“The only means of strengthening the intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing–to let the mind be a thoroughfare for thought.” -John Keats, 1819
My husband and I don’t really understand the hullabaloo around the RNC and the DNC. As he snarkily commented, “Are these the same people who enjoyed pep rallies in high school?” I love that people are getting excited about something, especially when the world has been so dark as of late, when our problems seem so immense.
But to me, it’s mostly just rhetoric. Is that maybe all it is?
Even when I listen to inspiring words from the likes of Cory Booker and Michelle Obama (and as a preacher I love her line about “when they go low, we go high,” and Booker’s reprise of “we will rise”), I can’t help but think that they’re merely performing the words of another (exceptionally and with permission, of course). I worry that if all America has at this point in time are great words written by great speech writers, we might just be papering over our problems and our misunderstandings of our differences with lofty lines and grand gestures, feeling so surprised when they return and rear their ugly heads.
Our country seems caught in this wild rhetoric of hyperbole that I’ve never been the least bit comfortable with. If one candidate says that we’re making “America great again,” the other outwits him by saying “America is already great,” if another suggests we ostracize Muslims and foreigners, another purports to invite them to join us (which is not all that much better). It becomes a war of words and all the important nuances, perhaps the real things that make America who she is and potentially really great, get lost and buried in the crossfire.
Our responses to all this are not much better: we either seem to rally around the least offensive rhetoric or cry cynicism because the politics is truly so off-putting. But cynicism really is the height of laziness because it’s fully dependent, accusatory, and glib (and most definitely not an agent for change), and vapid enthusiasm isn’t much better, because it doesn’t teach us anything about who we really are, it doesn’t heal wounds, it doesn’t create solutions.
So where’s the inspiration this morning? Well, I think it begins with us.
As I’ve been hearing all these great words these past few weeks, I’ve been thinking, let us not wait for someone to inspire us, America, because what we need is less of politics and more of real life. Let us do the inspiring by telling our everyday stories to one another, by sharing our problems, our triumphs, our solutions.
A few nights ago I had to run out to Walmart to grab a few things. I actually love going to Walmart because whatever your politics, it is one of the most diverse places around here. I hate going to Walmart though because it always takes so damn long. But I noticed something on that extra warm evening–people who didn’t look anything like each other, who don’t speak each other’s languages, and who come from very different cultural backgrounds, were going out of their way to be kind to one another. The young black guy behind the counter, so deferential to the Spanish-speaking family in front of me, the woman with the headscarf behind me, and to me, the young white woman. The lines were jammed up against the registers but people were patient; I watched a couple young black men let an Indian family with a full cart go in front of them in line.
I thought to myself, not bad, New Jersey, not bad.
This kind of stuff that we do everyday in America goes unnoticed but it needs to be celebrated. It’s not going to make the papers, it’s not going to make the speeches, but it’s inspiring and it’s life well lived. By sharing such a simple story, I don’t mean to paper over the real differences and the real problems in our country either–but I guess when I think in terms of inspiration, I’d rather find something concrete that I see in front of me, in my backyard, that’s real and right and true. I’d rather take my cues from the diverse group of students in my classroom that cultivate meaningful but respectful conversation everyday as points of inspiration rather than the words of a few. I’d rather think critically with folks in my congregation about how to build community rather than watch someone else pontificate about who or what America is or will be.
I guess my plea for inspiration this morning is for us to take heart and hold of the good things around us that often go unnoticed–to report them to somebody and to someone, and to talk together, to begin to share and pave real community solutions where rhetoric may fall short. I’m not saying that we can’t watch the RNC or the DNC and we can’t have passion for the candidates that inspire us, but I guess I’m saying that I think, we the people, need to do the real work of inspiring.
And if we look around, even in the most seemingly ordinary places, we just might find it.