to add to the sum of anger and outrage that is too much with us just now, but to enliven hope that together people can successfully advocate for constructive change.