As I write this our government is shut down and the debt-ceiling looms. The Senate and the House of Representatives can’t seem to work together,
much less work with the President. There is no statesmanship only peevish partisanship. Something is broken in our country.
Even disagreements over minor issues bring out the worst in people. There is no spirit of cooperation and civil discourse is, well, uncivil.
I’ve been reading the first volume of Bruce Catton’s trilogy, The Army of the Potomac: Mr. Lincoln’s Army.
While the book is about the Civil War much of what Catton describes about the culture and the tensions roiling the nation
at that time might well describe our nation’s life today.
It was not a tidy clear-cut war against some foreign nation that was being waged. It was a civil war, a war not between men of two nations but between men of two beliefs, two philosophies, two ways of considering human society and its structure and purpose. The opposing beliefs were not sharply defined and clear so that no man could mistake which camp he belonged in. On the contrary, there were a dozen gradations of belief leading from one to the other, and a man might belong in one camp on one issue and in the other camp on another; And the very word, “loyalty” might mean loyalty to a flag, to a cause or to a belief in some particular social and political theory, and “treason” might mean disloyalty to any of these . . that generation was deprived of the one element that is essential to the operation of a free society—the ability to assume, in the absence of good proof to the contrary, that men in public life are generally decent, honorable, and loyal.
Perhaps we should take comfort from Catton’s words? Things change but not over much. The good old days, it seems, were as bad as today. Or, perhaps, Catton’s observations about the 1860’s might be considered in light of our own situation. Do we assume that in public life and in private life the people we meet, the people we do business with, the people we sit next to in the pews are generally decent, honorable and loyal? Are we carping, critical, suspicious and, worse than this, are we unaware that we are carping, critical and suspicious? Sometimes are righteousness is mere self-righteousness.
Now of course, there is separation of church and state and that separation is not a bad thing, however, those of us who are Christian must look at the world through Christian eyes. What comes to mind and heart, what seems to point the way back to civility is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 3, verses 12-15.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
Our ability to influence the attitude and behavior of our representatives in government, indeed, our influence in any public or private sphere comes down to our own attitudes and behavior. It sounds too simple but it seems the only way to restore relationships is to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. The saying, “what goes round, come round” truer than we have acknowledged.