For Everything a Season
Once upon a time, an ancient story tells, the main tributary of a mountain stream became polluted. Everyone in the village became crazed, with the exception of those few people who refused to drink the water. Ridiculed for their differences, sick to death from loneliness, and facing dried-up wells, those who refused to drink from the stream went to the king to ask what they should do. And the wise old king said, “It is clearly madness to drink this water, but if drink it we must, let us at least have the honor of sending out messengers to tell the rest of the world that we know that we are mad.”
Clearly, evil has seeped into the soul of the nation, but calls itself good, calls itself “freedom,” calls itself “defense.” And that may be the greatest madness of all. If we could only know the enormity of our spiritual distortion, perhaps we could be cured of it. “I never wonder to see people wicked,” Jonathan Swift wrote, “but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.” We need, indeed, to expunge the leviathan within us that has robbed us of our shame. We need to become human again. We need to see that what has led us to our profits and pretended to be moral power has really led us to our peril.
We have the moral disease of domination, with which we must struggle for our souls. Power has become our national obsession, as it has for many nations before us and around us. We have bartered moral suasion for brute force.
But why is it like this? Why? Answers suggest themselves but come only with a blush. Is it because we have come to some state of spiritual bankruptcy? Is it because, even as churches, we have given more energy to our institutions, perhaps, than we have to the gospel? Is it because we have spent more time saying our prayers to get into heaven than we have listening to the prophets who warn us that the reign of God must start first on earth? Yes, of course. For all these reasons. But not only.
The fact is that we cling to the image of the Warrior God in the face of the God of Love. The fact is that we mix the national religion and the Christian religion as a matter of course. This country, we presume, is especially favored by God, under God’s singular protection, distinctly chosen to do God’s will. To those types, Lincoln taught in the course of the Civil War, “The question is not whether or not God is on our side. The question is whether or not we are on God’s side.”
We abhor violence but we do not, as a people or a church, study nonviolence. We abhor conflict but we do not demand national research into alternative forms of conflict resolution. We are stricken with a fear of sharing that closes our borders and deports the defenseless.
It is time for us to withdraw our support for violence as we once withdrew it from the bartering for women, the institution of slavery, and the practice of chaining the mentally unfit. The spiritual effect is to become a person of peace, too strong to be intimidated even by our own, too involved to be silenced. The function of the peacemaker is not to shirk combat with evil. The function of the peacemaker is to find ways to confront evil without becoming evil.
—from For Everything A Season (Orbis Books), by Joan Chittister