INAUGURATION DAY, January 20, 2021– On this Inauguration Day, I pray President Biden and Vice-President Harris have great success, and with their coming to office, that we, as a nation, will hear a new call of commitment to create brave space where we can listen to each other, to see each other as members of one American people, one human family with all its faults and woundedness.
We are passing through a very difficult time, a time of civic illness, where deeply held pain and division and indeed, hate, has been allowed to poison our soul. We remain in a physical illness, where the hope of a Covid-19 vaccine is slowly becoming reality, even while thousands more people still suffer and die. No matter where you stand in the Church, in your family, community or neighborhood, hate has been as much a pandemic as COVID-19 on us all.
Healing and recovery in both our national soul and physical body will take a long time, and one day, Inauguration Day, is no cure. This brings me to share a piece from Sojourner Magazine about a new book: Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, by Julie Polter. The book looks at the work of Makoto Fujimura, a ceramic artist who explores the connection between beauty and the pain and brokenness of our world. He is a master at kintsugi, the art of making something beautiful out of broken and fragmented pieces. (I would say more but read the article!)
To quote the story: “…We are invited to look with compassion and love on broken lives and broken systems as the starting point of repair, reform or healing, Fujimura said. “Western culture tends to emphasize tossing out broken things and replacing them with something new, or hiding the damage…A western path of ‘fixing’ assumes that fractures are no longer seen and the object looks as if nothing has happened.”
So where do Dominicans go from here? What is our part and pathway?
Dominicans for 800 years have claimed a special relationship with the pursuit of truth. Is this not what we must be about with even more intention? Hate has been around longer than this pandemic, but we will not heal from it with a vaccine in the arm. The false belief that the election was rigged has “entered our bloodstream,” and its poison will continue to fuel hate. Hate is the underlying condition that is manifest in the disease of post-truth society.
Who among us, as Dominicans, has not bristled at this term post-truth? What an awkward and jolting phrase. How can any society survive when it cannot rely on telling the truth? Lies are lies. Pursuing the truth means asking questions, looking at sources, and not simply smirking at false statements, but calling them out in a way that is not reactionary but invitational. When we pursue the truth, we reject name-calling (e.g. “loser”), or minimizing, or keeping low our expectations of leaders.
Post-truth is an attack on our capacity to think critically and a temptation to settle for unsupported evidence, and easy distortions. Post-truth uses exaggeration, repetitive deception, and blaming to make us believe something false, like a rigged election, or that political candidates who do not share my values are evil. This is especially true of abortion.
Post-truth is lying, plain and simple. It is not of God. The Truth will set us free. But post-truth has made us miserable.
The remedy for lies is truth-telling. This is not about the pursuit of the philosophical truth, of the absolute Truth, with a capital T, but the persistent insistence on getting to facts. Dominicans should pursue facts as much as we pursue a philosophical understanding of truth. If my conviction about anything is so absolute that I cannot be open to a question about my assumptions, or I am dug in so deep that I don’t even see you, then we truly are in a post-truth, pre-fascist society. In a fascist state, critical thinking is prohibited. Questions are prohibited, “as if nothing has happened.”
How might we renew our commitment and inaugurate today a refocusing on listening, on empathy, and the truly brave act of seeing the brokenness of the “other” as part of the brokenness of “us?” What form will the pursuit of truth take for you? Does our tradition ring in you a desire to not only ask questions and explore meaning, but also to speak with a desire for what is right –out of a heart that truly seeks?
In the scripture for last Sunday, we read the call of Samuel, a familiar tale of a sleepless night and a call to be a servant of the Lord. The last line is the one that struck me the most: “Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” (I Samuel 3:19).
To be sure our words do have an effect. Note Fr. James Martin’s article in America magazine where he lays out the role some church leaders and pastors played to incite the violence at the US Capitol on January 6. “The level of our alienation from one another is at a heartbreaking and dangerous place for our church and for our country. This woundedness is deep and serious. Ironically a group of people who espouse a pro-life stance holds some responsibility for the insurrection.” We cannot act as if nothing has happened.
How might our words have an effect? Might we truly pursue the truth, which is our living tradition, our capacity to not be satisfied with pat answers to complex questions? May this be an Inauguration Day for us too. Can we pursue truth by creating brave spaces intent on bridging the hate, the poison, and distrust we have witnessed?
Invitation to Brave Space
By Micky Scott Bey Jones
Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
But It will be our brave space together, and We will work on it side by side.
I highly recommend further reading:
The American Abyss by Timothy Snyder, an essay in the New York Times Magazine, in which he asserts “post-truth is pre-fascism”.
Art and Faith: God is in the Making by Julie Polter, on the work of Makoto Fujimura. Sojourner Magazine, February 2021 on how art and faith open us the recovery of our brokenness.
“Fascism, a Warning” by Madeleine Albright, available at Amazon.com
“How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol” by James Martin, SJ, America Magazine, January 21, 2021.