If you want your circumstances to change, you are going to have to take the first step and change how you relate and react to what is happening. If you are not willing to do that, the only one you have to blame is yourself. Nothing can change if everything stays the same.
Every generation seems to feel compelled to say the next generation is doing everything wrong and the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Despite that, the world goes on. If we examine things objectively, we see that what changes are the circumstances and details, not the outcomes. The world moves along and new problems do arise, but the ones left over from the previous generation get solved by the next.
What if the real issue is twofold? What if we complain about the next generation because (1) we don’t want to admit we didn’t have all the answers, either, and (2) we just don’t like change?
As I wrote the title of this post, it occurred to me that the word “crusade” has three uses in contemporary spiritual culture, and so my title might lead to some confusion. I’m not beyond using a little confusion to attract readers, so rather than change it I thought I might explain it.
The historical sense of “crusade” hearkens back to medieval times and the unfortunate wars undertaken by the Church in an attempt to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslin powers that held it. While there were a few jewels in the rough during these times, from a contemporary perspective they were horrific, genocidal undertakings by a Church more concerned with temporal power that spiritual concerns. These are not the crusades to which I refer.
Then there are crusades of the type that Billy Graham and others undertook. While there isn’t anything wrong with this sort of crusade (if you’re into that sort of thing), I never have and never will set out on one.
The crusades to which I refer are the ones to right what’s wrong, to challenge the status quo, to get the [metaphorical] troops fired up to do [metaphorical] battle in the great arena of social justice. Mind you, I still believe in these crusades and I will still occasionally write about these topics, but not with the zeal of a younger man who perhaps foolishly believes he can change the world. These past few years have taught me that the world may well be fucked up beyond my ability to help it recover in an activist sort of way.
Many years ago when I worked as a field service engineer on diagnostic ultrasound equipment, a very insightful man named Dick Cline summed up the difference between sales and service people in this way. He said that when a sales person hears, “no,” they get excited and see it as a challenge. When a service person hears, “no,” they pack up their stuff and leave. As he spoke those words, I knew that I was a service person. I don’t like wasting a lot of time trying to convince people to do the right thing. I will happily identify the right thing, explain why it’s the right thing, and offer suggestions about how best to implement it. If you want to argue with me about why the wrong thing is the right thing, I’m just going to pack up my stuff and go home. There are other people who will be more than happy to fight the good fight, and I will leave it to them.
Why? There are two reasons I feel this way. The first is that crusades simply don’t work in a country already profoundly divided and profoundly angry. The result is that campaigns and crusades end up preaching to the choir, reinforcing the views of those who already agree with the crusade but causing those with differing views to simply become more entrenched. The second is that, from a spiritual perspective, I feel our time is much better spent by trying to rebuild fractured relationships and thereby start a much needed healing process. That will in turn provide the foundation for the change that is needed. Of course, you can feel free to disagree – just don’t expect me to debate it with you.
America please, seriously, stop saying, “This is not who we are.” That statement is categorically false. This is precisely who we are: a country that has elected a serial sex offender; a small minded, profoundly mentally ill, petty dictator President of the United States. We have filled Congress and the Courts with people who think this is a great idea; we have a malignant, obstructionist, pathological liar leading the Senate; and a woman who should be posing for advertisements for the local assisted living center leading the House of Representatives. A significant number of people running for President in the Democratic Party are or soon will be wearing adult diapers, making that job the only one we feel our elders are fit to do because we sure aren’t hiring them in the private sector to mentor young people.
WE THE PEOPLE created this mess, WE THE PEOPLE are responsible for it, and this certainly is precisely who we are. Before you start shouting that Hillary won the popular vote, I would remind you of four things. (1) Most Americans didn’t vote. (2) She won by less than one percent of our population, a stridently unimpressive margin. (3) We allowed the DNC to torpedo the campaign of Bernie Sanders so that someone who was, at best, a second choice power broker could lose the Presidency. (4) WE THE PEOPLE created the system that allows the person who lost the popular vote to inhabit the White House and WE THE PEOPLE are either unwilling or unable to change that system. So, yes, this is precisely who we are.
All of the ugliness, the confederate flags, the children in concentration camps, imperialistic foreign policy around the globe, all of the misogyny, even Alyssa Milano trying to resurrect her flagging career by hoping that we will forget that actors can cry at the drop of a hat – it is precisely who we are. Denying it isn’t going to help because denying reality never helps. Protesting it isn’t going to help, because protesting simply burns off the energy that might be used to effect change.
As Thomas Merton pointed out when he wrote …for, you see, when “I” enter into a dialogue with “you” and each of us knows who is speaking, it turns out that we are both Christ… the only way to change this is to enter into dialogue with our neighbors. That dialogue need not be about things of any substance, because what is needed is relationship. You can’t build relationship by entering into it with a political agenda, you build it by entering with no agenda beyond getting to know your neighbor. It takes time, it’s messy, and we are not always successful – but it is the only way to build relationships, decrease suspicion and mistrust, and begin to see one another as human beings rather than political pawns.
Many of us subscribe to the religion of politics, and it is an idol just as surely as golden calves are idols. Politics is a human construct and as such has only the power we give it. Relationships, on the other hand, are the point of human existence. We need to develop these relationships not only with those who are our physical neighbors and therefore are probably very similar to us, but most especially with those who live across town and whom we perceive to be different from us – because they are not, and we need to overcome that mistaken belief. Most of all we must come to see that, as Thomas Merton pointed out in No Man is an Island, “…truth never becomes clear as long as we assume that each one of us, individually, is the center of the universe.” We need to get off of our asses, and start building relationships.