Let me begin with two Wendell Berry poems. I read a handful this afternoon, a soothing exercise (this morning I was listening to Bach).
The Want of Peace
All goes back to earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman's silence
receiving the river's grace,
the gardener's musing on rows.
I lack the peace of simple things.
I am never wholly in place.
I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
And so we begin with lament. In his masterwork The Prophetic Imagination, Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann discussed the necessary role for lament if we are to imagine new things, to hope. We must confront the horror of our experience so that we avoid numbness and denial. We must bring our grief to public expression so that our fears and terrors are not suppressed. We must "speak metaphorically but concretely about the real deathliness that hovers over us and gnaws within us, and to speak neither in rage nor with cheap grace, but with the candor born of anguish and passion."
This blog post entitled "Why We Grieve," sent to me by a friend, speaks to that process of lament.
It feels like living in enemy territory being here now, and there’s no way around that. We wake up today in a home we no longer recognize. We are grieving the loss of a place we used to love but no longer do. This may be America today but it is not the America we believe in or recognize or want.
This is not about a difference of political opinion, as that’s far too small to mourn over. It’s about a fundamental difference in how we view the worth of all people—not just those who look or talk or think or vote the way we do.
Grief always laments what might have been, the future we were robbed of, the tomorrow that we won’t get to see, and that is what we walk through today.
So you must grieve. Take the time to do that. Yet, if lament is not to become despair, it must energize praxis. But what praxis?
Last night my thoughts turned to philosopher John Dewey who wrote passionately of democracy as a way of life and a method of social inquiry and problem-solving, but he didn't mean simply the organs of federal power. He wrote,
I am inclined to believe that the heart and final guarantee of democracy is in free gatherings of neighbors on the street corner to discuss back and forth what is read in uncensored news of the day, and in gatherings of friends in the living rooms of houses and apartments to converse freely with one another.
I must believe that the structures of the Republic will survive, though I know that they will only survive if we make them survive. Following Dewey, I believe we must renew citizenship and to specifically engage in the rebuilding and renewal of civic institutions such as neighborhoods and faith communities, social groups and schools, the sorts of entities which give rise to our broader society. We will need robust and vital civic institutions for democratic problem-solving.
This task will be difficult. A presidential campaign is easy in comparison. The task requires charity, felicity, humility, generosity, and a number of other quaint virtues.
I see this as the only good option, if we aren't to follow the nihilistic path. So I spent the bulk of today in this work.
For a year now, a ministry colleague and I have been working on ways we can help address the crisis in the child welfare system. One small project we've launched is a monthly lunch for front line social workers as an expression of gratitude, support, and encouragement. And also as a way to lift them in prayer and hear their struggles so that we might work toward solutions. This morning, while listening to Bach, I made chili for the November lunch. Then I sat in a small room with a dozen child welfare workers and people of faith as we shared our fears and uncertainties. Then we sang "Amazing Grace" and prayed the Lord's Prayer.