“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” ~ Senatorial oath of office
I peered out my window this morning dreaming of spring and the day I could resume my cycling regimen now placed on a wintry hiatus.
But reality greeted me with yet another dark and dreary wet and weary February day with more of the same in the forecast. And as chilling as this current foul weather pattern is to the body, as depressing as it is to the psyche, I know that it pales in comparison to the truly gloomy and troubling climate of events across our land and across the world. For so many reasons, this feels like the “winter of our discontent” that Shakespeare referred to in the opening line of his play Richard III.
This dismal day also happens to be Presidents Day in America. It comes this year with no fan fare, a mere two days after the completion of the second impeachment and trial of the 45th POTUS, this one for inciting the January 6 insurrection/riot at the Capitol. Of course, the ultimate outcome of a trial needing a 2/3rd majority of Senators to convict was never in doubt given the partisan divide. Still, the overwhelming evidence of guilt leaves a foul odor lingering in the legislative chamber where too many Senators’ oath of office was swept under the carpet in the vote to acquit, a verdict conducted under a smokescreen of procedural jurisdiction.
Then there was last night’s episode of 60 Minutes in which Bill Gates addressed the existential threat of climate change as “the toughest challenge that humanity has ever faced.” “It’s way greater than the pandemic,” he warned. “And it needs a level of cooperation that would be unprecedented.” (As in “it’s never been done before in human history.”)
On another day this could be a natural segway for me to launch into an eco-justice blog post on the grave threat of global warming/climate chaos and the need for the Church to ring the alarm bell and assemble the saints to do battle against green house gassers and the injustices they perpetrate. And on a day when we’ve also recently learned that our congregation has earned the right to remain a PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation (ECC) for another year, this would be an appropriate moment to pursue that route.
Nevertheless, having already traveled that path many times, today I want instead to lift one sentence from Mr. Gates’ remarks. I wish to apply it to not only environmental justice, but to biblical justice and its secular/political embodiment through the cooperative ideal of democratic governance. Here is what Mr. Gates said about the toughest challenge that humanity has ever faced, “And it needs a level of cooperation that would be unprecedented.”
As an avowed and successful technology innovator, he believes we have the smarts to beat global warming/climate chaos. The hurdle (or cement wall) to be leaped, or the key to unlock the door to a livable, sustainable future is that of cooperation. The ultimate question is whether we can muster the cooperative will to do the common good as described in that scripture passage woven like a thread throughout these blog posts:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~ Micah 6:8
Will humanity come together to embrace the reverence (humility) and grace (mercy) needed to act justly (righteously/fairly/equitably/truthfully/honestly)? If we already have the evolved brain to ensure our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, the question then becomes, “Do ‘We the People’ along with our duly elected representatives have the ethical spine – the moral backbone to justify our existence?”
As I ponder the weight of this question while day-dreaming of a springtime reunion with my bicycles, I am thinking of a second-hand cycling jersey that I purchased during a trip to Maine to bike the carriage roads of Acadia National Park. Atop the back of the jersey are these challenging words, “SHOW SOME SPINE,” while below the words is a rendering of a human spine bursting through the jersey.
If we have any hope of riding safely and completing our journey securely, we are going to have to do it together as one cooperative human family all seeking the common good by mustering up the decency and courage to burst through a garment of injustice to reveal our moral backbones. We are going to have to summon up those “better angels” that Lincoln called upon back in his 1861 inaugural address.
After Lincoln’s narrow and surprising election in November of 1861, the nation’s “better angels” appeared to be a flighty few in number. The makings of a completely different American story were all in place, “But for…”
- But for Allan Pinkerton, of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, hired to guard the President elect on his long and circuitous train journey to D.C. and who thwarted several assassination attempts along the journey… and
- But for the troops placed around and within the Capitol by General Winfield Scott who warned that any intruder would be “lashed to the muzzle of a twelve-pounder and fired out the window of the Capitol,” we may never have had an inaugural address by an anti-slavery President.
When Lincoln took over the reigns (not Reign) of the Presidency in March of 1861, we should recall the backdrop to that historic inauguration. He did so on the brink of civil war, threats of murder and on the heels of a southern pro-slavery, secessionist mob rebuffed by the military. The mob’s intent in advance of the inauguration was to wage an insurrection on the nation’s Capitol to stop the count of the electoral certificates that would confirm Lincoln’s election three months earlier.
It was against this backdrop that Lincoln spoke to a nation as only Lincoln could:
“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war… You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend‘ it… The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
When President Lincoln called upon the “better angels of our nature” to touch the swelling chorus of the Union, he was referring to the morally upright attributes of human character. When Shakespeare wrote Richard III (the opening line of which led off this blog post) he was revealing in Richard the opposite of such attributes. In Richard we see a morally bankrupt despot consumed by the lust for power, willing to use his wiles and go to any lengths to gain and retain power and advance his self interests by dominating others. In his spine he lacks a single ethical vertebrae, and in his head and heart there is no conscience to be found.
Today is Presidents Day in this the long winter of our discontent. It’s a day that should cause every American to pause and reflect upon those better angels of our nature. It’s a day to search for and to nurture that nature. It’s a day to pluck the mystic chords of memory and to revive and relive the morally upright attributes of human character that our 16th President modeled. It’s a day and a time to show some spine and incite others to seek the common good, to grow the moral backbone to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.