Tuesday, July 05, 2022

I had something I was going to say about Independence Day. . . .Then another young man climbed onto a rooftop in Highland Park and opened fire on a parade.

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I had something I was going to say about Independence Day. It was really very good: something about the measure of your belief in a thing being the willingness you have to fight for it; neat and short; a good pastoral message.
Then another young man climbed onto a rooftop in Highland Park and opened fire on a parade. Six are dead. Dozens wounded. What words suffice the bodies of the dead who had the simple temerity to march down the street on a national holiday?
There are other words running a circuit in my mind now. I can't stop hearing them. They're the words of the Rambam, who was a physician, and who believed the soul was like the body: that it could be both healthy and sick. He said that there was a kind of illness where the sufferer would believe that that which was actually bitter tasted sweet. And so they would stuff themselves with horrible things: coal, earth, dust, mud - all the while believing that they were feeding their body something sweet.
The soul is like that too, he said. When the soul is sick, it will gorge itself full of filth and muck and call it good.
Call the doctor. We are sick. The problem is so far beyond the moral at this point, it's almost medical. When some members of the body politic keep killing the others, killing children, killing grocery store workers, killing July 4th marchers - what else do you call that disease but metastatic? And forgive me, but I'm not speaking of mental illness (which some use as a kind of absolution in these moments?), but of a deep and pervasive moral illness. And then someone keeps handing the diseased cells high powered weapons with bump stocks. What kind of treatment is that?
I have sat at many bedsides with many people waiting to hear the results of the biopsy. Of the many, many emotional reactions that can be in that moment, there is only one that is never present, and that is the feeling of certainty. Nobody ever hears the dreadful news and knows exactly what's going to happen next, knows exactly what to do, feels completely certain in the course of their treatment and their chances of survival. Even with the resolve that is so often present, the hidden strength that does reveal itself, what is always there is the fear that comes from not knowing what to do, and what will be.
So I have to ask: where is our earth-quaking, gut-shaking, straight-up doubt? Where is the holy trembling as a nation? Where is our fear, not only of the next shooting, but that we've chosen the right course - or any course - of treatment? How can we say, "God bless America," when what we really mean is, "will God bless America?" And what we really should be asking is, "what is upon us to do so that God could even see fit to bless America?"
You know, a clergyman like me once suggested to Abraham Lincoln that he hoped that "God was on our side." Lincoln responded, "I am not at all concerned about that,' replied Mr. Lincoln, 'for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."
And people like to quote this story in pious tones and wise nods. Then they get back to the business of being right. But in truth should we not be up til late into the night worrying, worrying? And maybe the time is right to stop sending "thoughts and prayers," but to be thinking, be praying, be asking for anything - anything at all - that would set us upon a different path.


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