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.
I hope that you will use the Comments feature to participate with me and with each other. I believe it will be enriching to us all.
You will have noticed that my Saturday Evening Post has slid into Sunday these past couple of weeks. My discipline and inspiration to simply sit down and write has become more challenging, and I am going to take a summer break for the rest of August. But I thought I would give it at least a hearty send off for your reflection.
For the past more than a year now I have been trying to name and interpret the major resettling of our lives from the threat of the Covid-19 virus and the political turbulence that has substantially defined our individual and collective worlds these past months. Initially the predominant sensibility was a sort of disbelief, what I called the incessant “you can’t make this stuff up” moments. Was it true there was a pervasive, invisible, fatal illness that was affecting the entire planet? And the only way to combat it was to wash one’s hands, stay six feet away from everyone, and wear a mask? And by the way, the prevention protocol required we all stay home and only go out into the public at serious personal risk. Suddenly life as we knew it eased into low gear, then basically into neutral, a whole new pace from the customary busyness of our lives of consumption and meetings.
For a while we learned to make do and do without. We kind of enjoyed a slower lifestyle. We learned to Zoom. We told ourselves it was a kind of forced vacation that would surely not last long. We found we could convince ourselves that the lockdown offered some important relational gifts, like the discovering the possibility and intimacy of Zoom and FaceTime visits with family and friends that would not happened otherwise. The longer the Covid-19 lockdown lasted we continued to adapt our lives accordingly. In short, there was a quiet satisfaction in our discovered resiliency and ability to cope.
The presidential election crisis drama heightened our vulnerability, however. Assumptions about the stability of democracy and confidence in the rule of law became frayed. Even the certainties of the rigors of scientific research and facts were questioned. Reckoning around our nation’s historical systemic racism brought us into a disheartening and unavoidable awareness of a moral quagmire from years of slavery, exploitation and genocide. Covid-19 also radically and further exposed class and wealth disparity. And the reality of the impact of centuries of planetary environmental degradation we preferred to deny was now part of daily weather and wildfire disparities that directly affected our personal health and welfare.
The miracle of nature’s springtime appeared to include a renewal from Covid’s winter and the availability of heroic vaccinations provided a welcome sense of breathing room, literally from our masks and from the isolation of the lockdown. But, alas, there’s still much more to the story than a facile happy ending.
Which brings us to the current state of confusion and haunting uncertainty. As much as we may have anticipated and appreciated the heroism of science and medicine, we are increasingly aware of their limitations as new types of viruses appear and people are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated. The predominant sensibility, conscious or unconscious, is that we are caught up in the tangle of politics, cultural turbulence, and various levels of social and personal discouragement.
None of what I write tonight is new, and, in fact, the problem is that the narrative I have presented is getting old and tedious. And a viable, credible, alternative story is not readily apparent.
Which brings me to my often cited default position of the wisdom of the ancient prophetic tradition. I can’t adequately summarize it here, but the gist of it claims that ultimately the love and pathos of God will prevail if and when the people can manage a change of heart from self-centeredness to an ethic and behavior that serves the common good, and especially rights the grievous wrongs against the poor and marginalized.
In response to the humbling disassembling of life as we knew it during the pandemic, we got a glimmer of a possibility of an alternative way of being and doing than the competitive and exploitative capitalistic ethic that dominates our current economic and cultural values. We have been invited to imagine "green deals,” universal health care, progressive income tax increases, even assurances that socialism may actually work to improve equality and the overall quality of life. Granted I am suggesting only a moderated systemic response than a more profound, radical prophetic vision, but even these kinds of changes will be difficult in the current political climate. The more ominous alternative scenario, the opposite of a prophetic compassionate revision, is an immoral dictatorship, and we got an all too close a look at that possibility during Covid as well.
I am a believer in the prophetic tradition. I don’t know how we eventually, as a planet and as a species, can recover from the damage we have inflicted on the earth and each other, but I believe we can and will. I would like to believe we can do so nonviolently.
With that ending, I think I probably have given you something to mull while I vacate. And you may even be relieved I am taking a couple of weeks off!