Action over words always, otherwise silence - Last Days in the Desert
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say - King Lear
It’s a paradox, right? Action over words depends on knowing what the right actions are; yet sometimes the right actions are also words. And sometimes the right words are the ones that reveal as much vulnerability as strength, that risk the radioactive reactions of a crowd that demands the kind of language that denies ambiguity, promises the destruction of opponents, and never admits to failure. Words like “I’m sorry.” “I don’t know.” “Difference is not the enemy.” “Everyone has their reasons.” Much of the time, however, words are better used sparingly. I know that’s a strange thing to say in an article welcoming you, our beloved reader, to another issue of a magazine that rather depends on words, but like I said, it’s a paradox...
We live in times that ache for more beautiful stories to be told, and more often. When we think of the state of the world, many of us feel tempted to despair. The despair is deepened when we allow ourselves to believe that activism often seems to begin and end with merely naming the problem; or with generic invocations of resistance.
We get it.
It’s much easier to know what’s wrong with the world than how to fix it. Or at least to think we know what’s wrong with the world. There’s no quick fix for the problem of how to discern what’s truly real, especially amid the bombardment of images and words that have given birth to the idea of fake news and alternative facts. Wisdom takes its time. Living in the present is best done with a reflective eye to the past. Looked at through the lens of how far we’ve come, then the current moment of confusion and challenge can be seen as an opportunity, not a catastrophe.
The past few months have seen an outpouring of energy and action toward the common good - the
most good for all people - that is unprecedented. Really. It hasn’t happened before: a movement seeking to re-humanize the world involving folk from such a range of socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, all genders, spiritualities, shapes, sizes, abilities, and loves. Marches around the world, led by women to resist oppression and champion love. People making visible their desire to be in solidarity with vulnerable others. People asking for help. Some people even recognizing that moving forward depends on not degrading people who think differently, but upon building bridges instead of walls, and perhaps even loving our enemies. To “oppose without hatred,” as the magnificent British actor Mark Rylance has said.
The wounds of the world deserve better than just making space for more complaints. We need to create places for new dreams to be born - the dream of protecting people who may be in danger, the dream of introducing our privilege to the integrity of sharing power with others, the dream of listening to the still small voices otherwise ignored.
Many of us long for spaces that facilitate us in healthily lamenting the suffering of the world, educating for action toward the common good, celebrating a community that takes the necessity of such action seriously, but doesn’t take itself too seriously, and inspiring the next steps, and the next, and the next.
That’s what we’re trying to do here at The Porch. We don’t think the glass is half empty. We think the glass of our perceptions has been shattered, and a new, larger vessel is taking shape for humans to co- create. A vessel in which the interdependence of the human race is so obvious it cannot be ignored. A vessel in which the truths of what we have learned as a species about how to reduce violence guide us in our activism and use of words, helping us to avoid being overwhelmed by the fake, the divisive, the hoodwinking. (When does violence reduce? For a start, each time men step aside and women lead, each time access to creative and artistic endeavor is shared as widely as possible, each time the public visibility of people who have been historically marginalized is expanded, each time gifts are exchanged among and between communities, and each time anyone stands in solidarity with anyone who lives with less privilege. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.)
Violence has been reducing over time, human rights have been expanding, women have been empowered, both the process and the fruits of creativity are more widely available than ever, and the possibility of gift exchange between people living at the furthest distances is now a mouse click away. We are closer to each other than ever.
Another paradox: the connection to “the world” which most of us experience through mobile devices also means that the “big story” we tell about politics and the planet can seem more risky. What a president says is easier to take personally when that president lives in your pocket. We are closer to each other than ever, and therefore we have more opportunity than ever to build bridges to beloved community. And we may also feel more vulnerable. What will we do about this? Will we hide? Will we allow ourselves to be overcome by the fear of the present moment, because we are unable to read the past accurately, or imagine a different future? Will we be shut down by the inertia induced by the knowledge that no matter what good may be right in front of our noses, there’s always something painful happening somewhere else? Or will we take steps on the path toward integration: of the fact that life is lived between the steeple and the gargoyle, between the sacred and the profane, the light and shadow? And that in this moment, we have gifts to celebrate, challenges to face, work to be done, community to inhabit.
Stephen King has one of his characters say the following wise words:
“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”
It’s not the state of the world that causes us the most concern, but the often despairing stories we’re telling about it. Is the world getting worse, or are we actually uncovering empathy for people who are suffering, and unable to ignore it anymore? Are we learning to ask for help, to see vulnerability as strength, to connect across lines of difference, to oppose without hatred, instead of merely attacking our enemies to embody something better?
In this issue, among other things, we reflect on the unsung “patron saints” who inspire us. I have several such saints, but the one I return to most often is probably Jim Henson, the artist who gave us the delirious, wild and joyous Muppet Show. I heard once that Jim Henson told a production meeting that he wanted to make “a children’s television Christmas special that brings peace to the world.” The funny thing is, with the invitation to welcome and include everyone - from the green frazzled host, to his best friend the clumsy comedian, to the self-serious eagle, and the angry glamorous pig, and even the two grumpy guys in the balcony - what Jim Henson did actually does make peace in the world. At The Porch we don’t expect to have the impact of someone like Jim Henson, but we trust that our vision occupies a difference only of scale. Each of us can do what any patron saint did, in our own lives, right here, right now. For a few thousand days we get to choose what to do with the music we have been given. There is action to be taken, there are words to be spoken, and there is silence to observe. No one can get between you and the choices you make about what to do with the music you have been given.
Want to read more? Click here for the new issue of The Porch magazine.