Monday, August 26, 2013

Which Carolina will we be?

    My daughter and I were in England last month.  A young woman, as she took our tickets as we entered a museum, identified us (by accent? dress? gawking faces?) as Americans, and asked “Where are you from?”  We said “North Carolina.”  She thought a moment, and asked, “Isn’t that the progressive one of the two Carolinas?”  I was impressed she’d know such a thing, but I only half-jokingly replied, “Well, we used to be.”

     I’m not sure what she or any of us mean by “progressive.”  Not all progress is a happy thing, and even good progress has its casualties, just as clinging to old ways can be a lovely cherishing of tradition or a paralyzing refusal to embrace fresh life, and changed circumstances.  I’m weary of the worn out labels, “liberal,” and “conservative,” which don’t fit most people I know who are weary of the nasty combat.  We want to find some common ground, and get something done.

     I’ve been pretty disturbed about Moral Mondays.  When I was a little boy, I saw protesters on TV and begged my mother to let me make a sign and take to the streets with them and even go to jail.  She quite rightly insisted as an 8 year old I just was too young.  Once I was of age, the streets had emptied.  As an adult I’ve tried to stir up some protests, but to no avail.  Then back in the Spring, I left the country for a three month sabbatical – and as soon as I left, thousands stormed Raleigh in protest.  I feel like Rip van Winkle, sleeping through the revolution.

     I support moral, peaceful, respectful protest.  Outside of the Democracy we say we treasure, if you protest you wind up in the slammer or worse.  Too often our citizenship is reduced to looking at some narrowminded “news,” and them fuming in our living room.  How good that people care enough, not just about their own personal, backyard issues, but about people other than themselves, that they take hours, travel, stand, declare, and hope.  Which “side” the protesters are on is far less important than the lovely reality that we have citizens who have a dream they insist must be heard – but without violence, or meanness.

     We’ve never settled on the best way to navigate the unavoidable intersection of faith and politics.  But people of faith do have the right to be heard – and not just heard, but noticed.  Way too often in North Carolina, the religious people pour great energy into little shows of religion, instead of actually doing something that matters and effecting real change.  If protesters merely hoist signs and declare they are advocating for the women and the poor, but don’t actually engage at a high level and change things for the women and the poor, the protest is a travesty.

     The same holds true regarding public prayer.  I never quite understand why people get upset if explicitly Christian prayers cannot be offered at government meetings.  The law can prohibit many things, but it can never stop me, or a board member, or a student from praying – although why anyone would be so inconsiderate as to pray in Jesus’ name when Jews or Muslims or atheists were in the room, I do not know.  Prayer is an insubstantial thing if it isn’t buttressed by deep and abiding labor.  If the Christians want Jesus to look good, they merely need to get busy doing good, investing their time, energy and resources in the people God cares about. 

     My dream for North Carolina is not that we become roundly Republican or resoundingly Democratic.  I yearn for us to strive to be good.  Inevitably we won’t agree on the precise definition of this good, but we can be sure that divisive rancor is not good.  We are all North Carolinians; we need each other.  We need our elected officials to recall that they represent not just the narrow faction that made donations or corralled votes to get them elected; they represent all of us, even those with whom they disagree.  Moral passion may veer far to the left or right, but the middle is a healthy place from which to govern.

     So let’s talk to each other.  And far more importantly, let’s listen to each other, and even dare to work together – and this applies to the good public servants we sent to Raleigh, not to bicker or represent only some few of us, but all of us.  Which Carolina are we going to be?