So the news this week of police killing black men and black men killing police, set in the wider context of other dismal happenings in our nation--the Orlando shooting, Islamophobia, the Trump candidacy, anti-Trans bathroom laws, gun violence, racial disharmony, ineffective leadership, etc.--suggest to many of us that the nation is ripping apart (or has become so sorely divided that violence is what will increasingly be resorted to). What to do?
Changing laws and/or changing the culture (on gun violence, the criminal justice system, racial injustice, etc.) is obtainable but very difficult and a very long term project. When great change occurs, as it has for LGBT people in recent years, what appears as revolutionary actually took years, decades, even generations of long, difficult, good work on the part of thousands and perhaps millions of people who won victories large and small at all levels, in all sectors, and in all regions of American life. And that effort for LGBT equality still has a lot of hard work ahead.
So, one can easily become pessimistic or cynical in the midst of the long, difficult slog. I have been in the "slough of despond" a few times myself. Again, what to do?
Change, even revolutionary change, begins with the small steps. If you are making intentional efforts to be kind and compassionate, to care for the earth and your neighbors, to educate yourself, to introspect and work on eliminating your own biases, to acknowledge structures of injustice (racism, homophobia, sexism, etc.) and work to dismantle those you have power to dismantle, then you are already doing what needs to be done. Keep doing it. And do it well and with joy and hope for a better future.
Democracy begins with the small things. And by democracy I don't mean simply our political process, I mean the effort of a diverse and pluralistic people to live together and solve problems together. The great American philosopher John Dewey said that the best example of democracy is neighbors meeting on the street to solve a problem together.
Dewey grew up in a Congregational church where he witnessed people solving problems through a deliberative, inclusive, fair process. One reason faith communities exist is to provide the opportunity for us to learn how to live with other people and to make decisions together, solving problems. This is part of the value of a faith community for persons and families.
All civic groups, be they neighborhood associations, PTAs, Rotary clubs, bridge clubs, bowling leagues, book groups, are essential elements of the democratic process. If you are not actively engaged in a civic group such as this, then that is something you can do.
Of course, I'm particularly drawn to faith communities because we aim for diversity, are intergenerational, and exist within a shared story that helps.
But, then, I think particular kinds of faith communities are more helpful--those in which decisions are made by the deliberative process of the people, those where the voices of women are equal to those of men, those which value disagreement, critical thinking, and open-mindedness.
Another value to faith communities is that we also grasp the importance of lament--of both sadness and anger--as the beginning of prophetic critique and social change. And we have ways of expressing that lament and channeling it into transformative hope.
So, what I encourage you to do is to grieve, to lament, to be sad and angry. To keep doing the good work you've been doing (or take it up if you have not). But very importantly to engage in civic life through a faith community or some secular community group and help to build a better society one very small step at a time.