My Saturday Evening Post blog is dedicated to uplift and opportunity. In terms of uplift, I want to make sure you all have seen the improbable video of a little bird lighting on the Bernie Sander’s podium while he was addressing a large crowd. The video of the occasion needs no comment, but for those of us yearning for nonviolence and an end to war, that little bird offers our imagination to take flight as well.
(And at the risk of being less that nonpartisan, I offer a contrasting video as well. Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
So that brings me to opportunity.
In the midst of crises and turmoil in our lives and throughout history, there also has been an opportunity to reframe the situation and to make a significant redirection. There is no assurance, of course, that a change will be for the better or for worse. But let us assume that in any turbulent, uncertain times we realize that our lives are not sustainable as we are living them. For example, we crash a car and realize we cannot continue our alcoholism. The stress of a job or a relationship makes us clinically depressed. The level of our consumption - whatever it might be - is unsustainable. Global warming threatens the planet. We cannot afford our level of military spending and meet our domestic needs. We incarcerate too many people ineffectively. Our political structures may no longer hold a center and teeter on collapse. The list could go on. The point is that when we become sufficiently aware that we finally cannot tolerate a situation, that it is seriously dysfunctional and threatening, we become willing to at least entertain an opportunity for a new path.
I believe we individually and culturally do recognize, in spite of the preference for denial, a tipping point when we are convinced the status quo can no longer be tolerated or sustained. At this point we can fall into despair or outrage, and this would be understandable. But an alternative response is to be energized with new opportunities. Bubbling up in some of my friends these days, and in myself, is a sudden awareness that these are actually quite exciting times to be alive. And indeed, I think that our excitement is warranted and appropriate and needs to be encouraged as a means to motivate and action.
One of the founders of Quakerism, George Fox, wrote, “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings.” Fox actually did effectively take advantage of the opportunity of the horrendous political upheaval in culture and government in the last half of the 17th century to challenge the existing class and theological establishment as he and his fellow believers elevated the rights of conscience and challenged the privileges of the elite. It is not inappropriate to say he fomented an revolution in English culture out of chaos. Can we do the same today?
In the midst of our contemporary tumult we have an opportunity to shift structures in our individual lives and the world around us. We can’t do this alone, of course. We need friends. We need a compelling social vision and trustworthy leadership. We need to accept that sacrifices and serious adaptations needed to support us in the midst of the inevitable resistance to the loss of privilege that is sure to follow.
One of the most important words in my prayer life is that I ask for “conviction,” a bit of an unusual ask I admit. But I do so because my “liberal” orientation often neutralizes conviction to the point I cannot act - "I need more information. I’m not entirely sure I’m right. I could risk being misunderstood, or embarrassed, or worse. I am too young, too old, too this or that to get involved.” These days each of us needs to find a level of conviction that our values and vision are strong enough to engage in making significant changes in ourselves and our world around us. We need to affirm and create alternative models to address human suffering and serve the common good. This is, indeed, a time of “great openings,” and let us have the wisdom, courage and conviction to take advantage of the exciting time we are given.