Monday, September 8, 2008

The Keys to the Kingdom are In Your Own Hands

I'm still here, I'm still breathing I'm who I thought I was or just about I'll be walking down this boulevard until my legs give out Thoughts like storms and seas are raging I know it is a matter of degree but it's not the world outside that's changing it's me -- The Waterboys, "Let it Happen"

Say what you will about Obama (for instance I was told over the weekend that he kills babies, but that's a totally different story), but there's one line of attack against him that I've never given any credence to. It's the whole "Messiah Complex/Antichrist" thing. Every time I see someone refer to Obama as "The One," I cringe slightly. The problem isn't that I don't get it, though. It's that I understand where it's coming from all too well.

The whole thing started back when Obama said this (on Super Tuesday, I think):

“You see, the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.

“We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have little; who've been told that they cannot have what they dream; that they cannot be what they imagine.”

The phrase, "We are the ones we've been waiting for," is an old Hopi line from a religious ritual. More than that, when combined with the idea of dreams it's a call to the great reformers of the past. It's Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech combined with Mahatma Gandhi's call that we must be the change we're waiting for.

But it's more than just the call of the oppressed. It's a story I heard told by a wonderful duo who go by the name of In the Spirit. I can't do their version justice here, but I can paraphrase.

There was a village that was filled with busy-ness. No one took the time to have a real talk, no one took the time to care about anyone else. People just kind of pushed past each other on their way to more important things.

One day the village children went to the Elders to ask what could be done. They thought for a long time and finally said, "You must go to the Sacred Land."

The children returned to the village and gave the Elders' message. No one knew how to find the sacred land, but they knew they had to try. So they packed up and began walking.

After a journey of many days they reached the Sacred Land. They did not know how they knew it to be their destination, but it was. They stopped and rested. That night they had a vision of a place where the people watched out for each other, where those who were in need were looked after, where those who had something to celebrate did so while surrounded by friends and family. At the end of the vision everyone heard these words: "Look for The One who will make your world like this vision."

So they returned home and waited for the one. After a while they began discussing it. One person said to another, "Didn't you used to sing and dance from happiness? Maybe you're the one." At that same time two others were talking and one said, "Didn't you used to throw wonderful parties? Maybe you're the one."

Gradually the people who had once sung and danced started to do so again. Those who threw parties began planning them again. The ones who had taken their time to care for the sick and hurting began to help others again. The village that had once been filled with people who pushed past and ignored one another now took the time to talk and to care.

After a year of living happily, the village decided to reward The One who had made things the way they were. They gathered together in a big circle and someone said, "Okay, whoever did this for us step forward." No one did.

Finally a child spoke up. He said, "Don't you see, we all did this. Together."

We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

It doesn't happen in one night. It's not the work of one person who is yet to come. That's what Barack Obama's call has been from the very beginning. Say what you will about his policies or the people who actually do think he's the Messiah, but from the start he has understood the fact that we are the ones we've been waiting for, not him, not John McCain, not some other President or Speaker of the House or Governor. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change we seek.

Sadly, for a large and powerful segment of the American population, these are evil words. For there are those who are waiting for that one person to come and make it all okay in one night. They are waiting for a Messiah and call anyone who says that we can change the world without the say-so of their Messiah a false prophet, or Antichrist.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for," then, is a challenge. It is an uprising against the proper order. We can't be the ones we've been waiting for, as there is only one we're supposed to be waiting for.

In 2000 I was interning at my old church. During the entire Bush/Gore/Supreme Court hubbub the talk was about praying for "god's man" -- read, George W. Bush -- to be put in to the office of the Presidency. I didn't realize it at the time, but that attitude is tremendously anti-democratic (I suppose the irony shouldn't be lost that the Democrat was not "god's man," come to think of it). Democracy, at its core, is about the fact that we are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change we seek. That's why the Constitution of the United States begins thusly:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

What does it mean that we, the people, create justice, tranquility, defense, general welfare, and secure all of these things for posterity? Primarily, it means that if we are unsafe or there are those who are not defended or enjoy the benefits of the common welfare and changes must be made, then we must make it. We cannot and should not afford to wait for another to arrive, whether it's Gandhi or Jesus.

God does not pick our Presidents, we do. More importantly, we pick our Congresspeople, we pick our local legislators, we pick our mayors and school boards. We change things on a local level, a state level, and a federal level, often many times a decade.

One of the questions that tended to come up in church was something to the general effect of, "How do you properly handle authority issues Biblically when you live in a democracy?" The answers vary, from "do whatever you want," to "only vote according to this stringent set of guidelines," to "don't vote at all."

The fact of the matter is, though, that in a nation where we have the freedom to change things, we are all, from Thomas Jefferson and Jon Adams to those who will take to the polls in November, potential Antichrists. We do not have to wait for what few changes will be ordained from on high. We can be the change we've been waiting for.

Somehow, though, I think that the entire point of Jesus' message was that we can, indeed, be that change. It just got a bit garbled along the way.

Believing that we can't change requires a profound dislike for your fellow human beings. The Jesus of the Gospels didn't dislike people. It requires a very different mindset, one bred from too many centuries of Augustine's City of God/City of Man dichotomy and too few centuries of Jesus', "Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do."

My entire time with Rita and my entire problem with the religion I left behind tends to crystallize, as things so often do, in one moment. It was one of those off-hand comments in a conversation that reveals so much about the personalities of the people involved. We were talking about something and one of us made some sort of, "People are stupid," sort of remark. Then:

Rita: "Well, you know how we feel about people."

Me: [Pause.] "Actually, I rather like people."

Rita: "I know. I've never figured out what your problem is."

This came not too long before we stopped talking, but it was sometime after that event when I actually thought that exchange through. It's ironic that the person who I spent nearly two years thinking would be there to re-awaken my desire for Christianity was able to sever my desire to come back in the space of two sentences.

If you don't like "people," that means that you don't like me (it probably means, too, that either you don't like you, that you are an arrogant fool, or that you're some combination of the two, but that's really outside the scope of my point and pop psychoanalyzing someone in absentia isn't really cool on any level). If you don't like me, you're undoubtedly expecting the worst of me on some level. That means that you don't trust me to hold up my end of the relationship. And relationships are built on trust, so even if I do everything perfectly all the time, I can't fight against the fact that you don't actually like me simply because I'm a person.

And so "we" cannot be the change we're waiting for.

This is the core problem with the Christianity I grew up with and finally left behind. People, it says, are sinful, horribly broken, and can only be fixed and taught to do good through Jesus. The world people live in, it says, can only be fixed when Jesus comes back. So we have no choice, the logic says, to wait for some other person in some other time.

Anyone who says differently is a false prophet, a deceiver, an antichrist. Anyone who calls us to be better than we currently are is an antichrist.

That's why they want to write the Bible in to the Constitution. It's why they want to re-make the image of the Founding Fathers in to the self-image of the fundamentalist Christian. At it's core, according to the unspoken reasoning of the modern American fundamentalist church, the Constitution written by and for the people cannot and should not work.

It's sad, too. There are so many people out there who are cheering for the rest of the world to fail. They're like Rorschach, sitting above it all, looking down, thinking, "The world will look up and shout, 'Save us,' and I'll whisper, 'No.'"


LR said...

Wow... I just found your blog today, and really enjoy reading what you have to say. By complete chance I just wrote a teaser post with a very similar thought regarding the constitution and religion.

Look forward to reading more of your blog.

big a said...

The irony of your point is that a great many fundamentalist christians are eager to see the world end so Jesus can come and we can start over.

Just think about that for a second... the same people who are too apathetic to fix what's currently wrong think their divine creator should give them a "second shot" at administering the world.

I still remember the first time I really read the Book of Revelations and upon finishing had some very strong thoughts along the lines of "Okay, is there ANY WAY I can get out of this?" (Bearing in mind that even when I was Christian I believed the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture to be completely unsubstantiated bullshit)
I never contemplated that people would manipulate so many pages of sheer terror into a candy-land excuse for an apathetic worldview.

Come to think of it, I still don't know how anyone can be that fucked up...

Froborr said...

I can't believe I waited this long to read your blog.

I don't have anything more insightful to say at the moment, just wanted you to know I read it today and it's definitely going on my list.