When I encounter tribalism, my instinct is to take a hot shower and have a cup of coffee with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a French Roman Catholic priest in the Jesuit order. He died in relative obscurity before my fifth birthday, so my sessions with him are through his writing, much of which was published after his death. The Divine Milieu has been a favorite since seminary days.
Many consider Le Phénomène Humain (written in the 1930s) his masterpiece. It was translated into English in 1959 as The Phenomenon of Man. A later translation by Sarah Appleton-Weber was published in 2003 as The Human Phenomenon. It took me 19 years to buy it, so there’s no telling when I’ll finish reading it, but I’ll start on Saturday, when it should arrive.
Teilhard was a paleontologist with a rich understanding of the Universe. An occasional dose of his writing reminds me to move beyond tribal, parochial thinking to focus on the Big Picture.
From The Divine Milieu (p. 59):
… We shall be astonished at the extent and the intimacy of our relationship with the universe.
… the roots of our being …. plunge back and down into the unfathomable past. How great is the mystery…. How possible to decipher the welding of successive influences in which we are forever incorporated! In each one of us, through matter, the whole history of the world is in part reflected.
When I was a child, the neighborhood kids sometimes played a game called “let’s pretend,” although we called it “let’s play like.” There are computer versions of this in the metaverse. Today, the ability to play “let’s pretend” is a popular path to success in the Republican Party.
Liz Cheney is leaving Congress after just three terms because she chose not to play the game. Harriet Hageman will be Wyoming’s new representative. Hageman supported Cheney in 2016 when Cheney was first elected to Congress. That year, Hageman opposed the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, calling him “racist and xenophobic.” This was before she learned to play the game.
I’m a 1950 white American male. I thought Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were neighbors. I thought Vin Scully called our little league baseball games. I lived with naive optimism. I believed America saved the world from fascism and could accomplish anything.
Now, in my 72nd lap around the sun, the naive optimism is gone. That’s a good thing. Optimism isn’t bad. It’s better than pessimism. What’s best is realism, a wisdom marked by wrinkled skin and creases not yet paralyzed by botox.
I’m not optimistic about America, but I’m more patriotic than ever about being an American, receiving with gratitude the imperfect idealism of our Founders and determined to live (like Lincoln) with malice toward none and charity for all.
I’m hopeful. Hope isn’t dependent on any party, executive, legislature or court. Hope is rooted in self-evident truths that transcend every institution, government, religion and ideology. We can respond to any situation with hope. Hope is more than optimism.
I’ve been mulling the Declaration‘s complaint that the British people weren’t acting with magnanimity or a spirit of kinship. Almost 250 years later, are we any better at it than they were?
With that on my mind, my friend Don sent a quote from Wendell Berry, 87, a farmer, poet and writer who has inspired me over the decades. It’s from his 1983 book Standing by Words, p. 104, Catapult (Kindle edition), and it is especially helpful at this painful, almost overwhelming moment in history:
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Here are excerpts from a May 27 “Why Southern Lights?” presentation by Diana Butler Bass:
One way to understand what the NRA is currently doing (is to see it as) no longer a gun safety organization, no longer a fellowship for people who want to learn how to use guns well, no longer an organization that’s just about honoring hunters and traditions and all of those kinds of things. But I think we can clearly see now that it has become an effort to arm white people for open civil war.
Butler Bass said the movements to change the laws around abortion and women’s access to health care, the laws about our LBGTQ brothers and sisters, and the absolute need to control the teaching of race and racism and how teachers explore these issues in classrooms (are ways) to reinvigorate local powers to create a kind of state’s rights movement that will continue to divide the United States….
Referring to co-presenter Brian McLaren, Butler Bass said, Brianwrote this line and I stand with it and in it: “If people like us do nothing, the new Confederacy will continue to advance.”
McLaren responded: So those are sobering words, but I think January 6th was a wake-up call to tell us that there really are people when they use the word “culture war,” war was not merely a metaphor. And, so … people like us who happen to live in the South and do not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be linked with white Christian nationalism have a very important role to play … with confidence in our hearts and to live it out loud in the South.
With age, I’ve tried to be more inclusive. Exclusion and inclusion are learned early—a necessary part of identity formation. Boundaries are set by parents, teachers, and society. It’s important to respect, and set, appropriate boundaries.
Over time, some boundaries are reinforced, and some are relaxed. Religions pay considerable attention to boundaries: Why include this group and exclude that group? Why is this, not that, kosher? I try to err on the side of inclusion.
Society’s boundaries are expressed through laws, ideally to seek justice, which is society’s way of expressing love. Some laws are unjust. We’re a work in progress. M.L. King, Jr., said, “The law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me.”
The Fullness of Loving Relationships website has a page entitled “All-Inclusive,” devoted to Personal Health, Social Justice and Ecological Justice.
The Epilogue to Jon Meacham’s John Lewis and the Power of Hope takes its title, “Against the Rulers of Darkness,” from the New Testament letter to the Ephesians: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.”
Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed or brought low by “the world,” I’m renewed by the words and music of the Civil Rights movement. The movement’s heyday was during my formative years. I was 6 when the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended; 12 when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed; 14 when Selma’s “Bloody Sunday” occurred; and 17 when Martin Luther King, Jr., was slain.
When I heard of the Buffalo tragedy, I turned to Meacham’s Epilogue about Lewis: The movement of which Lewis had been an integral part had done more to change America for the better than any single domestic undertaking since the Civil War, joining emancipation and women’s suffrage as brilliant chapters in an uneven and yet unfolding national story.
We’re in a not-so-brilliant time. But, neither were the years ’56, ’63, ’65 and ’68. That era was a “brilliant chapter” because people like King and Lewis were undeterred by the darkness. As a young man–little more than a child, really–(Lewis) had contended against evil with everything he had. And he prevailed.
Fans of Elvis (1935-1977) know his acronym for taking care of business. An earlier brother took care of kitchen business in his Carmelite monastery in Paris. Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) taught us that everyone can be a leader. He made a profound impact by the way he lived his life in his kitchen.
His brothers printed his sayings in The Practice of the Presence of God. After a friend and classmate lost his sight, in a phone conversation he asked me to read the Prayer of Saint Francis and his favorite Brother Lawrence quote. Those two readings became our standard phone call benediction.
Here’s a traditional translation of the Brother Lawrence quote::
The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees at the blessed sacrament.
Even in the midst of noise and clutter, while people’s voices are coming at you from all directions, asking for your help with many different things, you can possess God with the same serenity as if you were on your knees in church.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021) was the queen’s husband but not the king, a monarchial nuance the Founders avoided with their radical experiment in representative democracy.
The news also included a story of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards, available from $100 to $600. Seems an expensive alternative to a free shot.
After the news, I read a bit from Jon Meacham’s recent book. Like John Archibald’s new book, the cover has a photo of John Lewis (1940-2020) leading the 1965 march at Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.
A snippet from Meacham about Frank Carter, John Lewis’ great-grandfather, who was born into slavery in Pike County, Alabama in 1862:
“He couldn’t read or write,” his great-grandson said, “but he could do financial transactions in his head faster than the man on the other side of the desk could work them out with a pen and paper.” Carter took great pride in just about everything he did. “He would sit in his rocking chair on his porch,” John Lewis recalled, “and he acted like he was the king.”
This week I discovered Apple’s “Migration Assistant,” an application that makes it easy to “migrate” everything from one’s old computer to a new one. The magical ease of transfer made me think we should put Apple in charge of US border issues, immigrant documentation, COVID passports, etc.
Several weeks ago, I began a humanoid version of this “migration transfer” of data. I’ve been sharing the quotes I long ago pasted in the inside covers of a small Bible. This post concludes that process, which has taken a bit longer than Apple’s app.
After the quotes were printed from my computer and pasted in the Bible, I added one that was hand-written. It was a quote from the preface to one of Howard Thurman’s books. I thought it was Thurman’s because it was not attributed. Later I learned that it was from Robert Browning.
Maybe Thurman thought everyone would know the source. It was new to me: