Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mixed Feelings

As I sit at my laptop in Colorado Springs, CO I feel a bit like Tevia from the “Fiddler On the Roof” when he repeatedly said, “On the one hand…and on the other hand” as he tried sorting through his mixed feelings. Because as I see before me the majestic Rocky Mountains from the front yard of the Mercy Retreat Center, I simultaneously recall all the forest fires that recently blackened major portions of the mountain’s face. The retreat center itself needed to face possible evacuation as clusters of ash the size of zucchini leaves began landing in the yard on Tuesday, June 26th. Fortunately the winds shifted and didn’t allow the flames to jump over the highway and cause the retreat buildings/homes to be counted among the many that were destroyed by the fires. It was a bit like trying to rejoice and simultaneously walk with the pain of all those affected by their flaming losses of homes and lives.

Driving up 14,110 feet to the top of Pikes Peak two weeks later left a vivid image of the scope of the fire. Yet I remember how Yellowstone forest workers chose not to replant trees after their devastating fire and simply let nature’s seedlings reshape the swatches of forest that had been fire blackened. Who knows what varied fall colors may emerge ten years after this awesome mountain’s blackened canvas face has been repainted with young foliage and fauna. It may happen that a young poet may be inspired to write yet another stanza to Katherine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful” written under the inspiration of her beholding the vistas seen from Pikes Peak in 1893.

Friday, July 6, 2012

All are Created Equal

Recently I listened to an interview that Krista Tippett, host of Minnesota Public Radio's "On Being," did with Jacob Needleman, the philosopher and author of "The American Soul: The Inward Work of Democracy." His ideas have particular resonance this week, when our nation celebrates its historic invitation to self-actualization and freedom. That resonance becomes even more powerful in the face of the many questions and complications - not to mention confusion and divisive partisanship - with which our country is so riddled right now.
Jacob Needleman passionately presents some of the great and fallible human beings who forged this country we love - men and women who demanded of themselves high ideals, which they in turn expressed in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Among these people, he highlighted: George Washington, for being a man who "turned away from power" - no easy task in our competitive and power-hungry world; Jefferson, who knew the invaluable importance of "listening well," particularly if there were to be agreement among the Declaration signers; Lincoln, "humbled by power" even as he firmly exhorted "malice toward none, and charity toward all"; and from the 19th Century, Frederick Douglas, an escaped slave who deeply loved the America he felt compelled to criticize for allowing slavery to exist. Call what these men stood for what you will-- ideals or virtues-- but we need to reflect on them today, as we struggle to maintain our democracy. Let it not be thought that anyone, least of all Jacob Needleman, would deny Americans the fireworks, festivals, marches, and parades we so love to employ in our Fourth of July celebrations; but Needleman feels our patriotism must go deeper than all that.
Astutely, I think, he asserts that our age needs not just external action groups, but "think groups" that could help us ask such hard questions as: "What are the duties implied by our rights as very blessed Americans? What is the inward work of democracy? What does the Declaration of Independence imply when it says, "All are created equal," and, "All have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?
Dear God, we pray for this our nation and world. We ask that You help us remove the walls that separate us. Now, in this moment, we ask for new light; illumine our minds, so that we may seek truth, harbor no malice, and live in charity toward all. Use us, dear Lord, as part of your plan for the world's healing. May we no longer be at war with each other, or with ourselves. May every nation and every people, every color and every religion, find at last the one heartbeat we share. Continue to create and sustain this country, dear God, for us and for our children. Hallelujah at the thought! Praise God, that such a thing could come to be, through You, through us, and through Your light that shines within us! So may it be. So may it be. We thank You, Lord. AMEN.