On Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, I, as a peace activist, feel very out of sync. I see the flags flying on the houses and mail boxes. I hear patriotic hymns at church. I see soldiers holding the pin flags at golf tournaments. I see soldiers who are going to be deployed back to Afghanistan where some of them will died or be maimed for life being bussed to a ball game in Atlanta amid great media hype. I struggle time with this. Now, thanks to Rabbi Lerner, I know that I am not the Lone Ranger:
Faced with July 4th celebrations that are focused on militarism, ultra-nationalism, and “bombs bursting in air,” many American families who do not share those values turn July 4th into another summer holiday focused on picnics, sports, and fireworks, while doing their best to avoid the dominant rhetoric and bombast.
This year that kind of celebration is particularly difficult when many of us are deeply upset as we watch our government escalating its policy of drones, still fighting a pointless war in Afghanistan, running elections in which only the super-rich or their allies stand a chance of being taken seriously by the corporate media, watching as the distance between rich and poor becomes ever wider, while education and social programs for the poor get defunded, the Supreme Court reaffirms the right of corporations to on donate without limit to political campaigns, the environment reaches beyond the tipping point and nobody even bothers to pretend that they are going to do something to repair the ecological crisis, and the government passes legislation that in effect does away with habaeus corpus and the right of people to a trial by their peers (by legislating life imprisonment without trial for anyone the government suspects of being a foreign operative, including US citizens), and dispirited by the lack of vision of the Democratic Party, and the dis-unity and nit-picking on the Left which seems to only know what it is against but has not yet developed a coherent vision of what it is for! Oy.
As he writes further, Rabbi Lerner encourages us to acknowledge what is good and right with America and to challenge what is wrong with America. America has never been the perfect beacon light on the hill. All men are created equal really meant that all men who own property were created equal. It was a long time before slavery was abolished and women gained the right to vote. It has been even a longer time that African Americans and women have been accorded greater justice. The aboriginal peoples were murdered and plundered in the order to carve out the new frontier. Japanese Americans were interred in prison camps. Knowing that Japan was seeking an honorable way to surrender, Truman unleashed two nuclear weapons on the people of Japan. The second was dropped because it was different from the first and we had to see just how effective it would be. Catholics and other religious groups were persecuted and denied their rightful places at the table. People of color have had a much more difficult time getting their fair share of the American pie. One out of every six Americans still lives in poverty without access to adequate medical treatment, shelter, and adequate education. Finally, I need not mention immoral wars for oil, natural gas and mineral rights (Afghanistan), and hegemony in the Middle East.
America still gives us much to be grateful for. We can worship at the church of our choice or not worship at all. We can speak our minds in public without too much fear of reprisal. We can educate our children in public schools, private schools, or home schools. We can own and bear arms, even Uzis for hunting Bambi! We can be entrepreneurs and create wealth. We can join labor unions to protect our employment rights. We are free to assemble and protest government policies; however, we may be arrested and profiled as domestic terrorists without access to habeas corpus. Some of us in some states are free to choose out life partners based on our sexual orientation.
Rabbi Lerner lets us know that we are not alone and offers sample rituals and activities to help us celebrate what is right with America while still rising up to challenge what is not right with America. I can sing the hymn that says “mend thy every flaw.”
The Linns have a new book, Healing the Furture: Personal Recovery from Societal Wounding, The title says it all. The Linns help us understand what is going on and how we can deal with it. Being in healing ministry, I have long sensed what the Linns make clear—societal wounds cause problems for us and we need to be healed.
Right after I read Rabbi Lerner’s post, I opened the book and read the chapter on “The Trance.” Why do we not see the flaws we need to mend? How do our elected leaders and the military-industrial complex entrance us? First, media creates disconnects. We surf the internet and see on the same page a report on drone bombings of noncombatants and an ad for the latest large flat screen television. This generates disorientation. Freedom becomes shorthand for preserve our creature comforts.
Second, once we are disoriented, the leaders and multinationals can play on our more primitive instincts, namely fear and the need for safety. I was appalled when I read Nurse Nayirah’s story. Nayirah, allegedly a Kuwaiti nurse in a neo-natal unit, appeared in the media and, with tears in her Madison-Avenue-coached eyes, told of Iraqi soldiers throwing babies out of incubators and leaving the struggling for life on the nursery floor. As this story gained traction, George H. W. Bush gained all the support he needed for the invasion of Iraq. It turns out that Nurse Nayirak, carefully coached by the public relations firm of Hill and Knowlton, was in fact the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador to the US. We were had. Then, I remember the Gulf of Tonkin incident that accelerated the war in Vietnam and the Battleship Maine in the Havana Harbor. I hear Peter, Paul and Mary in the background, “When will we ever learn?” Yes, when will we ever learn.
Fear causes the blood vessels in the forebrain to constrict and we lose cognitive capacity. The hind brain, something akin to the reptilian brain, takes over. George Bush manipulated us in the Second Gulf War when “Support the troops” became a code word for “Support my immoral war.”
Third, our leaders and the military-industrial complex become our parents who will protect us from things that go bump in the night or daylight for that matter.
The Linns go on to report that one reason we can be so easily manipulated is that five multi-national corporations control the media. Given the composition of their corporate boards, the media is in bed with arms manufacturers and military contractors. General Electric makes televisions and parts for nuclear weapons among other products. I really like Merton’s 50-year-old caricature of GE. He wrote in his diary:
Last time I was in town–we had to drop something at the G.E. plant–Appliance Park. We came at the enormous place from the wrong side and had to drive miles all around it. Surrounded by open fields with nothing whatever in them, not even thistles, marked “Property of General Electric. No Trespassing.” The buildings were huge and go on forever and ever, out in the midst of their own wilderness. Stopped by guards, we signed in at the appropriate gate and promptly got lost in the maze of empty streets between the buildings. Finally came out right. What struck me most was the immense seriousness of the place–as if at last I had found what America takes seriously. Not churches, not libraries. Not even movies, but THIS! This is it. The manufacture of refrigerators, of washing machines, of tape recorders, of light fixtures [fighter engines, parts for nuclear weapons]. This is the real thing. This is America.
Recently, I received one of those melodramatic “Support our troops” chain email. It concluded by telling we that Christ died for my soul and the soldier has died for my freedom. Au contraire. Christ did not die for my soul. Christ died because he challenged the militarism and imperial oppression of the Romans and their priestly collaborators. He was crucified as a common criminal. He, naked and bloodied, gasped for breath on the cross as he suffocated to death as a Roman warning to others, “Don’t mess with Rome.” Soldiers are dying so we can secure oil and mineral rights in the Middle East. Lest I be misunderstood, I do pray for those who have been duped and/or entranced into being maimed and killed for our “freedom.”
Merton challenges us to deal with these madness-inducing fear tactics. For Sartre, hell was other people. For Merton, hell was alienation from our true selves, our selves created in the very image and likeness of the Creator. We have to re-engage our forebrains and operate, not on fear, but on Gospel values. We can cherish and praise what is right with America without falling into idolatry. To be true to our own true selves, we must speak truth to power. Blind allegiance to American might and power should be beyond the pale of the Christian. Adherence to Gospels values will help us mend our every flaw. Let us begin to celebrate Interdependence Day.