“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!”–Captain Renault, second before collecting his winnings in Casablanca.
For a self-identified Christian Nation that is probably un-Christianly Proud of its own Christianity, we sure do go out of our way to ignore, demonize, and outright deficate on the people that Jesus Christ was most interested in serving: the poor, the outcast…the tax collectors. And that, in a nutshell, is what this project “Road to Wahnfried,” is all about. It’s my attempt to sort through the various delusions the world creates, the illusions of my own heart, and isolate the Real of Life, and to find peace with the Real. Here’s the most Real Thing I know: Human beings need one another to survive. Plain and simple. We need each other for survival, for the acquiring and sharing of resources, and we access the divine in the presence of one another. Which is why it is such a surprising, curious, and hazardous, part of the human experience that we have an endless capacity for casting illusions upon the world that are designed to separate us from one another. So we have this prominent notion of ourselves, “America is a Christian Nation!” and we have The Real right in front of us, in which 1% of our country control something like 80% of the resources, the middle class is disappearing and the poor and outcast are increasingly demonized and/or outright ignored. How can both of these things exist? They can’t, they don’t make sense together. So there’s The Real, and there are the illusions of our own hearts and delusions created by the world that cover up and dismiss The Real. Is it possible to separate the two? Is it possible to love America while also telling the truth about who we are as Americans? That’s what I’m interested in finding out.
Here’s a personal example: Yesterday, I took a trip to the Netherlands. There was a group of homeless people gathered in a park, enjoying each other’s company. I saw that my path was leading toward them, and I instinctively left the path, trotted across a big grass lawn that made my shoes muddy, and quietly envied the laughter and conversation the homeless folks on the path were enjoying together. It was one of those things that I did without thinking, and as soon as I had done it, I felt stupid, childish and alone. So, why did this happen? As a self-proclaimed person of the Christian faith, someone who longs for greater connection with the world, why did I actively choose to distance myself from joyous human beings and then immediately regret my decision? Well there’s any number of possible reasons, but here are the ones that I believe to be the MOST true: I have been raised in a society that has taught me to hate poverty and fear the poor. I have been conditioned to expect others to be jealous of me, and to expect jealous people to take things from me that don’t belong to them, and to expect them to do this through any number of devious means, including deception and violence. I have been instructed–either explicitly or implicity–to suspect poor and homeless people of being lazy, psychotic, and/or dependent upon drugs and alcohol that make them do things a normal person would not, hence explaining their poverty.
All of these things are 100% untrue. They are stereotypes, they are illusions created by the world to explain and dismiss the problem of poverty and its effects on God’s Beloved Children so that the successful and wealthy elite can continue to ignore and/or profit from the situation of “the less fortunate.” I did what I did yesterday because I am still in the process of unlearning these things that had unconsciously seeped into my psyche for 20-some years. Could I be unlearning better and faster? Absolutely, and I strive to do so, mainly be being honest about when I fail and challenging the assumed values and inherited illusions that lead to the failure.
In an interesting twist of fate, on the same day that I had my personal failure, my country’s elected representatives got together to vote on a national failure: The Deal to Raise the Federal Debt Ceiling. Most economists (like, for example, Paul Krugman in yesterday’s New York Times) are pointing out, not only how ridiculous the entire, drawn-out-way-too-long debate has been, but that there were any number of opportunities along the way to work in some policy that could actually help our struggling economy, make life easier for the poor and elderly, rather than doing what it is probably doing, making things worse. As I go to work on myself, I realize more and more that I also need to do this same sort of work as it concerns my ability to act as a Citizen. Because the more I learn about our government, and how it works, and the more I reflect on what it means to be a responsible American citizen and dedicated Disciple of the Christian faith, I’m realizing that the political process in our country is having less and less to do with The Real–human beings surviving and thriving together–and more to do with an endless list of illusions, inexplicable assumptions, and outright lies that are designed to benefit the few by confusing and disenfranchising the many. This means that the elected representatives of our country are vastly more interested in things other than helping us survive and thrive as a whole society.
Whether my assessment is correct or not is something I am more than open to discussing, but I’ve been living in another country for the year, and almost to a person, I have seen friends, family, professors, and cab drivers shaking their heads at the circus sideshow that we laughingly call our government, and they have asked, “What is this about? Why are they not addressing any real issues?” This is an excellent question: If our elected officials are so ineffective at collectively solving even the simplest problems that we face, what is it about? What is going on? The best theory I have to work with: that there are more people in government interested in defending their careers and running for re-election than there are Patriots willing to put aside talking points and start hammering out solutions.
So for me, as I think about how to be a Responsible US Citizen and progressing as a flawed but serious Disciple of the Christian Faith, my biggest question is this: How can I act as a political person (which in my country primarily, but not entirely, means I vote for policies and people that represent my values) in an honest and just way? And from there it seems necessary to ask: Is there a way I can distinguish between people who are serious about tackling and solving legitimate problems in our society–and the absolute biggest problem we have is the rise of Poverty–and people who are more focused on their own careers or other objectives? Is it possible to construct a list of guidelines that help us to separate out what people claim to believe from what they actually do?
This seems important, especially when we’re looking at a major upcoming election season and the candidates who are running seem more intent on telling us who they are and what they believe rather than having any actual political experience or knowledge that will help us solve problems at the government level. And, at the same time, the information they give us about who they are and what they believe, matters ONLY IF we have reason to believe that what they SAY is the same as what they will DO. Is it possible to construct a kind of framework that will give us indications of how strong the relationship between rhetoric and action will be? Is it necessary at this point to become completely cynical about the whole thing and just assume that they will tell us whatever we want to hear while doing whatever seems most politically expedient for them in the moment? I hope not. Is it still possible to take people at their word, and expect nothing more or less? I really don’t think so.
Personally, as is reflected in this whole “Wahnfried” project, I believe that following the pattern of creation that is put forth in the book of Genesis, we can create new possibilities and opportunities through the sacred act of Naming and Separating, Truth Telling and Critiquing; in other words, just as God manages Chaos so that love and life can flourish, I believe it is possible to manage the complicated messes in our society by Naming and Separating.
So that’s what I will be spending this week reflecting on, the criteria that could be used to create a more helpful and meaningful dialogue in our public sphere in the upcoming political season. Because we really can’t afford to allow our current process, which is high on conflict and low on problem solving, to continue.
I’ll post some suggestions later this week, and i welcome any/all comments and observations you may have for what I should add. What do you think are some areas of public discourse that need to be named and separated so that we can create progress where currently there is only conflict? I would LOVE to talk to you about this.