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Monday, February 15, 2010

God's daughters and sons

I've just returned from a late breakfast meeting with my Soul Friend (AKA: 'Spiritual Director'). It was not exactly a formal "session", but a time for us to just catch up and chat about what's going on in each other's lives, rather than the focused intensity of our usual time together.

Because of who he is and his deep spirituality, it's almost not possible not to find some 'direction' for my soul whenever we talk.

He was telling me about his concern with the 'climate change' - not in our environment but in our culture.

"I understand why people are angry and anxious," he said. "These are difficult times. I'm wondering why it is that people are so mean spirited," he asked, his face contorted with obvious discomfort.

"Just the other day I took my car in for service and one of the attendants was very discourteous - almost sharp - with me. Now, in another day and time I might have said something to him, but something in me held back. Something in me said, 'Be careful here. This is a man on the edge and you aren't a youngblood any more.' You know, I realized later that I was really afraid," he sighed and shook his head in dismay.

"Something is very, very wrong," he said. "What is it?"

His question was more like plea.

His words and his query resonated deeply with me. Much has been written of late about the loss of civility in our culture. There is a growing concern about it in this country and around the world because it seems to be a sign and symptom of something deeper, something more ominous.

As we were walking back from the diner, I heard myself say to him, "I just read something somewhere - a passing comment - that something happened in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection nor would he accept his party's nomination for reelection as President.

There was something about the tone and tenor of his statement that shocked us all. We knew that there was something more he was not saying, exactly, but was, nevertheless, being communicated clearly in his statement.

It had been on his watch that the Civil Right's Bill passed and he began to usher in his program of "The Great Society".

He declared a “war on poverty” and called for urban renewal, aid to education and Medicare for the elderly. Those were halcyon days of social justice.

But the situation in South Vietnam deteriorated and Johnson began enlarging the military commitment. Though never declared, the war in South Vietnam came to dominate his Presidency. It escalated steadily costing thousands of American lives and causing bitter protests at home.

It was my sense then, and remains so now, that the War in South Vietnam broke his heart and his will. And, I think, that war broke the heart and the will and the soul of this country.

My response to my "Soul Friend" was to wonder if the immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the growing awareness and understanding that greed - personal and corporate - as the underlying reasons for the present economic instability are not driving the dynamics of anger, anxiety and mean spirit.

Are not our hearts broken? Are not our wills compromised? Have not our souls been shaken to their foundation?

Hear me clearly: I am not making excuses for bad behavior. Neither am I playing arm-chair psychiatrist.

I am trying to understand something about what is going on in our culture and in our world today that leads to the manifestation of these cultural symptoms.

I shared with my Soul Friend a brief exchange I had with one of our five year olds in the reception line yesterday after church.

Evan came up to me and asked, "Reverend Elizabeth, who is Hosanna?" He had obviously been listening to the words of the Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer.

"Hosanna is not a person," I said, "It's a word of praise to God. It's like saying, Praise God! Or, Yay, God!"

That answer seemed to satisfy Evan. He nodded his head thoughtfully and then ran toward the Parish Hall for some Valentine's Day cookies.

Later, he father came through and asked if Evan had seen me. "He asked me who Hosanna is and I told him he should ask you. Evan considered my response and then said, 'Yeah, she would know. She's God's daughter.'"

Now, on one level, that's cute. Very, very cute. On another level, it made me uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.

So much so that I found him later in the Parish Hall and said, "Evan, I want you to know that you are God's son. You are one of God's sons and I am one of God's daughters. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

He smiled that Smart-Alec grin common to five year olds and said, "Yeah," adding quickly, "but I'm not a priest."

"Well," I said, "one day when you're older, you'll know that our baptism makes us all priests. Right now, I just want you to understand that you are one of God's sons and I am just one of God's daughters. Okay?"

"Yup," he said, hands in his pockets, not sure, exactly, what I had said but quite certain that it was important enough for him to pay attention and, perhaps, remember.

Which leads me to that magnificent picture at the top of this post. Someone sent it to me so I can't tell you the name of the photographer and give her/him credit where obvious credit is due. I apologize for that.

It's one of my favorite spiritual icons which I frequently use in my practice of meditation. It often leads me to profound spiritual depths and occasional insights.

I love how the sand is caught up in the surf and becomes one with it. I love the "natural" process of momentary chaos which is caught in this particular frame.

I think we, as individuals and a nation - perhaps even the world - are caught up in such a momentary cultural wave. We've become one with it and, in the ensuing chaos, lost our sense of identity.

We were caught up in a similar swell more than forty years ago. We got out of the war in South Viet Nam. We need to get out of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We need to say 'no' to the immorality of war.

We need say 'no' to the immorality of greed.

I fear we are yet to crash - hard. It will come. I have both anxiety and great hope about that eventuality.

I pray that, when the wave has passed and we find ourselves sitting dazed and brokenhearted on land, that we are able to reorient ourselves and our understanding that we are still, and always will be, daughters and sons of God.

I pray that we understand that we will maintain that status no matter how tossed and turned and tumbled and caught up we have been in the strong waves of life.

Once we regain a sense of our identity, perhaps, then, we can rediscover our moral compass - as individuals and as a nation and a world.

That's what been lost, I think. Our identity. And, along with it, our moral compass. It's all mixed up in the chaos of water and grains of sand. But, it's in there. Waiting to crash. And, in the midst of the chaos, waiting to be rediscovered and reborn.

I have faith that we might become "The Great Society" once again, finishing the battle to secure civil rights for all and waging war only on poverty and oppression.

Where we were once able to provide health care for the elderly through Medicare, we will be able to provide health care for all.

We are, each one of us, God's daughters and sons. It's time to stop ascribing that status to others and rediscover - and take responsibility for - our own holiness. It's time to start to behave like the children of God that we are.

I think it begins with saying, "No thank you" to another helping of greed.

And, "Yes, please," to the invitation to the hard work of peace.

It also wouldn't hurt to say - at least a few times a day - "Hosanna in the Highest."

6 comments:

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Your conversation brings up a good observation, which my experience frames in another way. We become more and more informed in the world, which causes us to ponder more and more moral choices, and my claim is that we find ourselves more and more powerless to impact these moralities in a distinct way. They have a tendency to overwhelm us.

I thought the other day about the things that turn young, idealistic doctors into grumpy, middle aged doctors who start planning their retirements but realize they owe all this money for student loans.

I had a conversation with one of my former students who I realize made a specialty choice based on student loan debt. They feel trapped, and rightly so. Trapped to debt. Trapped in personal freedom to practice, to put those idealistic dreams to practice. Trapped to earn a living that pays the student loan debt, the practice purchase debt, and the employee payroll.

I felt tremendous sadness b/c this person seems on a ten years sooner track to start feeling pressured by the things that my generation of physicians only now starts finding these hard choices. I realize the main reason these moralities don't bother me so much is I don't have a family to feed and that I tend to live very, very much "below my means."

I realize I made radical choices that don't entirely free me from this drama, but it certainly minimizes them. I doubt most people are brave enough or stupid enough (depending on one's POV) to choose that radically.

In those discoveries, I feel the sadness of the world. I have a sense we are at a place in civilization, that the caring, the civil, and the good, are being trapped in too many moral dilemmas.

It's a time we need God more than ever, but that is a hard sell to good people living in a hurting, mean, world, because it involves a radical fearlessness that the world does not reward.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

So many wonderful thoughts and observations here but that last sentence needs to be in needlepoint or calligraphy and framed.

"Radical Fearlessness" indeed.

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

A friend helped me to see that some of the anger that I saw in older men after Gene Robinson's election was tied to their grief. They discovered that people were no longer falling in line behind them. This didn't excuse the frequent rudeness that we experience in parish discussions after the GC in 2003, but it helped me understandthe intensity of the men's reactions.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, Fr. Daniel - it's called 'chronic grief syndrome'. It was first used to describe the grief of parents of disabled children who constantly grieve the loss of their "perfect/dream" child. It now has broader application. The loss of the dream of superiority and assumed privilege is one many men - and some women - grieve.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Feel free to borrow the "radical fearlessness" thing--it looks like you might have a sermon waiting to use it!

Anonymous said...

I loved your post. Very thought provoking. I too have pondered why the decay in common courtesy today? It seems to me that if we want our society to change to become more civil then we must be the instruments of change. Just think how nice a world this would be if we all decided to only use words to build people up and not to knock them down.