I think it was Robert McAfee Brown who wrote back during the Viet Nam War that he really looked forward to the day when he could get back to theological reflection and writing, but that he felt compelled to speak out about the injustice and cruelty of war for as long as it took.
I feel something of the same way about these days. For over two years now I have awakened every day thinking that the news could not possibly be worse than the day before. Somewhere along the line I noticed that the thought was utterly vain. The news is indeed always worse, more dire than the day before. Surely there are bright spots here and there, stories of heroism, reports of generosity and kindness, spotlights shown on neighbor helping neighbor. Yet I would be remiss, and so would you, to let ourselves become more than momentarily distracted from the serious disintegration of American democracy that is accelerating alarmingly. There yet may be a Day of Reckoning in the offing, but until it dawns, we are awash in the dark and troubled waters of lies, deceit, delusion, and the degradation of public discourse. And those are just symptoms of a thoroughgoing sickness, a pernicious malady deep in the bones on our communal life.
Ah! Communal life! One of the brightest and most articulate scholars I've known at close range in recent years is Charles Lawrence, a former parishioner of mine and erstwhile professor of law in Georgetown University. He made the comment once that the purpose of the Constitution was to create community. I agree, although to be sure those were not the terms used at its inception. I also know well, and he much better, that the Constitution was skewed in the direction of protecting the interests of the rich and powerful, notably the then slave-holding population that begged to be placated. And thus the evil of human debasement was written into the fabric of this otherwise laudable document that attempted for all that to create community, a true commonwealth.
We have lost much of what the promise held. Not everyone has, by a long shot. There are still signs of hope that not everything of worth is diminished. But still the troubles we have that cluster around a belligerent, foolish President and a dysfunctional White House are much deeper than the players themselves. Not until we undo years and years, decades now, of idolatry fixated on the accumulation of wealth (always at the expense of the poor and powerless) will we even begin to touch the root causes of a decaying civilization.
The young will scorn me for being far too pessimistic, as I would have myself when my eyes sparkled with hope for a future bright with opportunity. Those who have lived as long as I know, or should know, that there are no men or women riding white horses that will prance in to save the day, no leaders that can turn this heavy-laden ship of State around in a few short years. We might end the stupidity of shutting down the world's most powerful and once promising government. We might address even some hard problems such as health care for everyone. We might restore some respectability of the United States of America among the nations who now fear that we've lost our minds or laugh us to scorn. But the real crisis that we face is not a pathetic band of abused and war-weary immigrants pleading for asylum and some measure of economic opportunity. The crisis is the now practically uncontrollable degradation of the environment, the wanton exploitation of natural resources, and above all the widening gap between the shrinking percentage of wealth-holders and the burgeoning ranks of the economically oppressed.
We can do more than wring our hands. We can do better than fight each other. We can call ourselves to remember the community that we were created to be and to become. And at the bottom of the stack lies the possibility that we can stop making deals with Death that so frequently is made up and decorated to look like Life. We have the power to bore more deeply into our souls and to start the reconstruction of the world by the reordering of our Selves. It won't happen as long as we tune out, cop out, drop out, and resign our rights and powers to those who only care about feathering their nests. And it won't happen as long as we dam up the Love within us, afraid that should we try loving for a change we might lose what little we have. It was always true and it always will be that giving ourselves away is the only hope we have of ever finding ourselves.