Thursday, July 4, 2019
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS—known as “the nun on the bus”—is someone I consider a modern prophet. She is the Executive Director of NETWORK, an organization that lobbies for socially just federal policies. On this “Independence Day” (in the United States), reflect on Sr. Simone’s invitation to co-create our collective freedom.
In the last half of the twentieth century, thankfully, our society began to engage in a serious process of trying to atone for the sin of slavery, and in doing so much emphasis was placed on promoting civil rights. An unintended consequence of this important movement was a heightened focus on individuals and individual exercise of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. The civil rights movement came out of community, but the legal expression focused on individuals’ capacity to exercise their freedoms. Some fearful Americans—largely white men who professed a conservative version of Christianity—felt threatened, as if there were not enough rights to go around. They sought to create their own “movement.” This reaction in part fueled the rise of the tea party movement. . . .
But a democracy cannot survive if various groups and individuals only pull away in different directions. Such separation will not guarantee that all are allowed the opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All people must be recognized for their inherent dignity and gifts regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their place of origin. And all these gifts need to be shared in order to build up the whole.
So I have begun to wonder if the new task of the first half of the twenty-first century should be a commitment to civil obligations as a balance to the focus on civil rights.
Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of a concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversation about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.
The mandate to exercise our civil obligations means that we can’t be bystanders who scoff at the process of politics while taking no responsibility. We all need to be involved. Civil obligations mean that we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and we must advocate for those who are struggling to exercise their obligations. The 100 percent needs the efforts of all of us to create a true community.
It is an unpatriotic lie that we as a nation are based in individualism. The Constitution underscores the fact that we are rooted and raised in a communal society and that we each have a responsibility to build up the whole. The Preamble to the Constitution could not be any clearer: “We the People” are called to “form a more perfect Union.”
-Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation
Simone Campbell with David Gibson, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (HarperOne: 2014), 180-182.
Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
“When I was a child, we saw pictures of military parades in the Soviet Union. I was taught that America doesn’t do that— that we’re proud of the fact that we don’t do it because we don’t wish to be a militarized society. This July 4th however, America’s official celebration will be accompanied by army tanks on the National Mall.
The militarization of July 4th celebrations is repugnant to me. What we celebrate on July 4th is our greatest strength: the Declaration of Independence and the principles that it articulates. That is what we have always done, and that is what we must continue to do.
President Trump will be doing his July 4th event in Washington DC with army tanks on the National Mall; I will be doing mine in Concord, New Hampshire, with a message that I assume will be quite different than his.
Please join me tomorrow at 2pm PT/5pm ET via livestream or live in Concord for a July 4 talk that celebrates our principles, dedicating our hearts to the rights—and the responsibilities—it bequeaths to us. Another generation was given the task of giving birth to the country; the task of our generation is to give it new life.
I look forward to being with you!”
One of two Bradley Fighting Vehicles is parked next to the Lincoln Memorial. Photo: Andrew Harnik.
‘Was he thinkin’ about my country
Or the color of my skin?
Was he thinkin’ ’bout my religion
And the way I worshipped him?
Did he create just me in his image
Or every living thing?
When God made me
Was he planning only for believers
Or for those who just have faith?
Did he envision all the wars
That were fought in his name?
Did he say there was only one way
To be close to him?
When God made me
Did he give me the gift of love
To say who I could choose?
When God made me
Did he give me the gift of voice
So some could silence me?
Did he give me the gift of vision
Not knowing what I might see?
Did he give me the gift of compassion
To help my fellow man?
When God made me
What do we celebrate this Independence Day? Freedom? Democracy? Choice? Hope? Are we a democracy, a republic, an autocracy, or plutocracy? As Americans celebrate with parades, bar-b-q’s and boats, author, teacher, and speaker Parker Palmer writes this July 4th:
‘Given the deep concern many of us feel about this country—even as we celebrate all that’s good about it—these words from Terry Tempest Williams seem well worth pondering:
“The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?”
Williams reminds us that what we need to preserve the great but fragile political legacy called democracy is not beyond our reach. It is very close at hand—as close as our own hearts.
Today and every day, let’s celebrate democracy as the great gift it is—and invite “the better angels of our nature” to overcome all that has threatened it from the day it was born.’
This country was founded on suffering, grounded in the annihilation of Native Americans, the brutality of slavery, and the struggle of immigrants. It was suffering born of power and greed. We live in the grace of those who sacrificed for a fantasized ideal we call freedom and democracy. Racism, bigotry, mass incarceration, poverty, illness, homelessness, random acts of violence – – is this democracy? We are governed and manipulated by the wealthy and false rhetoric.
Yes, the human heart, as Williams shares, is the ‘home of democracy’, but do our actions reflect the potentialities? Perhaps this outlook will seem dire and pessimistic. I offer, however, that the opposite of pessimism is not optimism, but activism. Therein lies our hope. Rebecca Solnit writes in her book, ‘Hope in the Dark (2016),’
‘This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.’
‘Hope doesn’t mean denying these realities. It means facing them and addressing them by remembering what else the twenty-first century has brought, including the movements, heroes, and shifts in consciousness that address these things now.’
‘This has been a truly remarkable decade for movement-building, social change, and deep, profound shifts in ideas, perspective, and frameworks for broad parts of the population (and, of course, backlashes against all those things).’
Hope in activism, born of suffering. Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl writes in his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’
‘Does all this suffering, dying around us, have meaning?’
Et lux in tenebris lucet:
‘And the light shineth in the darkness.’
Let us this Independence day celebrate the ‘last of the human freedoms,’ as Frankl taught us, ‘The ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.’
Love and hope in suffering is attitude that begets positive action, lest we suffer from indifference.
‘And action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.’
Nick Licata writes in his book, ‘Becoming a Citizen Activist,’
‘Every generation of students has the power to shape the future. A democracy only works when all citizens can fairly participate in it. Show up at the voting booths. Let our voices be heard. The power for changing the world lies—with us.’
In light of the recent skewed definition of ‘religious liberty’:
Written by spiritual leader Ernest Holmes – published around the middle of the 20th century:
‘We all wish to be free, but at the same time we should realize that liberty is not license (to oppress). To say that we are free with the freedom of God does not mean that we are free to do that which contradicts the Divine nature. We are free only in that freedom that God is – – freedom to be alive, to enjoy living, to enter into the activities of everyday living with enthusiasm and interest. We are free to love and to be loved. We are free to give full and complete expression to every capacity we possess, provided this freedom harms no one and hurts no thing. This is freedom enough because if we were free to do that which is destructive we should ultimately destroy ourselves. And, in so doing, we would not only deny but would defame the nature of Divinity Itself. In Divine will we know there is scope enough for self-expression – – plenty of room to move around and express life to its fullest’. For all beings…regardless of race, creed, sexual or gender orientation, political interests, and economic status.