Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Sports and Politics
Last night, watching the State of the Union address, I felt like I was in a high school sports arena. Congress—Democrats and Republicans, men and women—erupted three times with a U-S-A chant. Trump said he liked the sound of the chant, and its tone and lack of dignity seemed appropriate in a speech weighted with words about “winning” and being the best, “the envy of the world,” with our military the “most powerful on earth.” I did not like the chant. Not at all.
Sports is not an appropriate metaphor for justice, policy or culture. We are not—or should not be—in a win or lose contest with the rest of the world, where we can win while everyone else loses. I don’t think we can prosper because others fail. In fact, it seems to me that in order to live well in the U.S., we need a strong world economy, a world at peace with its neighbors. What happened to “a rising tide lifts all boats”?
These times worry me. They upset me. It’s not like I can look back to an ideal past, a time in this country when all was right and just, but I feel like we’re moving in the wrong direction.
Ann read Michelle Obama’s Becoming to me over the past few weeks. The book was surprisingly well-written. (I’ve been writing a memoir for the last decade. It’s hard to do.) It was frank and hopeful.
But I found it depressing. Sunday after church, I asked a friend, “How did we go from those hopeful years to the last two?” Though I seldom cry, my voice cracked with emotion. And that was before Congress erupted into Friday night football cheers.
I need to say here that I generally hate State of the Union addresses, with manipulative rhetoric and one team’s fans standing and cheering while the other team sits dourly, arms tightly crosses across their chests. I hate these addresses even when I like the president. Maybe I hate them because they show in bright lights our country’s worst blemishes. They expose our nation’s divisiveness. They ignore complexity and nuance, exposing the simplistic duality of our politics: red or blue?
I’m looking for hope, belief in Martin Luther King’s moral arc of the universe bending towards justice. I don’t find that hope in politics or national systems. I do sometimes find it in individual stories of grace, instances of one person helping their neighbor, times when people live through loss and tragedy.
In her book, Michelle Obama writes,“Life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. We were planting the seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.”
Her words echo Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw’s words:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us….
We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest….
I’m simply not good at patience when patience means accepting that people are dying and hurting from human causes that could change. I see that Michelle Obama, Martin Luther King, and other wise ones take the long view, and if I were wise, I’m sure I’d do that. This is one way of many I know I’m not yet wise.
But I’m not dead, so there’s hope for me yet.