Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
January 2017 - Volume 17, No. 1
An Anatomy of Hope for 2017 (Part One)
In recent months I’ve been searching for a congruent “anatomy” (or at least a useful skeleton) to organize my thinking about what’s happening in our world, as well as what it and I can offer as a meaningful future for our people.
Many of my clients are in distress. Many of my friends and neighbors are in distress. My country and the world are in distress. I sometimes feel as if I’m standing in the middle, struggling to hold some small parts of it together. No, this is not a messianic fantasy, but rather a gift of necessity for those specific folks who do look to me for hope.
The poet Yeats famously wrote in 1919, in the immediate aftermath of WW1,
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” (“The Second Coming”)
A Deep Despair
Recently I’ve been pondering a well-known Buddhist teaching that goes like this: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Briefly it translates, “if you come across someone who has all the answers, kill him or her before you’re tempted to buy into that teacher’s system. Every guru just turns out to be another struggling human being. The secret is that there is no secret.
I’ve watched for months, how a woefully deficient man, Donald Trump, kept presenting himself as if the holder of a secret recipe for idealistic greatness, for the eradication of public suffering and malaise. He would demonize much of what is already great about us, in order to better present Himself as the Savior of the Republic - whose secret recipe as the great “deal-maker” would alone lead us to the mythic greatness his strange and hypnotic logic seemed to portray.
Does anyone have a memory of what snake oil smells like? Or Nuremberg?
Now obviously from my words so far, you can tell where I stand politically within the spectrum of current politics, but don’t look at me with just those narrow eyes. We need a wider spectrum, especially now, to save us all from a larger destruction of soul and self.
I recall from my earlier years, the Vietnam war, in which it actually began to make sense, in a Twilight Zone of logic, that “We had to destroy the village (of Ben Tre) in order to save it.”
My many Republican friends for years have been making appropriate claim for greater personal responsibility on the part of our citizenry, only to be seduced by the subtle politics of economic self-interest, which rendered their idealism into a gridlock that sets the rest of us up as easy prey to the autocrat and the fascist.
I also remember almost 40 years ago watching in horror the American preacher, the Rev “Jim” Jones in 1979 leading over 900 his Peoples Temple followers to their mass murder-suicide in Guyana.
So the ascendancy of our president-elect Donald Trump, has led us through this past year 2016 to a despair of fear and almost demonic fascination, in which even within himself there seems to be no center holding anything together. Strangely that only adds to his charisma.(History has given us many such examples.)
What has bothered and perhaps embarrassed me most is how the “Christian/religious” population of our land has so easily been able to overlook this man’s obvious immoralities in favor of some vaguely higher “trust” in him. The patina of even our primary moralists can be embarrassingly thin. “Yes, but of course, we really didn’t have a better choice.”
So many feel a foreboding of something that seems to have crept into every corner of our lives.
I wrote two months ago about the weight of our 4-month “holiday season.”This past year especially, I noticed for so many, they ‘just didn’t work.’ By Christmas many were already worn out. The birth of the Christ Child, one of who’s names is Emmanuel (“God with us”) - seemed to fall particularly flat this time around. It wasn’t able to do what it was supposed to do - to lift the human spirit toward a more glorious vision and experience of a fullness of personal and community life.
And for many, this New Year’s Eve seemed a time when “nothing happened.” The sun did shine here on New Years Day - that helped, after days of cold and gloom. These next days and weeks and months may help us discern if that was indeed a ‘sign.’ Maybe we’re still willing to keep looking. Yet I see many who simply can’t anymore.
An Anatomy of Hope
I will continue to write on this. For the past six months or so I’ve been looking for words and visions to guide myself and those to whom I speak.
And in the very darkness itself I’m beginning to see some trustworthy ‘light’
I’ll share this in my next writing.In brief I’ve been looking in two specific directions;
1)A new form and awareness of community, neighborhood, watching in more active care for each other, and with a greater discourse of courtesy across our fences.
2)A willingness to travel more “into the darkness” - for it’s said that if one wants to look for gold, it will be found most often in the deep dark places. Far into the second half of my life, I’m most at home in this area - both as a psychotherapist and as a priest.
I feel a sense to apologize for the length and distress of this preface to my larger essay. Yet I feel it has been necessary, since 1) it’s true, and 2) hope always is strongest when it arises from darkness. Neither would we fully trust ourselves to a pilot who has only flown in peaceful skies.
And yes, I did wait until I could see some specific forms of hope and triumph before documenting the darkness as I have. That to me is both a courtesy and an ethical responsibility to not increase despair. So I hope to remain faithful for you in working to connect the dots.