I know; that title sounds arrogant. What I mean are the times when Jesus was reminded of how far the world was from his vision of it, and how much it would take to cross that wilderness. Look up the passages, they are there.
I am feeling the distance keenly these days. Part of it became clear in the Saturday NYTimes column by Charles Blow. We who claim to be liberals may be more right about the future than conservatives, but conservatives are more right about the present than liberals. That's why, as I have often remembered and perhaps quoted a colleague of mine, I am a short term pessimist and a long term optimist. Doesn't that sound like Jesus?
I mention this because some fire breathing religious liberal friends and colleagues are heading off to Arizona in two weeks to protest the ugly law they just passed. It is truly awful, mean spirited, and reactionary. But if Blow is right, liberals do themselves no favors by being as reactive to that law as the law itself was reactionary. It will only further polarize the situation.
Far harder, and yet more useful, would be to listen to what the law is saying about a significant portion of the country that is underneath the knee jerk conservatism that is abroad in the land.
- People feel insecure. Recession, terrorism, unemployment, global warming, and a dozen more issues stir the emotional pot so that there is no clarity about what to do next. When people do not know what to do, they pull into their shells. In Arizona, the border is the edge of the shell. This is something they can do, or think they can do, about their sense of insecurity.
- People feel betrayed. Government is supposed to protect us. But we feel more vulnerable than ever. Fanatics lurk within and without, the economy enriches a few and pick slips the many, health care is a maze we loathe being replaced by a maze we do not know. Clearly, the state has failed in the most basic of duties.
Argue with me about how wrong they are to feel this way, but lecturing either them or me will not change people. It simply looks arrogant, even contemptuous. Telling people they are wrong only makes them more defensive and less likely to change.
What will help? Listening. Not to the pundits and public ranters. To the people around you. Pay attention. Millions feel unnoticed and unrespected. Going to Arizona to protest may make my friends feel good. Being right will be invigorating, and they will have an impact, I am sure. But part of that impact will be that most Arizonans and a few others will see it as a number of arrogant outsiders coming to criticize Arizona without really understanding them.
I am quite at a loss about what will make a real difference. My desire to pull into my shell is as real as that of the resurgent conservatives. But in my case, it is personal. Just stand back and wait for the storm to pass, I think. Though that, exactly, is what Charles Blow warned me not to do.
It is time to preach the liberal vision of the future, not preserve the liberal memory of the past. That's what people want - a future everyone can believe in.
Isn't it ironic, now that I think about it, that what we have now is a battle of two ideologies both trying to preserve their own vision of the past. And what's most ironic is that the liberal vision of the future has been written down, and memorized by school chidren for generations. I remember it. Do you?