ON the second day of Holy Week, just after the triumph of Palm Sunday, we all watched in horror as Notre Dame de Paris burned. The loss has turned out to be almost entirely repairable, but the gut feeling of it will remain. What a terrible loss.
Yet through it, we find our selves facing the greatest and most beatifying aspect of Christianity – sacrifice. Through sacrifice we rise again, the world rises again, and is renewed by the eternal spirit. As surely as Christianity has defined nearly everything we might all “Western Civilization” today, it is worth reflecting on as the week draws to a close.
It’s been twelve years. On a miserable April night in 2007, Barataria began.
Like everything, it had a humble beginning. And a rather humble middle. I’m not sure how it will end, but it remains primarily whatever I am thinking about at the moment, the place where I unload my brain to get on with things that actually pay me a living.
Somewhere along the way, it started to feel like I had something. Since you’re reading this far, I hope that means that you agree. So please allow me a somewhat drifting and personal reflection on this anniversary.
You are a citizen of many different things. You belong to a city and a neighborhood, a state or province, and a nation. The word “citizen” is something like a title in that it implies there are certain rights and privileges that are at your command, in addition to a few obligations to maintain the entity.
More important, however, is that citizenship is an identity. While the various actions required by law or custom only come up once in a while, your kinship is a constantly defining force. You might travel around the world and meet someone who shares a citizenship with you, and there is an instant bond.
But what does any of this mean to the ever increasing number of people who call themselves “global citizens”?
We don’t need daily reminders about how disconnected our world has become, but we do have them. People rather routinely commit heinous acts somewhere, somehow, for some reason that seems important to them. But why?
Disconnection seems to be a by-product of industrialization. It’s a kind of pollution for the soul and society, a thick gunk that clings to some people and makes them terminally sick. But what will it take to not just stop this, but clean up the mess?
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.“
– The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I want to repeat this piece from five years ago exactly as it was then. Much is still true, even in this much darker moment of despair. We have a long road, and we are making progress. It’s slow, but it is true. The next generation will definitely do better.
At this time every year we have the same kind of conversation around the dinner table. My kids are growing up in a different world, one even more thoroughly defined by the struggles and triumphs of Dr. King’s generation than mine was.
But as they grow older, they see the work left to do more plainly. It is disheartening and difficult to watch those who once thought that the old black and white news film of dogs and firehoses was a document of a black and white history – a story of races and realities laid bare for history to pass its judgement. Now that they are in school they’ve seen and heard what racism is. The struggle is still alive, and every year more than just black and white.
Winter arrives on Friday at 22:23 UTC. From that time forward, the Northern Hemisphere will turn back towards the light. It has been another warm Winter in Minnesota, painted in dull tones of brown and gray. This piece from 2011 captures the feelings then and now as this time of light and reflection wobbles back through the grace of our tilting planet.
It is dark outside when the alarm goes off, not at all a time to wake up. The usual 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight we can expect on a Winter Solstice is never enough to keep us going, even on a relatively warm and sometimes even bright year like this. The brown Winter of 2011 is just as dark as any other.
In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise if flung back in time to the year 2063 and has to return home. They quickly realize that this is a very important time because it is the moment that the Earth made first contact with Vulcan, setting up the entire universe as they would all come to know it. The great abundance, the wonder, the adventure all hinged on this one moment.
There was one problem, however. Earth, at that time, still used this thing called “money.” The great abundance had not yet kicked in and the crew of the Enterprise had a lot to learn about how to get things done if they wanted to get home.
It’s a great movie for many reasons, generally starting with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. But this vision of the future, made at that moment, is particularly compelling. Abundance so great that money isn’t necessary? It’s one vision of the future, certainly. But is such a thing possible?