By L Ron Brooks
Last week I doodled up a brief history of “How we got here.” [ https://tinyurl.com/ybppcbp3 ] ‘Here’ being what feels like the waiting room of the apocalypse.
Last week’s one-sentence takeaway was “The Outrage Machine makes too much money, for too many people, to be tampered with.” Our current dystopia is the result of business-models run amuck with no guiding hand to make sure anybody plays fair, with the wholly predictable result that no one plays by the rules anymore. It’s the Wild West again and The Truth has a price on its head—dead or alive, no questions asked; it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.
I was e-chatting with a friend the other day and out-of-nowhere this nightmare hypothetical was on the table—a real-world, plausible worst-case scenario—and my friend responded with the usual cant, “…blab la bla and then after we vote, that’s when we fight!”
But in the hypothetical I had just laid out—where the election is postponed indefinitely due to the legitimate national health crisis that’s on track to lay the country low by November—there wouldn’t have been a vote to go out protesting about after. It was my whole point and she had leap-frogged over it out of habit, landing perfectly with one toe back on her talking point. If you caught last week’s column you know I don’t blame my friend for behaving like a dunderhead. She’s just doing what she’s been taught to do, what we’ve all been taught to do; pick a side then never waver—oh yeah, and there are only two sides and they’re both corrupt as hell. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with, your waitress’s name will be Legion…”
If you’ve been counting on redress by election, you’d better start asking yourself a new question, “Assuming I can’t win, how do I not lose?”
Scratch any cynic—of any orthodoxy—hard enough and you’ll reveal the wounded idealist within. Where’s Fred Rogers when you really need him? In times of crisis, like in the aftermath of 9/11, [ https://tinyurl.com/ycqsv5km ] he always advised, “Look for the Helpers.” Don’t focus on the horror of what is happening, the awful mess you find yourself in and especially don’t add to the mess by picking a side and joining in; strive instead to be a helper. Find something you can do and do it. There’s always something you can do to help if you’re determined and creative. Mr. Rogers was advocating for Personal Agency decades before the concept existed.
Anyhow, I told my friend , “Look, I've spent my entire adult life fighting reliably losing battles and I'm still down with the various Worthy Causes®... but these days, I'm all stocked up on plowshares…” to which I have yet to receive a reply. It’s so ridiculous that not only will saying the wrong thing get you shunned—or God help you if you say the right thing the wrong way or vice versa—but not saying anything will also get you the stiff-arm.
That aside, my recent religious conversion [ https://tinyurl.com/ycqsv5km ] has been a great help getting me through these singularly trying times with my tongue mostly in check. I won’t go on about it because nobody likes to be preached to (check church attendance numbers if you have any doubt), but my faith provides me with the kind of sober, real-world ethical direction that’s gotten me honorably through so far.
The church’s ‘mission statement’ is derived from an off-the-cuff comment the late songwriter Leonard Cohen made about his understanding of Christianity once in an online Q&A forum. Random, I know. Life is funny like that sometimes. It goes like this:
“As I understand it, into the heart of every Christian, Christ comes, and Christ goes. When, by His Grace, the landscape of the heart becomes vast and deep and limitless, then Christ makes His abode in that graceful heart, and His Will prevails. The experience is recognized as Peace. In the absence of this experience much activity arises, divisions of every sort. Outside of the organizational enterprise, which some applaud and some mistrust, stands the figure of Jesus, nailed to a human predicament, summoning the heart to comprehend its own suffering by dissolving itself in a radical confession of hospitality.”
Radical Hospitality. It has ‘Name Of Doctrine here:’ written all over it.
Take a moment to let that sink in. What would that look like? What would radical hospitality look like in your own neighborhood? What small service could you provide for a friend or a stranger that would cost you little, but be a disproportionately large blessing for their day?
Even better; what former friend or currently estranged loved-one should you reach out to tonight, to take that crucial first step in healing old wounds and restoring even older, much richer, loving relationships? You’d be doing it because it would be good for your heart, and good for theirs. And that repaired relationship would be good for the common community and right there, Help will have been accomplished.
What a beautiful day in the neighborhood that would be for both of you.
Doesn’t just the thought of that sound more rewarding, both long-term and immediate-gratification wise, than writing even the most hatefully clever zinger in a Comments section?
And like the Biblical Samaritan, our best efforts must be blind to the circumstances of those in need. As all people’s well-being are equally important in the eyes of God, so must they be in ours. The old factions and faultlines have to be put aside, their base chicanery exposed.
Why not beat our rhetorical swords into plowshares and make ourselves the Helpers Mr. Rogers implicitly promised us would always be there. Maybe he was talking about you.
It would be a difficult, likely thankless task and one quite possibly doomed to failure—but maybe you didn’t notice, we passed Failure a ways back now. We’re already where we don’t want to be; why not bet what’s left of the house on a gamble that might do great things, when we’ve already lost just about everything we’d had worth losing?
Even a person who’s flat broke can still be radically hospitable with our time and/or our talents.
What a grand failure that would be! What a worthy plowshare to fall on.
L Ron Brooks is an author, entertainer and spokesmodel for Prell® haircare products, living far from the home he loves.