Friday, September 26, 2008

Fearing the present, folks too readily impose an illusory past that short-circuits a promising future

HOW BAD IT IS. These days. I've been hearing how bad these days are since I was a small child. It's a recurrent mantra of fear. I was led to believe that the mid-1960's were the worst days, giving every sign that Jesus Christ's second coming (preceded by the rapture of the church, I was told) was imminent. Then I kept hearing how much worse things had become in the 1970's. It was time to flee the godless city to the safe suburbs and pull your children out of public schools. The 1980's and 90's, it has been said, produced the corrupt fruit of the wanton 60's and 70's, and voices from within the community of faith continued to grouse about what had become of the world these days. More and more, however, they talked about what had become of the church "these days."

THE GOOD OL' DAYS? Those of us who complain about how bad it's gotten almost invariably and simultaneously hark back to a better time. There was a time, they say, when things were better. When people were truer. When things were simpler. When they were safer. When they were fairer. Whenever it was, it is always in the past. Always inaccessible. Never reproducible. Out of reach. We're too far gone these days, it is concluded. But when we examine "those days" we begin to see that they were troubling times, no less than these days. The 1950's, for instance, were golden only if you turned a blind eye to rampant racism, outright bigotry, sexism, the wholesale subjection of women, McCarthyism, repression, Cold War politics, etc.

FEARING THE PRESENT. I feel sad when I hear folks protest these days and pine for the past. Present-day events may produce fear in them. I wonder if the present seems so overwhelming that they just opt out of it's challenges as well as its promises. I wonder why many do not want to try to understand its complexity. Do they not see it as directly connected to our past choices, behaviors, and patterns? Isn't it clear that how we address our challenges today is a key to the kind of future we live in? No doubt, these days are difficult. They call for the best we have in us. In the face of today's challenges, it doesn't help to check out emotionally, become intellectually careless, spiritually irresponsible, and hark back to the good ol' days. When we do, we distort reality and begin to atrophy spiritually, mentally, and physically. And our acted-out fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

ARROGANCE ABOUT "THESE DAYS." At the other end of the spectrum are people who are so full of themselves, who have such a misplaced confidence in science and technology that they believe that this is the most important and unprecedented time of all. They believe the importance of these days eclipses and outshines the significance of every other generation. This perspective leads them to think and act as if little in history either matters or applies to the uniqueness of these days. It gives them permission to act as if they will not make the same mistakes. It provides an illusory covering for what appears to be new frontiers, unprecedented circumstances, exceptional situations, bold moves. This pride and arrogance is as deadly as those who have succumbed to fear and live in the past.

DID THE WORLD REALLY CHANGE THAT DAY? A corollary to these days is the term "a post-9/11 world." As if what occurred on September 11, 2001 scrambled history and humanity. So, whatever history occurred before 9/11--patterns of relating to one another, outlook on our neighbors, outlook on those of other faiths or ethnic groups, foreign policies, international decision-making, principles of engagement for war, principles for the fair treatment of prisoners, common sense, the interpretation of the Bible--is out the window. These days we are free-- compelled, charged, challenged--to recreate the world to insulate ourselves from would-be terrorists as the overriding value. These days we justify whatever we want to do with the statement: "it's a post-9/11 world." 9/11 is the trump card, the ace in the hole, for the misuse of power, for the retreat from reality, for the relegation of humans to "devils" and "evil-doers," and for continuing and even extending "man's in humanity to man," as one "pre-9/11" theologian put it.

LOSING SANITY AND CONSCIENCE. I don't buy it. 9/11 is no legitimate dividing line for anything. Reality did not change that day. Sin did not become more evil. Grace did not become more sparse or fragile. Humans did not become monsters. Preemptive war-making was not now justifiable. Torture was not now legitimated. Time was not shortened. History--its lessons, precedents and principles--was not nullified. Common sense was not to be shelved in exchange for a routine hysteria and fear-rooted social behavior. The two principles and values that would have served us well after 9/11--sanity and conscience--have been swept aside in the public and policy arena.

TODAY IS THE DAY OF SALVATION. I am convinced that spiritual and community and political leaders the world over need to reassess their initially reactionary assessments of what really changed on 9/11. These days--however you view them--are days for repentance. These days are for turning again and turning around. These days are no less or more dangerous or opportunity-filled than any past days. These days can be approached with the sanity and conscience necessary only as we repent of our fear and arrogance, sin and pride. Unless we do, these days are nothing compared to the self-fulfilling prophecy of the fears, violence and jaded perspective of our neighbors, our dilemmas and our world that we will leave as our legacy for the next generation.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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