Standing Up To Far Too Much
Like most of my friends, I’m stunned by Saturday’s events in
Charlottesville. Maybe it’s hitting me harder today since I found out long after most people. My weekend was spent participating in the Port Gamble Maritime Music Festival and playing for a benefit event. I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety since well before the November election and have chosen to maintain a media fast much of the time. I don’t have a television and rarely listen to the radio, though I do follow a few trusted media sources, such as NPR, The Washington Post, and YES Magazine. It’s not at all because I don’t care what’s happening in our country and in the world. It’s because I feel immobilized and crushed in spirit by the daily barrage of horrifying, terrifying news.
The constant barrage of inhumane, unconscionable actions, statements, and events is clearly deliberate policy on the part of our current administration. It’s an effective strategy, diluting the focus and sapping the energy and drive of everyone I know who is progressive, kind, hopeful and humanitarian. I am so grateful that some folks are able to use their rage to fuel constructive activism against the relentless tide of malicious cruelty pouring from the White House, Congress, and the Senate. Me? I make a lot of phone calls to encourage my representatives to accurately represent me. Most days, I find myself weeping with desolation because so few of our elected officials red or blue or in between seem able to demonstrate genuine concern for vulnerable populations; people of color, women of all descriptions, those on the LGBT spectrum, refugees, the disabled, the elderly, the young, the undereducated, the underemployed and unemployed, the homeless, the dispossessed, outliers, those who “present different” and don’t quite fit in. The people Jesus always had time for, right?
What Are We To DO?
I respect and admire all religions that encourage people to practice loving kindness and compassion, but as it happens, the tradition I am most deeply acquainted with is that of Jesus. These days, progressive Christians often talk about how uncomfortable it feels to identify oneself as Christian when that label carries so many contrary and even evil associations. (Actually, it has for millennia.) I’m imagining that if I were a progressive Republican I might feel much the same way about claiming THAT label these days. However, no matter which label we might accept or which tradition we follow (if any), most folks I know are asking the same question: What are we supposed to do when the ruling regime ignores, reviles, or actively punishes and endangers vulnerable people?
Given my background, I often remember the Beatitudes, a collection of statements Jesus made in the sermon on the mount. In Jesus’s terms, humble people are blessed. Those who grieve for themselves and others, who mourn the state of the world and the ugliness of inhumane behavior are blessed. Those who are kind, gentle, and able to appropriately control their own actions are blessed. Those who seek social justice are blessed. Those who are compassionate, merciful and generous are blessed.
Blessed or Oppressed
The opposite of beatitude or blessing is sometimes defined as misery, or “being unwillingly afflicted with pain and suffering.” When we know or learn about people who are miserable, suffering, frightened and and oppressed, here are some practical responses:
Feed the hungry
Give clean, pure water to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Comfort the imprisoned
Visit the sick
Bury the dead
Few of us will be presented with direct opportunities to do all these things but pretty much all of us have daily chances to do at least one. None of us can fix the world but each of us can ease suffering, at least a little. Some people scorn those who just send money to worthy causes but money makes it possible for activists to act. Even so, there is even more power and healing in direct, hands-on action. Such actions don’t have to be huge or even particularly difficult. They aren’t earth shaking, but they do change the world, quietly building community and reducing suffering, little by little.
Take garden vegetables or fruit to a food bank
Make soup for a sick acquaintance
Invite a lonely neighbor to tea or dinner
Knit a chemo cap or a preemie blankie
Send a personal note to a shut in
Shoot hoops with a kid who needs a Big Brother
Play cards with a nursing home resident without visitors
Donate clothing directly to a homeless shelter
Pass along toys to foster parents who take in babies
Volunteer with Hospice
This Little Light Of Mine
None of that works for you? Or all of it works but it’s just not enough? Tonight there will be many gatherings all over the country with people standing to protest the death and damage, the destruction and disrespect, the cruelty of police and protector complicity in Charlottesville and in far too many other places. Gather your friends and community, find a candle and stand on a prominent street corner to hold vigil for lost people and lost values. Stand up, knowing we’re standing up to far too much, but let’s stand anyway and let our little lights shine.