On a Memorial Day weekend as we honor heroes, it seems apt to remember that not all who threaten the status quo are enemies that we need to eradicate as if the gardens of our minds have no room for new ideas. Not every plant not previously encountered is a weed. Some newly arriving people in our monolithic culture . . . including incoming young members of our society who immigrate from heaven to our lands . . . bring gifts of healing and restoration to new life beyond the culture of violence to which we’ve become so well adjusted that we consider its norms sacred. Truly sacred bearers of glad tidings of great joy arrive moment by moment to serve as reminders of what’s truly valuable. In fact, the more violent our culture becomes, the more frequently and earnestly these message-bearers strive to capture our attention and tell us that violence is not the only alternative. Might such nonconformist violators of the status quo not also be heroes we could welcome and value more?
Certainly we are grateful for the heroes who have protected and continue to protect us from harm. We are also increasingly aware that a hero’s experiences in the face of violence include being harmed, emotionally if not also physically, as he or she stands up for us to stem the tide of violence that threatens to overrun us. We ask our heroes to endure the pain we’re afraid to experience on our own behalf. And to help us remain blind to our decision to use others as heroes to protect our comfortable lifestyles, we deny that the enemies our heroes fight are products of our own self-indulgent creature comforts and conveniences. We deny that there are consequences to our choices and prefer to fashion scapegoats to excuse our self-indulgence lifestyles by blaming others for being envious of us — and eventually perhaps hateful towards us when we deny the legitimacy of their envy.
Although we perpetuate the expansion of our lifestyles through the operation of institutionalized envy, we refuse to see the woe we cause to others by not taking their wants and needs into account as we satisfy our own. We are driven by our habit of comparing what “little” we have to what “more” others have. This habit of comparison is selective. It selects for justifications for our continued pursuit of more while keeping us blind to our own envy of those with more. Other habits of valuing socially approved images and superficial, materialistic possessions keep us focused on “things” and luxuries as objects of desire, feeding our envy continuously to keep our economy in motion. Earn, spend, earn, spend, earn, spend . . . the never-satisfying, ever-accelerating cycle of our lifestyles.
And yet when others seek to join us in our plentiful opportunities, we protest as if there’s not enough to share. That we might no longer gain more and more threatens the foundation of our aspirations. How could we go on comparing ourselves to what others enjoy if everyone has nearly the same? What good is our socially popular image and our material possessions if they do not make us “special?” How can we prove that God favors us if we live as if the concerns, needs and wants of others might be equal to our own and equally worthy of satisfaction? Does not God play favorites just as we like to play favorites? Is not that how one proves one’s power — by dispensing power and its accompanying perks on some basis one personally defines with little or no regard for any other standard? Does not Facebook’s system of “Like” and “Dislike” prove the value of being liked even when we are not truly known or loved for ourselves because we hide behind the social images we project to score points as heroes and avoid becoming scapegoats?
Let us this weekend honor those who believed in the values of superiority claimed by the United States in comparison to other nations, or if not fully believing, nevertheless put themselves at risk to defend our claim and our opportunity to prove ourselves right rather than be destroyed by those who violently disagree with our claim of superiority. But . . . and here’s a “but” worthy of due consideration . . . let us also carefully review the basis for our claim to superiority and remove from it the arrogance and ignorance we’ve religiously cultivated concerning the claims to value put forth by other nations and cultures. In what way might we be right in claiming superiority that does not deny the value of other people’s claims to equally high value? Might we be most right in the ideals to which we claim to subscribe such as “liberty and justice for all” and most need now to reveal our humility in admitting how far short of our own ideals we’ve often fallen? Is a blend of humility and superiority possible or must one exclude the other? Might our greatest claim to superiority be in the fitful but relentless progress we’ve endeavored to make in upholding and living true to our ideals? Perhaps this weekend is one occasion among many to be grateful from the depths of our hearts for all who have stood up for us and sung our praises even when we’ve stumbled badly — or may yet be stumbling now.
Is this weekend an occasion to soberly consider the sacrifices we expect of heroes and ask ourselves, “Are we letting our heroes down when we fail to live according to our highest ideals?” Are we mocking these heroic sacrifices when we fail to examine our own lifestyles for ways we’ve not ourselves been devoted to our stated highest ideals and instead neglected them as readily as we neglect our heroes when they come back home to our care? Might we too often be a neglectful culture hypnotized by our pursuit of image-based, materialistic definitions of happiness while remaining blind to the consequences of our shallow pursuits as they spiral more and more out of control? Our pursuit of shallowness and trivialities as a way of escaping from the deeper, heartfelt truths may be why our ship of state has run aground. Deeper waters are calling to us from within our hearts. Will we heed their call and learn to navigate their depths again?
© Art Nicol 2016