Chronicles in Ordinary Time 89: A Renaissance of Civility

Last week the British Parliament debated the question of whether or not the leading GOP candidate for President of the United States should be banned from entering the UK because of his hate-speech. Today I watched a video from a 13-year old who said that he did not want to grow up in a country that elected this kind of person as President. ‘Adults—you are better than this.’

I would ask the question, ‘Do you really want Donald to have nuclear launch codes? What if he decides to do some nuclear testing, like the ruler of North Korea decides to do, when he feels like flexing his muscles?’

I don’t know if the UK could ban the President of the United States from setting foot in their country; it would make for some very awkward discussions regarding foreign policy. Does anyone remember how the GOP ruined the Dixie Chicks’ career for disrespecting George W? Congress disrespects President Obama every day he’s in office. The voting public can destroy Congress’ career, if they so choose…

A scene from outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Perhaps the beginning of the modern political environment.

1968 Demo_ConvI was in high school in 1968; it was another two years before the attitude above became ‘up close and personal’ in my life. I was raised to respect authority. My generation championed disrespect for authority.

My generation also championed peace, love and hope. And drugs…

I don’t remember us planning a world where we get our kicks from ridiculing others. Lifting ourselves by tearing others down.

I also don’t remember any of my contemporaries suggesting they go to Wall Street and rip off the 98% by taking pension money they didn’t own, and gambling it on the stock market, and betting they would lose, and making money off the loss. All done ‘legally’ because some of my contemporaries entered politics, and Congress, and voted away the provisions incorporated by earlier, wiser politicians to protect the 98%… Somewhere along the line our country threw out ethics.

I’d use the word, ‘morality,’ but that word has become something far beyond the simpler word, ethics. ‘Is it right?’ NOT, ‘can we get away with it?’

We are born knowing right from wrong. Birds don’t get taught how to build nests, it’s pre-programmed. Salmon are programmed to return to the water of their birth, after a lifetime of swimming in other waters, in order to spawn. Horses can walk around, minutes after they are born.

Why is it so difficult to believe that we can be pre-programmed with the knowledge of right and wrong? Sure, it gets refined as we grow—babies can’t understand adult concepts. We know when life isn’t fair to us…I was astounded at finding out how quickly our baby girl learned the concept of ‘not fair’ and ‘I really don’t want to do that.’

I’d even suggest that this knowledge is part of what it means that we are created in our Creator’s image. In the Biblical story, the Creator wasn’t surprised or outraged that Adam and Eve screwed up. The Creator knew from the moment of Creation that Adam and Eve would screw up. It’s not in the Biblical passage, but Adam and Eve had to watch an animal being killed and skinned in order for them to have clothing—they had discovered that they were naked, and knew shame; their behavior led to the first death. I don’t think the shame was from being naked; they were ashamed because they were fully aware that they broke the One Rule that they were given. I don’t believe that one can truly understand Grace and Forgiveness until one has become fully aware and fully ashamed of their behavior; behavior that we know is wrong, and we can see how much damage occurs as a result.

 

I watched the last three episodes of The Newsroom the other night, while I should have been sleeping. In the final episode Don Quixote is mentioned frequently—the old man with dementia who believed that by pretending to be a knight, he could bring civility to the world…

I shall impersonate a man. His name is Alonso Quijana, a country squire no longer young. Being retired, he has much time for books. He studies them from morn till night and often through the night and morn again, and all he reads oppresses him; fills him with indignation at man’s murderous ways toward man. He ponders the problem of how to make better a world where evil brings profit and virtue none at all; where fraud and deceit are mingled with truth and sincerity. He broods and broods and broods and broods and finally his brains dry up. He lays down the melancholy burden of sanity and conceives the strangest project ever imagined—to become a knight-errant, and sally forth into the world in search of adventures; to mount a crusade; to raise up the weak and those in need. No longer will he be plain Alonso Quijana, but a dauntless knight known as Don Quixote de La Mancha!

“…I’ve been a soldier and a slave. I’ve seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I’ve held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning “Why?” I don’t think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams—this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all—to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

Dale Wasserman

We could be better.

The story of Don Quixote is probably the most important story in my life; important because it led to all of the other Important Stories in my life, including The Most Important Story—the story of the Innocent Man Who Died because human beings screw up all the time. He took my shame, and told me that I don’t have to worry about it anymore; the debt I owe the world has already been paid, and I don’t deserve the gift; and that is okay.

The only thing He asked is that I be kind to other people, even when I don’t want to. And I am unkind more times than I like to count; and it’s okay, for I am still a child, and I’m still learning how to walk…

We could be better.

Summer KingThe Summer King” from
Stephen Lawhead’s Arthur

 

 

 

 

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