25. And hearing, the Master was glad, and gave thanks and came down from the hilltop…when the crowd pressed him with its woes….[the Messiah] smiled upon the multitude and said pleasantly unto them,
-Richard Bach, in Illusions, The Adventures of A Reluctant Messiah.
How does one begin to talk about our nation’s social, economic and political problems? What are the words that have not already been said; where are the moral imperatives that have not been rendered impotent; the facts that have not become “alt-“ and the news that has not become mere opinion? Who, and what, can be trusted and believed?
Overcome with sensory overload, one feels sorely inadequate to the task of sorting out fact from fiction, truth from propaganda. As time goes by and the “evidence” piles up, pro and con, on so many vital issues; as the threats and disasters mount, like Bach’s Reluctant Messiah, we soon long to say, “I Quit!”
Granted, Bach’s Illusions was more about our own illusion that we can and should save everyone, than it is about our present situation that seems to lack “Messiahs.” Our advocacy, our pleas for justice, our outcry against downright sinful oppression has, in fact, become a battle to save ourselves—or to find someone who will do that for us. Sadly, the very people we look to for salvation from our medical, economic, and social woes—to say nothing of the potential nuclear holocaust threat, the daily terrorist threats from home and abroad (I include cyber threats), and our planet’s efforts to pay us back for all the harm we have done to it—are all too often the very people whose only goal in life seems to be to wipe us from the face of said planet while causing the worst kinds of misery imaginable. How do we find the stamina to keep working for change?
During my lifetime, I have been an advocate for many social issues. I have also worked in the service sector, seeking to do my best to make life better for my family, for my community. One day while I was working as the nurse in the county jail, a couple of prisoners said to me, “You believe that you are helping us by working here, and by treating us like real people. But in fact, you are motivated by the need to feel good about yourself; you need to help people worse off than you, so you can feel good.”
I thought about that for quite a while, finally deciding that yes, it did make me feel good to be of service to others. But what was the alternative? Would I feel better watching them starve, or be beaten, or fail to escape whatever ill came their way? Of course not. I finally figured out (with the help of Gospel readings, a PhD in Sociology and a Master’s in Theology, and continuing to actively live my philosophy of doing what good I could do, where I could do it) that being happy about helping others is a necessary by-product of community building. And community building is all about making sure that the community is protected from greed, murder, neglect, shaming, and other crimes against the human family. Because I am part of the community, I do also benefit from whatever service or good I am able to provide.
Having followed this moral imperative, however, I presently find myself threatened by the magnitude of crimes against humanity that demand my righteous anger; that call for me to add my voice to those whose anger is also shouting out against an unfeeling and unheeding leadership. But now we are a sharply divided nation, with no inhibitions against verbally abusing people who disagree with us. While this perfectly suits the darker intentions of our leadership, it fractures families, communities, and organizations. Which also suits said leadership. Perhaps, in fact, I should not refer to “leadership” because that is certainly not what is occurring in our government—far from it. Use of the term is simply habit, and one we should not use until we have corrected our past errors and placed men and women of good character, intelligence, integrity and moral excellence in places we could then refer to as “leadership.”
I hate living in a society where the death and destruction of entire ethnic and socio-economic groups can be celebrated by the rich and powerful, and ignored by too many others—some of whom have just said “I Quit” for all the wrong reasons. In Richard Bach’s book, the “Messiah” quit because he was trying to save the world and he was tired. Also, we learn, because that is not the way to build community and it feeds our own brains with all the wrong information about who we are. For too many people today, their “I Quit” is the result of feeling overwhelmed, or from a sense of helplessness against the sheer magnitude of the problems, or even from the acquired nihilism brought on by the culture of fear generated by all the propaganda.
But “I Quit” can’t be the answer today. Not for me, and not for anyone who once had a dream about participating in creating a wonderful future for our nation’s children and grandchildren. Today, all I could do was write this blog. Perhaps no one will read it, and if they do perhaps they will disregard it. That isn’t the point. The point is that I have not given up, and I won’t quit. Not as long as there is at least one thing I can do to make even the least important situation a better one, in some small way.
It does make me happy to do that. And with any luck, it may also make someone else’s day a better one. And best of all, with enough people happily doing what they can do, we may see a ripple effect of concern and support for one another that is strong enough to defeat those who prefer destruction over construction; death over life (for others), and ivory tower solitude over community.
I know it is possible. In the face of lack of funding and support in so many disasters of our immediate past I have seen countless men and women whose first thought was for the victims. They headed into disaster areas with disregard for their own safety, the cost of being there, and the magnitude of the disaster. They just did what they could do, then and there, because it was the right thing to do. They are heroes, and nation builders. They didn’t quit.
Dedicated with love, to the heroes who care, and who don’t quit.