I’m hearing from a lot of friends who are frustrated and angry and tired. This isn’t surprising – if you have a heart, how could current events not have you frustrated and angry and tired? Those of us of a certain age once thought we’d be long past this by now. While our society has made some progress, there is still so much farther to go, and there is always someone or some group trying to drag us back into the dark ages.
Rev. James Cleveland wrote a gospel song called “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired” and it was an inspiration to many. I can’t sing that song, not because I’m not Christian and not because I’m not African-American, but because I am tired, and I’ve learned the hard way that trying to pretend things are better than they really are only causes more problems.
But I can keep going because of holy tension and holy trust.
Trying to change the world without killing yourself in the process requires living in holy tension. On one hand, we understand what we’re doing is critically important. We’re dealing with fundamental questions of justice: of the rights of people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without constant harassment and of the right to trial by jury and not trial by cop. We’re dealing with questions of equality and fairness for all genders and all orientations. We’re dealing with the respect for Nature and the very survival of our species.
These are all critically important issues and everything we can do to push the moral arc towards justice helps.
On the other hand, we recognize that the problems are immense and any one thing we do is only a drop in the bucket. Filling up that bucket is going to take a long time regardless of what we do. If we need to go to bed early or watch a silly movie or go on a pilgrimage that’s OK.
We live in holy tension between importance and irrelevance. Irrelevance reminds us that if we miss something, that’s OK. This is a marathon and getting proper rest is both permissible and necessary. Importance reminds us that when we’re rested, it’s time to get back to the work that must be done.
Those of you who can honestly sing “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired” – you have my respect and admiration. Those of you who have no choice but to sing “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired” because you don’t have the privilege of getting away even for a short time – you have my prayers. The only comparable situation I’ve experienced had an end date and I knew it – I can’t pretend to know how you feel.
But when those who have the privilege to leave pretend they’re not tired, sooner or later they exercise that privilege and they don’t come back – and the world is less because of it.
We keep going because we have holy trust. As a polytheist I don’t have the luxury of believing this is all part of some divine plan (p.s. – if this is your God’s plan, tell him to get a new one). But I can still trust that if I do what I can do it will be enough. What I can do isn’t enough to fix a broken system, but it’s not my responsibility to fix the system by myself. It’s my responsibility to contribute what I can to building a world that’s more just, more compassionate, and more sustainable.
And I trust that what I can do is enough because I trust the next generation to continue the work. The human lifespan – and thus our frame of reference – is incredibly brief. This is exacerbated by the rate of change that has increased exponentially just in my lifetime. Yes, this should be motivation to work as diligently as possible to make things right for those who are here while they’re here. But it should also remind us of the reality that we’re working on something that’s bigger than any of us and its completion will take many generations.
Demanding justice now is always right. Being frustrated when we don’t get it is understandable. Letting ourselves burn out because we don’t get it right away is counterproductive.
Things are better than they were 200 years ago, 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, because of the work of our ancestors. Now we continue the work they started. When we are gone those who come after us will not start from scratch but will pick up where we left off. Sooner or later, the world will see something that looks like justice.
So to my friends who are frustrated and angry and tired: take care of yourselves. Live in holy tension and holy trust. And remember that some day we will join the ancestors. When those who remain look back at our lives, may they find us worthy of their honor.