For this older historian, July is a good month to resume Another Voice reflections. My travels are over for a while and I am back home a bit more relaxed and ready to observe, reflect, and type. And — of course — great changes are certainly in the air.
First of all a moment of reflection about today: on July 1st 1916 the Battle of the Somme began. Also called the Somme Offensive, it was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. The armies of the British and French empires at war against against the German Empire. They slaughtered each other until November 18th, leaving more than one million wounded or killed. It was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. I am re-reading Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, as my spiritual reading. Still…..today the war cries continue; and it is difficult convincing people that war never resolves human conflicts.
As this July begins, the implications of BREXIT are breaking out. Once upon a time Great Britain may soon be just a not so merry old England: a former UK island, holding hands with Wales. On July Fourth, of course we citizens of the USA will celebrate and reflect once again on the meaning of our independence. On July 14th the French will celebrate “La fête nationale” — the French National Day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789: a key event in the French Revolution. And closer to home, this July 2016 we will know for certain the identities of the Republican and Democratic candidates for the White House. (My preference would be HC rather than DT, although many still consider DT the solution to all our problems and a stalwart Christian on top of that.)
After July 28th, when the Democrats conclude their convention in Philadelphia, the tempo and the temperature of the USA 2016 presidential race will shape just about everything on the Internet. Heated election rhetoric. Much of it unfortunately will be anchored in fear, anger, paranoia, and ignorance. Vices proclaimed as virtues for people seeking security in a changing world. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is getting an authoritarian new twist.
In coming weeks I would like to reflect more seriously on the meaning, scope, and implications of our changing world: human, social, cultural, theological, and religious — and where a person really finds security today and tomorrow. A special area of reflection will be where “God” fits into change and who God is for us today.
I would like to reflect as well on the immense problem of historical and contemporary ignorance. It really is a problem. Ignorant people (even the “well- educated” ones) are frantically working to put a mask on change and convey a false sense of security. Thinking is always dangerous, because thinkers eventually start asking questions. (I was fortunate in my education. In my first year of high school — at a seminary at that — my religion teacher encouraged me to question everything.) I suspect a lot of political propaganda from both parties, in the coming months, will be based on and promote historical and contemporary ignorance. And I know very keenly the dangers created by religious leaders who proclaim their religious falsehoods as faith.
A third area for my reflections will be the whole area of leadership: political and religious. We have far too many civil and religious leaders, these days, who are simply blind guides. Their vision stops at their noses. One of my earlier Roman Catholic heroes, Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame University for thirty-five years, said it very well: “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Well, there is a lot of uncertain trumpet noise these days.
More July re-launch comments……An old acquaintance said a couple weeks ago that I am really an “old leftist liberal.” I chuckled and said that words like “leftist” and “liberal” really cannot capture my take on life. Nor do words like “conservative” or “traditional.” I know as well that some friends — and even some members of my family — dislike and take issue with some of my theological and political positions.
I mean no offense, but I have to interpret reality the way I experience it. Everyone has to do that.
And we all have to practice a kind of mutual respect and tolerance based on the realization that no one has or sees all the truth. No one. No single political party. No single church. No single religion. We are all travelers on the human road, discovering for better or for worse as we move along. God is much greater than all of our religious constructions; and I think the historical Jesus of Nazareth would have been in agreement with that.
How would I like to be described? I am an 65+ guy — husband, father, theologian — with an historical critical approach to understanding the human journey. That journey entails interpretation, reflected experience, new discoveries, and new interpretations of old truths. I see no other way to live.
I look forward to traveling with you once again!
(Brief comment about the attached photo: An earlier photo of my wife and me, as we were looking across the River Tarn in Albi, France — thinking about the tenth century Albigensian Crusade, a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III, in 1209, to uproot and eliminate Cathar heretics. Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian abbot-commander in the crusade, reported to the pope that more than 20,000 heretics were put to the sword.)