Articles

Cruel earth, gentle sky

There is a quiet in the air today. I love fall — it has a pensiveness that speaks of great distances. There is a shedding and a forgetting, as well as a preparation. All speaks to past and future, while offering a gentle, enveloping presence. It is a good time to write.

This fall, however, is also a hard time to write. There seems to be a national vindictiveness in the air, and it makes me angry and frustrated. Yet I don’t wish to enter into the fray, because to do so requires that I become a combatant in an arena where the weaponry of kindness and reflection are summarily steamrolled.

By and large, I try to write from my best self. This is not necessarily the self who walks the streets each day, but it is the self to which I can repair when my own cynicism or anger become too all consuming. I don’t wish to give this sanctuary up, because it is the self that I cherish most, and because it is the voice that you as readers have come to expect from me. But I am deeply bothered by the selfishness and cynicism I see around me, and the way it is impinging upon all of our daily lives.

I freely admit to having politics of the left, because I believe it is our moral obligation to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. I also believe, as the native people teach, that we must act for the seventh generation, and not for self-interest. But those are personal biases, and I do not expect everyone to share them, though, obviously, I wish everyone did.

But where I do wish to make a public stand is on this strange notion that seems to be abroad on the land, that we, as a nation, are the repository of God’s truth. The use of religion as a justification for cruelty toward other human beings is false, and inevitably brings a people to grief. It does not matter what others have done in the name of religion. We must resist the impulse to meet their righteous cruelty with righteous cruelty of our own.

Yet, I believe we are in a time that, when viewed from a distance, will show that one could not afford to be luke warm. Religious activism, often raised to zealotry, is the logical outgrowth of a world that has long been governed by policies of nationalism and secular ideologies, and we are living in that world.

The question is how we claim a spiritual voice that is neither naive nor belligerent and righteous, does not demand national sanction, and does not intrude upon the quiet freedom of the individual heart. We don’t need any thundergods right now; we need some unifying spiritual principles, embodied in a vision that goes beyond national borders and national interests. It is unseemly to see the world as a big fistfight between Jesus and Mohammed, or Moses and Mohammed, or Confucius and the Buddha and anybody else. These are childish interpretations of spiritual traditions, and they do no honor to those in whose name they are being carried on.

I do not have any answers. But I keep looking. It is not enough for me to accentuate the personal at the expense of the social — lots of people are good to their neighbors while people are starving outside their gates. But neither do I wish to become some kind of manque Jeremiah, raging against broad inequities and making a life out of pointing out human and cultural deficiencies while good people are struggling in the trenches trying to be kind.

So, the battle goes on — both internal and external. Kindness is shouted down by righteousness; compassion is used to its advantage by power. What we all must do, especially in this mean season, is find a way to witness to something better. The difficulty is in knowing what that something is.

Keep your minds clear, your hearts strong, and your anger in check. We do not need any rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.


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