I’m taking time off, as I wrote a few days ago, which means that beyond the non-negotiable obligations on my calendar, I’m doing only what I enjoy — nothing that feels like drudgery. One of the things I enjoy most is being reminded to keep my eyes wide open.
Time off means that life suddenly seems packed with reminders of all I have overlooked in busyness and haste. I am suddenly aware of those aspects of my own life and character usually obscured by duty and distraction. I’ve noticed how deeply unhappy I am about some things I’d been dismissing as merely annoying. I have also been privileged to walk along the water, drinking in the sight and scent of rockroses in full profusion, in my awe reminded of Dylan Thomas’s wonderful line, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”
The news obligingly gets with the program too, pressing me to realize anew how little it is possible to know the world truly, how much of what is there to see is obscured by our own blind spots and dizzying hopes. Happily (but not too masochistically, I hope) I also enjoy being shown the distortions and holes in my own perception, in the evergreen wish I will be able to correct them in future.
On Wednesday, according to Thursday’s \New York Times\, “Nine days after Lebanon’s pro-Syrian prime minister, Omar Karami, was forced to quite under pressure by opponents of Syria’s occupation, he was voted back into the post on Wednesday by the Lebanese Parliament.” On Tuesday, Hezbollah, Lebanon’s radical Shiite party, sponsored a street demonstration that brought hundreds of thousands into Beirut’s streets — many more than had protested against Karami’s government — to support the alliance with Syria. As the U.S. and its allies have come out in favor of Syrian troops’ withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has asserted to evidently substantial popular approval that to expel Syria would be to go along with the U.S. and Israel, neither of which is popular in that region.
On March 3rd, I wrote about the street demonstrations in Beirut and the resignation of the pro-Syrian prime minister as indications “that nothing can stop people who for their own reasons, as various as snowflakes, decide it is time to stand up and be counted for themselves.” If I were being kind to myself, I’d say that was true, so far as it goes. Whether the people who stand up agree with me or not, they are still standing up. But the story is now much more appropriately portrayed in shades of gray.
I immediately began thinking about our own country, of course. We too have an elected legislature which seems to represent certain shades of opinion much more fully than others. In the U.S., my analysis of this is chiefly economic: with fundraising such a consuming enterprise for congressional candidates and a system that pressures them to make many promises in exchange for campaign cash, naturally the views of those who can pay to preserve their own advantages and privileges will predominate. So I’m used to seeing Congress do things that run counter to the views of most people I know, and it’s possible this can also be said of Lebanon’s legislature.
But maybe not. Maybe submitting to Syrian occupation and rule seems a small thing to Hezbollah’s supporters, who are willing to pay that price to ensure their religious and social values predominate or to protect against threats from the West, just as the opposite is true here. The right-wing polymath Richard Posner articulated a similar position recently in his book-length screed on impending catastrophe: “It has been a commonplace since Thomas Hobbes wrote \Leviathan\ that trading independence for security can be a profitable swap…Only the will is wanting.” Or maybe Karami’s re-election was a bizarre quirk, brought about by dearth of viable alternate candidates after the assassination of Rafik Hariri given the Lebanese constitution’s requirement that the prime minister be a Sunni, the president a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.
Strange days. As if to underscore the point, the same issue of the \Times\ carried an article about evangelical Christian leaders who are organizing a big push for policies to end global warming. George Bush reliably calls evangelicals “my people” when he advocates an end to choice for women and other far-right policies. Jim Wallis, evangelical publisher of \Sojourners\, has been a vocal advocate for many progressive issues, but I thought he was pretty much a lone voice. But in October, more than 100 evangelical leaders signed a platform entitled “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” that includes this plank: “Because clean air, pure water and adequate resources are crucial to public health and civic order, government has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation.” The \Times\ quoted Rev. Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, as saying, “I don’t think God is going to ask us how he created the earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created.”
The “Call” also condemns abortion, same-sex marriage, advocates government policies promoting sexual abstinence outside of marriage, etc., etc. I doubt the National Association of Evangelicals will soon be marching arm-in-arm with Greens. But it does make interesting reading, if only for its practical approach to social change. For instance, I appreciated this reminder (which might as easily apply to the writers of the Lebanese constitution, who unknowingly boxed themselves in): “Because power structures are often entrenched, perfect solutions are unobtainable. Because cultural changes produce problems that are often not amenable to legislative solutions, we must not expect political activity to achieve more than it can. Because social systems are complex and our knowledge is incomplete, we cannot predict all the effects of laws, policies, and regulations. As a result, we must match our high ideals with careful social analysis and critical reflection on our experience in order to avoid supporting policies that produce unintended and unfortunate consequences.”
Reminder to ordinary self from vacation self, reaching back 500 years to borrow from Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”