Monday, November 21, 2016

Lessons, but no caroling

Okay. I know you may not agree with me on this.  But I've been doing an awful lot of thinking lately, about the mess our country has gotten itself into.  (Don't worry, I'm not going to launch into a political diatribe; you find enough of that on the news and on Facebook.)

Now, granted, I'm a little doom-and-gloomish these days: my husband's been laid up with back pain, so I'm looking at the world through darker glasses than usual. But the truth is, lots of people have things a LOT worse than we do -- which, of course, is part of the reason the country is in such a mess right now.

But, I'll be honest, when the columnist on Bill Moyers says America will never be the same again, I suspect he's right. We won't.  Even my husband, who is normally the most positive optimistic person I know, has said it: people are gonna die over this. Now granted, he's in pain, and a little more negative than usual, but it's clear a lot of repressed anger has finally been given permission to explode out there, and it's getting ugly. We're already hearing the stories.

I saw it today, and not just on the news: I went to the local shopping mall hoping to replace some broken glasses. It was a busy day, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The stores are getting all decked out for Christmas, people are planning their Thanksgiving dinners and starting to work through their Christmas lists, but it ... didn't feel festive out there. 

The people who work in the stores, and at McDonald's (yes, I broke down and got a Big Mac; a really good sign of my state of mind) were really unusually friendly and nice.  But the shoppers -- now, granted, this is not my neighborhood; I have to get off the island to go to a mall -- weren't doing eye contact. There was none of the usual camaraderie, and the stores --even packed with people -- were unusually quiet, except for the occasional whining child. It was eerie. I don't think people feel safe anymore.  I found myself thinking about each person I saw.  Were they frightened? Were they angry? Were they wary, or suspicious?  Itching for a fight? Feeling justified? I couldn't really tell -- and I certainly wasn't going to ask.

But again: this is not a political diatribe.  I just keep trying to figure out how we got here.

I mean -- I know the liberals like to point fingers at Reagan and some of the policies he instituted, and the conservatives think the problem is the liberal agenda and the folks who tried to stuff that agenda down the throats of ... well, everyone.

But my husband's last job -- before he got laid off, and before he started learning to drive a school bus -- was doing something called "root cause analysis." When things went wrong, he was the one who did the research to figure out why.  And that's something we have in common: curiosity. We both want to know why.  So I keep pondering -- where did all this come from?

And where I am now (though who knows where I'll be tomorrow) is back to my Biblical roots.  I may not be attending church anymore, but I'm thinking at least some of the answer is right there in First Timothy. Though I'm not a big fan of the King James Version I think it states the problem beautifully: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

It's not money, it's the love of money.  And who doesn't love money? It buys stuff -- and who hasn't been guilty of wanting more -- or better -- stuff? The problem is that when we let that hunger for more drive us, we go off the path and suffering becomes inevitable.  We think having more will make life better, but, really, it doesn't.  We weren't told to love money; we were told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Any other choice is going to bring sorrow.

So let's look at this.  I mean -- when you look at the people who voted for our president-elect, do they look happy? I don't think so.  I think they voted out of misery.  We know that. But does our fabulously wealthy president-elect look happy?  Does his wife -- who's not gonna live with him for the next four years? Do his children? Do his cabinet members? Does ANYONE look happy these days?  I don't think so.  

But instead of throwing stones at the rich, I think we all need to look in the mirror. Because we've all contributed to the problem. Did ANY of us take all we had and give it to the poor?  Most of us gave something, if we could, if we had anything left over. But weren't we still looking for deals, for groupons, for a free lunch, for free service? Did we stop to think about the chef who stood on her feet all day to make us that low-cost meal, then had to pay her waiters and dishwashers and busboys, not to mention the doctor bills for her orthotics and knee replacements? Did the folks who bought and sold all those subprime mortgages in the early 2000's stop to realize the impact of all those empty purchases? Did the folks who bought those houses wonder if maybe they wouldn't be able to afford them?

I think we all got hooked (okay, maybe I'm just speaking for myself, but I don't think so) on the idea of more, and better, and cheaper. We want stuff, we buy stuff, and we don't think about the costs that trickle down from that; the American jobs lost to the cheap labor abroad that makes our purchases less expensive so we can buy more; the local jobs lost because it's easier to shop online and have cheap stuff delivered to your door.

But there's more to it than greed: here's the other part of the problem.  I think we also got hooked on the idea that saying something was true would make it true. I'm not just talking about the fact that we threw out our encyclopedias and started getting all our info from Facebook and the media; started choosing our news sources and then believing everything we heard.  (Though I do remember being horrified when the librarian who came after me tossed out our Encyclopedia "because they can find all the answers on the internet.")

I'm also talking about all the ways we enforced politically correct language.  Originally I think we hoped that removing the ugly words and the misogynist language would help people to think in new ways.  But somehow that morphed into thinking that when the words were gone the thoughts would disappear as well -- and clearly THAT didn't happen.

Thoughts -- as any good Buddhist will tell you -- have a mind of their own, and over time we humans become quite accustomed to assuming that whatever we think must be true. And sadly, there just aren't enough of us -- any more than there ever were enough of us -- who are willing to look below the thoughts to find what truth might lie beneath that constant barrage of thoughts; to listen beneath all that for what's really driving our thoughts; and to listen even deeper for the universal truth, the divine spark planted in each of us that connects us all.

And the boomers? My generation? We thought we were ushering in an age of enlightened consciousness, the Age of Aquarius, and we fought all those battles and marched all those marches and enforced all those laws thinking we could finally get those egalitarian values to triumph and in one fell swoop, one day, that illusion is gone, gone, gone, really gone. 

And we only have ourselves to blame.  Because we got so caught up in that growth thing -- I mean, growing our way of life is good, right? -- that we never stopped to listen.  It's kinda the same mistake we make in prayer.  We're so busy pushing our personal agenda we forget to listen to what God's calling us to do. It's the mistake America made when we tried to impose democracy in the Middle East, and the mistake the missionaries made when they tried to impose Christianity on the native Hawaiians.  We didn't listen, we just assumed -- which, as my daughter tells me, always makes "an ass of U and Me." 

Bonnie Raitt says it: "I can't make you love me if you don't. I can't make your heart feel something it won't." You can't force people to change. You can invite them to change.  You can establish a relationship and introduce them to your way of being in the world. But change is a two-way street: I may change the way you see something, but your way, whatever it is, has value, too: I need to listen as well as preach.  And as long as I do all the talking, you're gonna get restive, because you, too, want -- and deserve -- to be heard.

So yeah.  I'm not liking this. I'm scared. I don't feel heard. I'm wary. I'm guilty. I'm not happy. I'm all those things. But I do still have this odd faith, in spite of it all.  My Christian roots again -- and a lifetime of miracles experienced, I have to say -- I just ... I still believe God is at work in this. Somehow. As usual, when I'm in a pinch, I can't imagine how God's gonna pull us out of it.  But somehow everything does seem, ultimately, even if I no longer think it's likely to happen in what remains of my lifetime, to work out for good.  Yup. I still think that.  In spite of everything.

And here's what I also think.  Maybe it's a good thing that all those angry people have come out of their closets screaming. Granted, I am absolutely terrified of conflict, for childhood reasons I don't need to go into again. But all things considered, I'd rather have people speaking their truth than pretending to be or believe something they're not and they don't.  

At least now we know where we stand.  Now we can really start to listen. We may not like what we're hearing, but maybe it might be a little closer to the truth.  I'm hoping that's a good thing.

Yes.  A bunch of illusions have died. But maybe some new growth will emerge out of the ... what is it they call them? Nurse logs?  You know - the trees that fall in the forest and rot, and provide a home for the new plants? Sometimes what emerges may be something new, something you've never seen before.  Something you'd never imagined.

That's the hope anyway.  And in spite of everything, I'm sticking to it. After all -- what good would it do to abandon it?  I'd only just be more unhappy. 

So yeah. Life's crap right now. Not likely to get better soon.  But I do think good may come out of it eventually.  In the meantime, I intend to keep "brightening the corner where you are." 

So come sit with me. Maybe together we'll generate enough positivity to keep us afloat a little bit longer. That's the hope, anyway.  We'll see. But more importantly, maybe we'll learn to listen -- I mean, really listen, to what the rest of the world has to teach us.  And maybe, a little, to God...

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