Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"The heart is devious, who can fathom it?"--God, to Jeremiah

[Merton] became a vocal activist (insofar as an enclosed Trappist monk can become) as the Vietnam War dragged on; however, although he directed the remarks you quote toward the Johnson Administration, as you have correctly noted they are eerily congruent with present events both in the Middle East and the U.S.--Boreas
As the French say: the more things change....

What is the fundamental difference between the Johnson Administration and the Bush Administration? What fundamental national interest did we have in Vietnam? We stayed there for years because we convinced ourselves to leave would bring about disaster. My daughter has grown up long after we departed, and the only effect on her life is to see signs in public buildings in Houston printed in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. And yet we still insist we must "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here." That's just a new way of stating the "discredited" domino theory.

No idea is ever "discredited." As "V" said in "V for Vendetta," ideas are bulletproof. The good ones as well as the bad ones. That's the problem with ideas.

What is required is not a change of policy, or of politics, but of heart. Easier said than done, of course, but the responsibility is ours. It would be ours if we lived under a dictatorship. It is certainly ours in a democracy. "pie" posted this query at Eschaton the other day; and I responded. It seems appropriate to repeat it here:

Some of you should really run for office. I'd love to see how you'd change things. Or if you would.
First lesson I learned in ministry: you have no authority. Lots of responsibility. No authority.

But everyone thinks you are the one in charge. Which is why you have lots of responsibility. And they resent that mightily. Which is why you have no authority.

Bush didn't grab the wheel and wrench the car around 180 degrees. He's going the way many in America wanted him to go, but now they got what they wanted, and they don't like it anymore. Could we really change things? No.

Withdrawal of troops from Iraq, for instance, will be a bloody mess, whenever it's done. Murtha said as much long ago. Fewer troops means those still there are more vulnerable. Dead troops = angry families. It's a lose-lose proposition. That's why Biden speaks in terms of 5 years. It's safer to punt than to run with that ball.

But they wanted the authority, and the responsibility: they have to do something with it, whether they are liked, loved, or hated. It's what I have to do, too. You can't duck it by saying: "It's too hard!"

We have no authority. But we have a lot of responsibility. Not for the world, nor even for our government. That is entirely too large, too big a burden; we can't shift it, we can't even lift it. We are fools if we pretend we can. Boreas said something else worth remembering, something apropos here:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am meek and modest and your lives will find repose. For my yoke is comfortable and my load is light. (Mt 11:29-30, NSV)

Or, as those younger than me used to say, "Walk the talk."

Or, as I was taught, "Evangelize by example."

In my view, it's all we can do; be prepared, however, to end up like Jesus did.
If we want a change of heart in others, we have to change our hearts, and let that example shine before them. We do not have to convince them they are wrong, browbeat them into agreement, argue with them about our position. Their ideas are not our responsibility, their hearts are not in our control. Our hearts are what we are responsible for, and it is a frightful responsiblity, indeed. That is our mysterium tremendum, the great secret that makes us tremble, inwardly, silently, personally. The idea that, ultimately, we are responsible for what we do, for who we are. And we cannot avoid it by saying "It's too hard!" or "If they would just change, then all would be well." All things shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. It will start with the changing of our hearts. Consider, first, that we have no authority; but a lot of responsibility.

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