Sackcloth and Ashes … February 13, 2013

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ashesLong ago, when fire-breathing dragons stomped across the earth and a gallon of gasoline cost less than milk, prophets would occasionally ramble into town, condemning the deeds of the wicked, speaking forth the chilling but effective sound bite, “Repent or die.” Even more disconcerting was how little the prophet actually cared about whether his message was received in a positive light, and often actually would have preferred it if death was the result of his invitation. I suppose there were those cities which would resist the opportunity to save their lives–we wouldn’t be that familiar with them because they are no longer on the landscape. But often the ruler of the nation would comprehend the seriousness of the situation and repent, ordering all of his subjects to do so, demonstrating their regret by adorning themselves in sackcloth and smearing ashes all over their bodies.

Time marches on. (Or does it creep? I’m not sure.)

We now have advanced in our self-esteem to the extent that we would never consider lowering ourselves to wear sackcloth and display bacteria-ridden ashes on our faces. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that we are still doing many of the same ridiculous practices that should require a bit of reflection, if not repentance brought on by the threat of doom.

I’m not a prophet. (I guess that would make me a non-prophet organization. But I digress.) Yet, to me there are three obvious things that need focus in this country as primal objectives, allowing for a discussion about the implementation of how to achieve them, but not whether they are righteous and necessary.

1. Let’s stop killing. There you go.  I’m not picky. Let’s stop killing babies so much. Let’s stop killing people with capital punishment. And let’s stop starting wars because we have a big military and they get out of practice if they hang around the base too much with no real combat experience. I think it’s a good start. Every time you stop something in life, two things happen: you cease a few things and you start up other things. Stopping killing would probably take away some of our rights in this country. But it would give us a sense that we were trying to address a murderous history of rampage that seems to be threatening to infest our national DNA. Yes–stop killing. Then have the debate about how to actually make it a practical or legal application.

2. Stop stealing. Let’s not ask people to do jobs that we don’t want to do and then continue to insist that they live in squalor and poverty in order to serve us. Let’s stop taking away from people their praise-worthy actions and pretending they’re lesser fellows. Let’s greatly discourage corporations from becoming so greedy to feather their nest that they kill off all competing birds. Let’s stop stealing. That would be good, right? We could decide that refusing to steal is a good thing and then have a healthy debate on ways to initiate integrity.

3. Why don’t we stop destroying? If there is any chance at all that we are party to affecting the climate on this earth, why don’t we just grin and bear it? Why don’t we find out what we can do and instead of arguing about whether it is pleasant or within our wheelhouse of understanding, and just stop the destruction. Why don’t we become the nation that makes it “uncool” to be unfeeling? Why don’t we stop destroying our own psyche by peppering our young people with violence and encouraging them to use technology incessantly–which is gradually fostering an epidemic of indifference?

Why don’t we stop destroying our bodies? Why can’t we encourage farmers to raise more vegetables so you can get a tomato at the grocery store for less money than a greasy eight-hundred-calorie hamburger at McDonald’s?

Certainly it would demand that we abandon hypocrisy. It would require that we forfeit some of our abstract definitions of freedom to provide for the common good. The same people who extol the beauty of marriage–which is the setting aside of sexual freedom, the possibility of many partners to cling to one–feel grieved over the notion of making it more difficult to get a gun for themselves in order to possibly save the lives of those on the perimeter of their understanding.

I don’t think we’ll ever get our nation to sport sackcloth and ashes. But I do think we could sit down and agree that killing, stealing and destroying are really bad things, and even though we may have varying definitions, in the long run, we could come up with a FEW ideas limiting death, thievery and destruction.

Ash Wednesday–a religious holiday when people commiserate for an hour or so about whether they treat those friends around them with enough respect and if they should eat less chocolate.

Maybe it’s time for some real repentance. In the absence of a prophet who isn’t afraid of the king, queen and parliament, let me proclaim, stop killing, stop stealing, stop destroying.

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