This blog features reflections on current affairs through the lens of my Quaker faith and practice and offers not only analysis but a perspective on hope, renewal, and reconciliation - a “lift”, as I call it - during these stressful, chaotic times.
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I write my Saturday Evening Post attempting to articulate my own thoughts and feelings in ways I believe will resonate with my readers in this present moment. Tonight I am struggling to sufficiently stir my muse to have an positive message. As I reflect why I discover I am more deeply disturbed than ever about my country’s welfare because of the turmoil in Portland and all it represents. To use an analogy from my old football days, we are in a critically important championship game, and I am not sure whether “our team” needs to "run out the clock” while we have a slight lead that tests our resiliency and hope the other team will not overwhelm us with brute force or a trick play. Or perhaps “our team” is actually the one behind and trying desperately to get across a electoral goal line and put an end to the unworthy dominance of a bone and soul crunching opponent. In any case, anxiety about the next several months is mounting.
I’m not a “doom scroller” looking for more out there to worry about. But a combination of the life threatening virus, racism, climate issues, and now a frightening escalation of what seems to be strategically instigated violence certainly ups the anxiety level. My intention every week is to both acknowledge my questions and concerns, but I also resolve to provide some sort of uplift as well. I am hesitating to write about my anxiety tonight because I am not at all sure I can offer the spirit of encouragement and uplift I intend. But I will try.
One of the ways I have learned to deal with anxiety is, whenever possible, to find a way to do something about it. In raising a common concern about a stated plan to send White House controlled federal troops to democratic cities a friend asked, “But what can we do?” I can share two things I have done. In the “for what it’s worth” category, I wrote the staff of my congressman, Rick Larsen, who serves with some seniority on the House Armed Services Committee. I shared the two most important sources of information that have so heightened my concern about the Portland situation. One was an article by Thomas Friedman in the 7/22 NYTs pittinhttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/opinion/trump-portland-syria.html with a warning about the history of populist strongmen using instigated violence to divide the nation and then proclaim oneself an iron-fisted deliverer from uncontrolled violence. (Sounds familiar?) And I also requested the staff to view and recommend to the congressman an hour long PBS special by European travel guru, Rick Steves, on the rise of 20th century European fascism. https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=rick+steves+fascism I then was bold to suggest the House Armed Services Committee should consider some form of emergency meeting about how they might assert their rightful control over the armed services and any other militarized governmental agency. So far, not surprisingly, no reply. But I felt I at least tried.
And then there’s the “long haul” antidote to anxiety. Some years ago now, in a state of pent up anger and frustration with the Bush administration’s promise and then failure to end the Iraq war I called my wise mentor, Ed Snyder, who had dealt with a good number of national crises during his long tenure as director of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC. As I finished my rant about administrative betrayal and perfidy, he remained silent for a few seconds while I guess he waited for me to settle down. Then he simply said, “You’re one of the instant gratification guys, aren’t you?” And then he recommended I read about the similarity in the failure to end the war in Viet Nam.
And much has been made this past week, since the death of Congressman John Lewis, about his long, abiding commitment to nonviolence and racial equality despite of the decades of disappointments, frustrations and struggles to advance human rights and voting rights for African-Americans. I look forward to see how many ways we can honor John Lewis for his years as the “conscience of the Congress.”
I honor the wisdom of both of these leaders for holding what I have been calling “intrinsic hope,” the grace to trust, not in the “extrinsic hope” of desired results, but in an innate confidence in the ultimate restorative power of love and truth in the mysterious dynamic flow of good and evil, and what I believe is anchored in the sacred interdependency of all of life. I think of “intrinsic hope” as a sort of stabilizing gyroscope of my soul.
Okay, so I’m still worried about whether our nation can survive the next few months of chaos and the thrashing ego of Trump and his compliant administration. And I will cheer on, and join as I am able, all those committed to resist decrees and policies that threaten the common good. And, of course, I will continue to worry about all the other dire existential threats and unsettledness of our times. But I also will continue seek our and honor the positive opportunities for deep systemic change the radical reset of social and planetary life during the extraordinary pandemic era. I’ll try, at least, to keep the gyroscope of intrinsic hope spinning.