I don’t know of anything that works better than arrogance for creating an intolerable situation for ourselves and others. That is probably why the biblical writers place so much emphasis on humility as the oil that enables relationship and life. It is too bad all their hard work is so wasted on us. The United States is as arrogant as any nation that has ever been labeled “the most powerful on earth.” Power does that to you. I think it must be a law: You can’t be even a little powerful without being a lot arrogant.
The Fourth of July is the annual date for the celebration of our birthday as a country. There is nothing about our attitude toward power, and, hence, toward those who are less powerful than we are—and that includes everyone other than us in the world—that is worthy of celebration. We should be ashamed, but we don’t have enough awareness, or humility, to be ashamed.
Arrogance does that to you. It robs you of awareness. It keeps you from being able to see yourself, particularly as others see you. It allows you to do anything it takes to get what you want, regardless of whether or not it is good for you. We have the military and economic might to muscle our way through all resistance and objection to goals that we deem to be in the national interest. Our power—and consequently our arrogance—is unmatched in the history of the world. We are not creating a legacy that anyone who lives with awareness, compassion, and sensitivity to the plight of others would be proud of.
The Fourth of July should be an occasion, not of national celebration, but of national contrition. We have frittered away our position among the nations; we have squandered our place of leadership; we have let slip through our fingers the opportunity to envision, and effect a future that would be beneficial to the entire world; we have been self-indulgent, and unconcerned about the impact our living has on life in other nations, or life on the planet. The biblical injunction about “to whom much is given, much is expected” applies to us as it has applied to no one before us, and we would be right to be appalled and ashamed of our failure to do right by those who share the world with us.
The only sin is the sin of arrogance. It is the sin of taking what really belongs to someone else—to the entire community, which, in our case, is the entire world—and using it for our own personal advantage and pleasure. The boon is meant for everyone. We are to be a blessing to the world. The words of God to Abraham about being blessed in order to be a blessing are certainly to be applied to us as a nation. Yet, we have taken the “favored nation” status as an opportunity to indulge our appetites, and exploit our advantage, declaring “manifest destiny” as the justification to strip lands from Native Americans and consume the west—and on to the rest of the world.
It is not for our own good that we have been given these two hundred plus years, yet, you would not know that by the way we act, by the way we swagger about, and use our influence on a global scale. The American Way of Life is the only way of life that we care anything about. If we use up a staggeringly high percentage of the world’s resources, what of it? We have ourselves to make happy. If it doesn’t serve us, it is impeding us, and we will destroy whatever stands between us and what we want. We think that we have the absolute right of kings to do as we will in the world and beyond, without any sense of regret, remorse, or mortification.
If you think this is a bit strong. If you think this is not the way it is. If you think I am overstating the case about our arrogance and insensitivity, here’s one for you: Ask your friends to tell you who they think are the five most evil US presidents. I’d bet you $20, if I still did that kind of thing, that you will not get a list from any of them. You may get shock that you could even think of such a thing, but you aren’t going to find anyone who can reel off the names of five presidents they think of as evil. Those people over there, across the ocean, are evil. Our enemies are evil. We are good to the core! That’s an easy example of arrogance at work in our lives.
I don’t know what to do about it. I have no cures or remedies to recommend. I think there is no solution. This gets us to the biblical idea of wailing and lamentation. We don’t do enough of those things. We medicate ourselves, or have another glass of wine, or say something on the order of, “Let’s go bowling, Dude.” We hide from our anguish, deny our pain, and develop symptoms we can’t begin to manage. We would have fewer symptoms if we did more wailing and lamentation. I wish I could be more helpful. Awareness and lamentation are all I can offer.
The ultimate solution is awareness, awareness, awareness. Seeing ourselves in the act of living arrogantly reduces the amount of arrogance in our lives, but I don’t have a solution for instituting the solution. Too bad the mirrors we stand before to adjust our hair and makeup don’t show us who we really are, how it actually is with us, the way it is with our hearts, in our souls. We need a seer at the cabinet level, like the slave riding in the back of the emperor’s chariot, whispering, “You, too, will die.” That didn’t work too well for the emperors, evidently. They still behaved arrogantly, and facilitated the death of their nation in so doing. We can be lulled to sleep by the very words that are meant to wake us up. Awareness cannot come to us from the outside. It all depends upon what we bring to the table. Which means, in the case of US policy, at home and abroad, wailing and lamentation are all that is left.
What we need is an antidote for arrogance. All we have is the Wailing Wall. Which is enough to drive you to the Doctrine of Original Sin—and to the idea of Principalities and Powers, and to Paul’s anguished wail (!) about “Wretched man that I am!” We don’t get to do anything about any of the things that really need to be done. All of the real fixes for the human condition are out of our reach. The more aware we are, the more hopeless it all becomes, and anything we can imagine doing seems like “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
At this point, we have to remember that we have to trust in something. This is the heart of faith. We have to trust in something, because the solution is beyond us. We cannot fix the things that are wrong with us. Our propensity for arrogance, and our contempt for the dangers of pride, and our delight in domination in all forms cannot be cured. In light of that, the only appropriate response is wailing, lamentation, and trust in something, faith in something.
Trust in what, is the question. Trust in that which is beyond us, is the answer. Trust in that which is beyond our power to effect and arrange—or imagine! In that which is good to the core, and is calling us, even us, even now, to open ourselves to its presence, and participate in the wonder of its realization upon the earth—the whole earth.
Here we get to the Source of Life and Being—and our destiny, our work, to bring forth the Source in our life. This is yeast in the dough, salt in the soup, light in the darkness. This work is hope beyond hope. We are called to enlist ourselves in the work to do what needs to be done in each situation as it arises, and trust that will be enough. This is the work of being yeast in the dough, salt in the soup, light in the cold, dark places where there is no hope, and no reason for going on. Here is the rock-solid, wonderful truth that is at the heart of who we are in relationship with the Source of Life and Being: We have no control over any of the things that matter, but we exercise considerable, one might say infinite, influence over everything that is.
The metaphor for how this works at the heart of things, for the way things are at the level of the heart, of the soul, is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was, as we all know, born in a manger, and died on a cross. How’s that for control? How’s that for power? How’s that for hopelessness, helplessness, impotence and vulnerability? Yet, who has been more influential in the history of the planet than Jesus of Nazareth?
The manger and the cross remind us that it is not “like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”! No matter how pointless and hopeless it seems, our potential for influence extends beyond us in all directions. And so, we work away, against all odds, in the service of the best we can imagine.
Arrogance abounds and we can be constant sources of compassion, mercy, kindness, awareness, sensitivity and humility upon the earth. We can make it clear that the way of the government is not our way. We can buy fair trade products, support the slow food effort in our area of the country, and contribute to causes that serve the self-development of people worldwide. We can wake up, pay attention, and say “No!” to the things that should be opposed, and “Yes!” to the things that should be encouraged.
Our role is that of seeing and saying what must be done, and not done, and doing what needs to be done in the service of the best that can be imagined. The role of the awakening ones has been the role of prophets in every age: to call politicians away from self-service to service that takes the wellbeing of all, even “the least of these” into account. Our national interest is whatever is in the best interest of every living being, worldwide. It is our role to call ourselves to task, to the task of being what is needed worldwide in the moment of our living. It is a role that is easily abandoned, but one that we must consciously embrace, and deliberately live out if we are to be who we are called to be in doing the work we are called to do. We must stop living as though nothing we do matters, and begin living as though everything we do has ultimate impact, makes a significant difference. We must believe in ourselves and in our ability to influence outcomes far beyond, but certainly including, our immediate environment.
There has never been a time in the entire history of time when peace and justice issues were more pressing, or when the opportunity to participate in them was more available. We have access to a wide variety of organizations and agencies that are working to reduce oppression and increase freedom around the world. We have no excuse for believing more in impotence and hopelessness than in efficaciousness and transformation.
The world is waiting for us to participate in life as though we believe the power of Holy Presence is working in us and through us for the good of the environment and humankind. This country came into existence right out of the air over two hundred years ago, against all odds, and contrary to all expectations. There is no reason that we should be celebrating our continued existence as a nation except that our ancestors believed more in what they could do than in what could not be done. Theirs is a legacy we would do well to continue.
The process is simple: Believe in something, and live in its service until something better to believe in comes along, and then live in its service until something better to believe in comes along… Believe in something and do the work that needs to be done. Live toward the good—toward as much of the good as you can imagine—no matter what. The world will be different for your having lived. Life will be transformed because of your life. We all will be better off because of you.