The turmoil surrounding the presidential campaigns creates such a level of anxiety, and it is almost impossible to avoid it. The question the anxiety provokes in me is whether I believe the center will hold amidst all the chaos and uncertainty.
And this has led me to reflect on exactly what is the “center" that I hope holds? "What is the political "center?” What is my own “center?” And perhaps you might want to consider what you maintain as your sense of “center” and equilibrium in these tumultuous times?
The reality is that we need to be careful not to assume we are preserving an existing “center” because much of the presumed core of our political, and often our own personal lives, needs to change, to be let go, to be radically challenged and transformed. The fact that the “center” of our national economy is largely dependent on the military budget, for example. Or the nastiness we are being forced to unmask about our racism that has become an important topic in the last year or so? Or the pervasive violence in our obsession with guns, football, video games, and - yes - some presidential rallies. These are just a couple examples of the thought and behavior so central to the American way of life that is causing the disintegrative, unravelling process in our culture, and these harmful aspects of our lives simply must change if we are to sustain a civil society. And an even more challenging question below the need for radical change, is how we are we then to create and hold an alternative? If the Bernie revolution were to occur, what would hold the center following the revolution?
But we do have a handle to hold on to while all is spinning. What will hold the “center” of our nation is actually quite clear if we were truly able to embrace and strengthen it. We have a Constitution which asserts the intrinsic equality of us all. We have a well established rule of law, albeit with considerable room for improvement. We have a check and balance system that, when working as it was designed, provides for the expectation of rational counters to the excesses in the public policy process. But most importantly, I want to believe that a sense of decency, respect and compassionate attention to each other, and especially to the poor and marginalized (including the disenfranchised middle class white male that carries so much of the frustration and anger in the political arena right now) will prevail when we are deeply challenged and truly need each other. I have seen this when there is a true crisis or pervasive social emergency. Yes, those are also the times when things can fall apart massively as well, of course, but the capacity for mutual support in crisis is a stronger reality, and nonviolence is a “force more powerful” in the long run.
Which brings the concern about what holds the “center" back to me and you.
We are already being called to hold the “center” in our own lives and the lives around us, and the task is not easy. Can we stem the militarism, racism, and wealth inequality in our nation and the world, for example? Can we commit personally to some of the changes in lifestyle we must consider - our eating patterns and fuel consumption are obvious concerns.
Beginning with myself, a key to my “center” is a commitment to nonviolence as a means to bring about the needed changes in our community and the wider world. But a commitment to nonviolence is not a political strategy nor a belief. It is a way of life that demands compassion, courage and training. Nonviolence is a practice that must evoke imagination needed to create an alternative to the suffering caused by the excesses of capitalism, militarism, and violence in general. This means we need to be willing and able to be counter cultural, to take risks of personal embarrassment, resentment and harm. And above all, it means we need to find a way to maintain a connection with the true “center” of our lives and planet: deep connection with, and a profound commitment to protect, the natural world; an unshakable commitment to protecting and nurturing our children, all children; a prayerful, contemplative humility toward others and probably ourselves; a constant awareness of the interconnectedness and interdependency of the whole of creation; and a radical commitment to stand with the poor. You may have many other and alternative considerations for yourself about what constitutes your “center” which are ultimately precious to you.
Yes, I am idealistic, but I am also aware that the seeds of compassion are well planted in the human psyche. We have the capacity for great good as well as great harm. What lifts me is that I am aware there are many of you who share both my anxiety, but also my commitment to nonviolence, and my faith that life itself if worth preserving. The antidote to discouragement and despair is so often a community that shares our faith in the mysterious power that is somehow both beyond, and yet intimately present, to us that many call God, as well as just a deep love of life. Let us find ever more creative ways to hold on to each other in such a way that we create a nucleus of a “center” that will indeed hold firm, perhaps against considerable odds, perhaps with a hard struggle, but no doubt also with an intrinsic sense of hope for a sustainable and, yes, joyful future.
1) Please try to view the documentary film, Return of the River, about the restoration project of the Elwah River on the Olympic Peninsula when the dam was removed. It is a moving tribute to effective political action, spiritual faithfulness by the Elwah tribal leaders, and scientific application. Unfortunately the movie was shown at the UU meetinghouse this Friday night on Whidbey, so you have missed that opportunity if you did not already attend. But the film is widely available and worth watching if you need inspiration that the planet can yet be reclaimed and restored.
2) The current season bursts with renewal. While Christians celebrate Easter, we all have the opportunity to simply look around us at the miracle of spring. En-joy!