We like to think that we’re progressing.
We like to think that we’re evolving.
We like to think that society is on the verge of a Great Leap Forward, a dawning of an age of Aquarius, bounding from blue to orange, green, yellow, turquoise, & coral with “Indigo children” rising.
We’d like to think so
but it either ain’t so
or if we are,
progress and evolution are less like a fast tracked rocket-ship exponentially attaining escape velocity,
and more like the Cha-cha – a dance of two steps forward, one step back.
Real progress involves an inevitable push-pull. Expansion and contraction. Growth involves certain times of regression. Things haven’t changed all that much since the times the books of the Bible were written and compiled.
According to story, the ancient Hebrews were God’s chosen people and found themselves captive and enslaved in Egypt. God calls Moses and his cousin to tell Pharaoh to “Let God’s people go!” – and they end up fleeing in the middle of the night and spend 40 years wandering the desert during their exodus. During those years, those ancient Hebrews experienced several bouts of longing to return to Egypt – to return to captivity in empire. They felt at times that things might actually have been better for them as slaves. “At least then they were ‘safe’ and had steady food, and predictable lives.”
“In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “if only we had [remained in] died by the Lords’ hand [natural death/old age] in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death!” – Exodus 16:3
(context: 2 months and 15 days since they’d left Egypt. Food sparse. Dissent high.)
“That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? And the said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” – Numbers 14:1
(context: some scouts had gone out ahead and out of fear reported stories that the promised land seemed fierce and that the people who were inhabiting the region seemed like giants. We are like puny grasshoppers compared to them.” The sound of Stockholm Syndrome, xenophobia, and fear of the unknown happening)
While not yet a perfect nation, over the past few decades, the United States has enacted laws, policies, and court precedents which have secured the enfranchisement and full voting rights for women and black citizens; increased rights for handicapped citizens; the emancipation of women; reproductive rights for women; freedom for LGBTQ persons to serve in the military without “not telling”; marriage rights for same-sex couples; and we’re moving toward embracing equal pay for women; securing a living wage; employing more solar and wind power, and a crude form of health care coverage is available for many citizens who otherwise wouldn’t have it – a stepping stone for single payer universal health care. Moreover, the Girl Scouts now welcome transgender girls and the Boy Scouts welcome gay scouts and leaders, and most recently – girls. State governments have embraced bilingualism. Several states have legalized marijuana. And, for a few years, we shifted from super-power American-centrism to embracing the UN and our humble place within the global community of nations.
There are many of us who view all of these as very real signs of progress. As being good things indeed. Huzzah! Hallelujah! Amen!
And yet, between one third to one half of the population feels anxious about these very things. This not small sector of our society feels that instead of being examples of progress, these are signs of our demise, of a nation gone astray, of being on a highway to hell, of a real and present danger, as indications of a country needing to repent.
These folks tend to not believe the consensus of climate scientists that humans are dangerously aggravating climate change. They don’t agree with the theological or legal view that fetuses are not persons, and instead they believe that abortion is murder. And, despite the fact that it requires the income of two persons to run a household these days, they don’t think it’s a good thing that women are out of the homes and in the workplace.
Using an analogy, they view these things as being “a strange and scary land that is filled with scary giants.” They think that our nation today has become uninhabitable and that things were better back in the captivities of racism, misogyny, patriarchy, and homophobia, anti-intellectualism, anti-science; and religious bigotry and exclusivism.
The have romanticized nostalgia for the white washed innocence of Happy Days, Mayberry, Gomer Pyle, Bewitched, I Dream of Genie, Father knows Best, I love Lucy, and The Honeymooners.
They yearn for “a Golden Age” when things were simpler. They pine for predictable Confucian roles in society. With men as heads of households and women barefoot and pregnant subservient to them.
The thing is. There weren’t any black, gay, trans, immigrant, or non-Christian people on those shows. There weren’t any independent women. Not many anyway (nod to Laverne & Shirley). Few and far between – “just the way they should be.”
This sector of our society is scared of “the giants” who embrace that which they find intolerable. They are scared of the promised land of progress.
Instead of Beloved Community, they think this promised land is uninhabitable. They don’t see how they’ll be provided for. They don’t see food or sustenance. They see a very real lack of jobs. They see a very real lack of progress about opioid addictions.
Let’s hear them. People grumble for a reason. Things aren’t right and well. Not everything is hunky dory. Even though the abortion rate is currently low, they think any abortion is one too many. Many straight white guys are having a really hard time finding work. They see their more traditional and conventional values are being mocked daily on TV and social media. They feel under siege. For them, life is scary. So they’ve adopted a siege mentality – a warrior ethic where women stand by their man – no matter what. Instead of openness to the promise of what could be, they double down on distorted delusions of how things used to be.
If I’m feeling charitable and optimistic, I frame all of this with the lens of paradox – different -and even conflicting – things being valid and true at the same time. I can imagine seeing this through the analogy of planets “in retrograde.” The early stargazers were baffled by thinking they saw planets “going backward” at times as they went through their orbits in space. Thinking that the Earth was the center of the solar system, there are times each year where various planets look for all the world like they’re suddenly going backwards for a few weeks or months. But… we now know that the Sun is the center of the universe and that what we see from earth is a distortion – or at least – we see things from the Earth from the perspective of looking from the Earth. And so… each perspective is valid….
But – NO! There really IS objective truth. There really is an educated and informed way of understanding the orbits of the planets. There really is a healthy and helpful way for us to understand things. We really CAN shift and evolve our minds to embrace new paradigms.
And yet, reality is real, and the reality is that many of us simply do not see things the way we do. Reality is that instead of humanity being on a fast-tracked journey of quantum leaps forward, we’re actually experiencing a harsh reminder of the ongoing Newtonian truth that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Forces come in pairs and they engage in a push-pull dynamic tension. Bloody hell. We’ll never reach warp speed.
So where is the hope?
To be honest. I don’t know.
But…. There may be some hope in this.
A whole lot of us are fearing and hating the rhetoric and behavior of a whole lot of others of us.
Fear and Hate are a force – a force paired with Love.
Indeed, they’re a form of Love.
The extent to which many of us have been weeping, wailing, and sobbing the past few weeks of the Kavanaugh fiasco; the extent to which many of us have been shaking our collective fists in rage…. is the extent to which we give a damn about this country – and all the people in it. They’re the extent to which we love.
Perhaps the Great Quantum Leap Forward is our coming around to realizing that we are Lovers who are engaged in the tearful raging love that is the very medicine we – and those we hate/love – are needing.
Tearful Hateful Fist-clenching Love is Deep Love indeed.
It’s the kind of love than can
As brother Dylan put it, let us “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”
And as sister Anaïs put it, “And the day came when the risk to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Blessings to all the growing, evolving, Hating Lovers. Loving Haters. Love Haters. …Lovers.
XX – RogerRev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity
XX – Roger