Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Daring to Dance to No One's Funeral

Taking the time to contemplate the vast amount of right-wing smears that have been either facilitated, advanced, or concocted by conservatives over the past several months is an overwhelming task. Within each of these petty, partisan, often nonsensical parries and thrusts I am reminded again of the excesses of the Pharisees. Wishing to have everything on their own terms and in accordance with every selfish demand, modern day Pharisees are found not merely in the opposition party, but regrettably sometimes among our own ranks, particularly in the form of people who fail to neither understand nor respect the vast amount of indignation felt when crucial reform legislation is watered down or vaguely outlined due to nothing more than political expediency and self-preservation. If this sort of thing was limited to politicians, it might be more easily challenged, but one sees it everywhere. Most recently, those well-connected business types who long ago lost their souls in selling the whole world are also guilty as charged.

My mind returns to a passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus speaks to the multitudes outlining the crucial difference between those devoted to advancing true unity and salvation and those instead clinging to selfish motives and baser pursuits. Immediately prior to this segment, Jesus highlights the importance of the eccentric prophet John the Baptist and puts John's life in its proper context. As the talk progresses, the Nazarene also pauses to take stock of the pervasive childishness of those who impede the spiritual and physical health, plus the general well-being of all. The below passage was meant for everyone to hear, friend and foe alike, and is as applicable now as it was then.

All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John. (Italics mine)

"To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and shout to each other, 'We played music for you, but you didn't dance! We sang a funeral song, but you didn't cry!' (Bold mine)

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."' But wisdom is proved right by all her children."

We have certainly come across like children recently. As though transported magically back to grade school, one group wishes to play a game, but the other group refuses because it doesn't want to play THAT game. The opposite group proposes a different game to play, but the other side doesn't want to play THAT game, either. Both factions now thoroughly exasperated, this counter-productive back and forth soon grinds to a halt because no one has ever managed to come any kind of consensus agreement. It's hard to negotiate when you can't even get started. Like children, one moment we are at play and the next we are fighting each other again. We often assume that childishness is something put away for good once adulthood is reached, but I was taught that a person can be a fool at any age, for any reason, and that childishness stubbornly persists regardless of how many wrinkles and grey hairs one acquires. If perhaps we were inclined to acknowledge that at times we are all little more than overgrown children and that indeed childishness has no age limit, we might not be so incredulous at the asinine things that routinely dribble out of mouths or the senseless decisions that many make.

Political leaders have recently made a great show of complaining that their intentions to pitch funerals (or kill Grandma, for that matter) have made no one cry, nor have their lobbyist-funded musical selections made anyone dance to their tune. What they fail to understand, of course, is that we are not indebted to them or to their bankrolls. Rather, it is they are indebted to us, and woe be unto any politician or public figure who ever forgets that. This election cycle will produce some surprises, I predict, and politicians asleep at the switch or lulled to sleep by their own complacency often find themselves out of a job. In reference to the work which must be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, I do sincerely believe in Providential authority and divine guidance. In my own life, if I tap into this awesome force and place the common good ahead of my own pursuits, I never fail. Closely linked with this belief is an unshakable conviction that that God demands that no one should die or suffer because of the amoral excesses of a system of greed. I will dance to no one's tune, nor cry on cue to anyone's funeral song until it subsides.

Doing the right thing is not supposed to be easy, lest we forget. If it were, we'd have reached some nirvana-like state of perfection years before now. Anything worth achieving requires effort and strain, though it need not require a complicated solution. The problem with our leaders and ourselves nowadays is that we never expect that anyone will ever call us out when we are clearly in the wrong. Instead, we want regulatory oversight or government programs that are blind to our true intentions and motives. We want a weak government for us and a strong government for everyone else. We want a life full of permissive attitudes to everything we do and propose, though this is hardly the attitude we expect regarding other people in similar circumstances. We believe that capricious behavior is a right, not a hindrance, though others must never be fickle or indecisive.

In short, many really don't really want God, or a higher power, or any kind of driving moral force regardless of what one calls it. Instead, they want an idol of their own creation and in their own image, one which does little but preserve the sort of ethical flabbiness and spiritual shallowness which is what created the variety of mounting messes in which we find ourselves. Unlike some, I do not believe that there is an disproportionate share of such regrettable, destructive behavior in our current age. One of the reasons that the teachings of Jesus have remained so devastatingly relevant across the centuries is that human nature remains so consistent. Human imperfection might be the one constant in a world forever changing and breaking new ground. The greatest lesson to be learned from an examination of our flaws is that we ought not to assume that any criticism is bent on destruction. Indeed, none of this invitation to self-reflection is meant to attack or point fingers. Though I am often frustrated at the incorrect behavior of individuals and institutions in the world around me, I always try to keep in mind that we have the ability, if we should choose to take it, to reform our behavior for better. We are granted many rights we take for granted and one of these is the ability to be either our own destruction or our own redemption. In between both of these roads are some gray areas, certainly, but once we've made the decision to turn onto the highway of our choice, we never once forget its name.

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