I worry about the country. Problems go untended as we call each other names. It reminds me of households I have known. And congregations. Businesses, too, I suppose, though my experience there is mostly limited to the relationship between labor and management when I worked the ramp at LAX loading bags.
We are afraid to listen, afraid to cooperate, afraid to compromise. Self-interest trumps the common good. The noble art of politics is exposed like the slaughterhouses of Chicago’s Southside in The Jungle. I watched the name-calling grow from year to year in synod meetings when I was in Michigan. I spoke out for a while, but grew silent as the gulf widened. I didn’t need the grief. Somewhere there is an “interview” making me say things I didn’t say by cutting sentences in half and taking words out of context. But it fit the agenda of the author in her war on the other side.
It all worries me. We have lost all semblance of grace. We have abandoned the civil niceties that smooth relationships and facilitate action. We learn, now, that congress was aware two years ago that soldiers were being asked to pay back bonuses they were not supposed to have received – but congress could not agree to spend any money, so the innocent soldiers become the victims.
We are in trouble when reason fails. Bad choices get made. Innocents get hurt. We are in trouble when wealth and power become ends in themselves. The CEO of Wells Fargo will not suffer from his single year loss of millions in the way that fired ordinary employees have.
It is a spiritual disease running through the body politic, infectious and dangerous. Hearts grow cold when nothing seems fair. Compassion withers. Generosity shrinks. Words become intemperate. Opinions grow rigid. We become hard of hearing. Impatient. Even cruel.
There is, however, another stream in the American story. My grandmother, living on Channing Avenue not all that far from the train tracks, gave plates of food to hobos who asked, though her family had little. Occasionally we hear such stories of generosity, courage, compassion. And daily we encounter people who care for the elderly for modest wages, teachers who teach, dentists who volunteer time and skill, people who build habitat for humanity houses, foundations trying to serve.
Who provides the voice that we should love our neighbors as ourselves? Who speaks of hope? Who teaches compassion and generosity? This has been the work of churches. But if they fall silent, who shall speak? If they join the chorus of intolerance, who shall listen? If they preach only to the choir, who will find new life?
I worry about the country. I worry about our churches. I listen to the news carefully hoping for signs of repentance, of turning a new direction.
In my discouragement I find myself stumbling across this sentence by Paul to his struggling congregation in Corinth: “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1)
And I read the Gospel from two weeks ago when we hear Luke record for his congregation, struggling in the aftermath of war: “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) That day, too, the second reading included the injunction from 2 Timothy urging not just Timothy, but the whole community to persevere.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
So we keep on, “in season and out of season,” daring to point towards those things that are enduring, those things that are eternal, those things that are born from above. Daring to point to the author of compassion, the font of mercy, the eternal word made flesh. Daring to speak of the love from whom and for whom all things exist. Daring to speak of the lives such love bids us live.