I feel our language has been so impoverished by mass media headlines, Facebook exclamations, and twitter outbursts that it is difficult to express genuine concerns today about the demise of human solidarity, compassion, and civilityProtest movements and counter-protest movements, becoming increasingly violent, are tearing the country apart. These developments are hardly limited to the United States of course. Hardened Catalan attitudes against Madrid and vice versa, as both sides dig in, may very well trigger a constitutional crisis, with profound implications for Spain and Europe.
Where do we go from here? We are caught in a kind of disruption, disorientation, and social malaise……..One only needs to mention names: Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Charlottesville …..Varieties of physical, psychological, and social climate change. Institutional and political impotence abound. Again on both sides of the Atlantic. This week in Rome at the famous Roman Catholic Gregorian University, a conference is being held on “The Dignity of the Child in the Digital World.” International experts are exploring the issue of child protection on the internet. At the very same time, a Vatican diplomat, accused by Canadian authorities of downloading child pornography in Canada, is living inside Vatican City and strolling in the papal gardens, protected by the Vatican’s sovereign diplomatic immunity.
People react in strange ways. And we hear strange voices. The Rev. Pat Robertson has blamed LGBTQ people for the recent hurricanes; and he says that disrespect for the US flag and the US president are the real cause of the Las Vegas mass shootings…….Simple explanations? An Arkansas firefighter wrote on Facebook that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem should be shot in the head. He wrote that President Donald Trump “should post snipers at every game” and they should fire their weapons at any player who refuses to stand for the national anthem.
Words and actions. How they affect us, and how we react to them. How do we really handle angry rage? Right now it seems to me that more people are interested in yelling and screaming about athletes kneeling for the national anthem than they are about the men, women, and children dying in Puerto Rico. What words and actions best express a commitment to “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?
Talking with an American friend this week, I said I was concerned about a loss of civility, the rise of vitriolic hatred, and a lack of compassion in contemporary society. He said he was more concerned about a loss of respect for the flag. I said perhaps respect for the flag is best demonstrated by concerted actions in support of people suffering and dying. “It is about symbols and meaning,” I said.
“It’s about patriotism,” he said, “and a lack of traditional American Christian values.”
Christian values. I chuckled and said I was happy to get into a theological discussion. Love and hatred, friendship and alienation, wealth and poverty, guilt and forgiveness, and most of the other things that make life happy or miserable for people are rooted in spiritual realities.
“Acceptance, belonging, community, and forgiveness are spiritual realities” I said. “They take root in people, when they have shelter, warmth, nourishment, medication, and a healthy environment.”
“Thanks for the pious talk,” my friend said. “I have to get back to reality.” End of that conversation.
Reality….When we look at the life of Jesus in the synoptic gospels, we see it characterized by ministry to others, especially the sick and the suffering. In the fourth gospel, Jesus tells his disciples in no uncertain terms that they are to love one another in the same way that he loved them.
We need conversion and bridge-building. Conversion means a serious examination of conscience and behavior. Are our attitudes and our behavior authentically Christian? This is the big reality question.
If we are going to be authentically Christian we need to repair and construct some bridges:
How about respectful dialogue bridges between far-right and far-left Christians? If we are all part of the Body of Christ, we need to get our behavior in sync. This is a bridge I need to work on….
How about respectful dialogue bridges between Republicans and Democrats? A house divided against itself will not survive. I am a Democrat and most of my family are Republicans. We do love and respect each other.
How about respectful dialogue bridges between “straight” and gay and transgender people? Along with respectful listening and dialogue with researchers in the fields of human sexuality and gender issues.
How about respectful dialogue bridges between the economically impoverished and the advantaged wealthy?
Some quick thoughts, in our restless days. All of these issues would be great adult education themes….
I agree with Isaac Newton: “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”