December has been really busy: Family, friends, lovers and scholars, God and Mammon, all competing for attention and affection — it’s hard sometime to know which way to turn, which whistle to answer.
Friday the 13th, a day I usually choose to ignore (yes, I do have my superstitious moments) I spent an amazingly warm and comfortable evening giving a talk and answering questions at Portsmouth’s Unitarian-Universalist South Church.
I think it was a bigger turnout than many anticipated and, in spite of a couple of attempted “gotcha moments” by longtime critics during the question and answer period (Note to critics: Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy you were there), everyone was attentive, good-humored and well-intentioned. Thank you to all who came and to all who stayed and chatted afterward.
A few of us went to Flatbreads afterward and deconstructed the evening over pizza. I was informed that I didn’t fully answer two questions (Senior moment admission: I didn’t hear the question fully) and I’m sorry — you know who you are and if you need me to answer more fully, write to me at the e-mail below.
The questions were really thoughtful, even those questions that came from a place of a fear rooted in not knowing something — but knowing that the “something” was important. Those questions I welcome in the “Public Square.”
What baffles me still is my inability to understand the kind of fear — fear that is rooted in a deliberate ignorance and refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Other — that motivates some readers.
Why, exactly, if they have such faith in the strength, power and intelligence of the American people — if America is indeed an exceptional nation — are they so afraid that one voice, speaking from a different perspective, would be so corrupting?
Do they think Americans are so weak-willed and gullible that they can’t make rational decisions?
Do they think America shouldn’t embrace free speech if it doesn’t conform to their conventional wisdom?
Are they so fearful of the imminent loss of white privilege and power that is approaching when whites become a minority in America that they are desperate to blame anyone for their loss of authority and privilege?
Let me assure you: America is going to be all right. America has fought these battles before and survived. True, the stakes seem never to have been as high, the dispossessed so many, but the American dream will prevail — the dream of an America rooted in freedom, dignity, fairness, opportunity and social justice, not the faux-Hollywood dream of white picket fences and Donna Reed.
Today, make room for the Americans out there — who are legion — who love this country and who want to fix those things now broken that can be salvaged or replaced. And the first step in fixing something that is broken is recognizing and critiquing what went wrong.
It’s patriotic to critique. It’s an obligation of any American who loves this country.
Friday night at the Unitarian-Universalist church brought many good Americans together — not legions, but I know they’re out there. I was happy to be in their company. Unitarians, along with Catholics, Irish, Muslims, atheists and many others, all who were once the outsiders whom the dominant white Anglicans feared, were among the gathered guests, and it was both challenging and festive to be there.
Friday night we were sustained by the exceptional vision of the Founding Fathers who knew that for the great American experiment to succeed it must be inclusive — that all are welcome with equal rights. That to exclude any, to limit one, is to exclude and limit all.
American orthodoxy, a current expression of historic white experience that is supposed to be the normative experience for all Americans regardless of color or religion, is being challenged across this country.
That such a challenge can be made is what makes America exceptional. The protection of our foundational documents and principles is what sustains us.
One can either choose true American exceptionalism — the promise of America — and join their struggle, or one can focus on perceived slights and radicalism and try and diminish the cause.
Friends, families, lovers — remember that on this holiday season, as the streets grow dark and cold and as many Americans in privilege light fires, turn up thermostats and prepare to unwrap presents wrapped in foil and gilt, that in some communities there will be some children who will more closely resemble the Little Match Girl than there will be a new Lexus or Benz under Christmas trees.
Remember that Jesus, whose birth will be celebrated on Wednesday, would never have allowed the poor to starve and the homeless to freeze. He certainly would not have driven a Mercedes.
On Dec. 25, wherever the presence of Jesus, soup will be served and the Little Match Girl will be embraced.
On Dec. 25, let’s all remember that social justice calls for more than charity — let’s all remember the promise of Jesus.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.