Breath and the Arc

There is a part of me that wants to respond to the second Presidential Debate of 2016 by running to a monastery where there is no wifi, no news, no speaking. Hide away and hope I can find peace and security by not interacting with the world.

And another part of me that wants to stand in the middle of the street and yell at everyone. I’m not even sure about what. It seems to be what’s next for us all. That and deep nose breathing.

Design by Ellen Rockett for the UUA worship web. Words by Sarah Dan Jones.

But then there is another voice speaking to me, too. A quiet one that asks me to do that deep nose breathing while my feet are on the ground and my spine is straight, and then to let it all go, out my mouth. Breathe in peace and breathe out love, as a song from my faith tradition says.

And so I’ve come down to my office to breathe, read the Tao te Ching and a Bible verse or two, with hopes of reminding myself and the people I love that while this election defines this snapshot of time in America, it does not define our deepest selves.

While Mike Pence may be struggling with his religion and his running mate, I think many of us are just struggling for reasons personal (that actually are political) and we are having a difficult time placing value on anything that is happening in the political world in America right now. The list is long and if you are reading this, then you have the ability to find out how hard the world is right now without me creating a list to add to your anxiety.

We should be an anxious people right now. We are in great transition, but we are only witnessing it in small snatches. When children born in the next ten years are old enough to read about this time in history books, I think they will marvel at all that was done in a generation or two. But, of course, that supposes that what I think is going to happen in the next ten years actually occurs.

And what I think will happen is that the millennial generation — a generation that were children and young teens on 9/11/01, who were raised to question why we talk about equal rights when people are not treated equally, who came to adulthood when the Black Lives Matter movement sprouted out of the work of three African-American women and the technology they all grew up with in their hands, and who see the social issues of the 1980s and 1990s as the ruse it was always meant to be — will move us all toward a reconciliation of who America says it is, what it has actually been, and back toward the understanding of our founding documents with the qualification that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will extend to all citizens, not only those who are white, male, and hold property.

The millennials, with their understanding of intersectionality and their ability to understand the world is not binary and simple, but complex and creative, and with their desire not to stand on what has always been done based on their understanding of history and how it has brought us here, may very well be the ones to deliver us from America’s original sin.

Millennials have been cast as lazy and entitled and for whom the big fight is for free college. But as the mother of millennials who will (and have) graduate from undergraduate college with a mountain of debt as well as a fighting spirit, I can tell you that the fight for access to college is only a part of this. This is the generation hit hard by the tax cuts of the Reagan administration which had the trickle down effect of bankrupting state colleges.

So when you hear young people talking about college, consider it as a stand in for paying our fair share to each other, about investing in each other, about holding each other up to a standard of behavior that says “Yes, this is the America you told me about!” And it will be about taxing, and about reparations, and about evaluating our colonial past and the damage we have done to families of African slaves and Indigenous people — and continue to do.

It will be about raising taxes, but not to punish — to uplift.

If anything about this political season strikes me as true, it is that we have been punishing ourselves too long with our fights about low taxes. I just reviewed the constitution as I was writing this, and I wonder why we don’t talk about these words from the preamble very often: “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …”.

Taxes are and healthcare is the way we promote our general Welfare. It’s important and it helps to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

I think we all need some time to reflect after last night’s debate. I think we all need to reflect on what will make us “great” for once. We have spent too much time since the 1980s demonizing each other, creating mythological creatures who are out to “take” what is “ours.” And we have forgotten that we do, in a very real sense, belong to each other, to the past and to the future. We belong in ways that are frightening, but we also belong in ways that are beautiful, tender, and true.

I’m taking time to reflect on that, to be proud of the generation that will lead us forward out of their sense of entitlement not of things, but of fairness, and I’m listening for the small voice that reminds me over, and over, and over again that the purpose of life is not to gain, but to connect.

Be still, my friends. Breathe in, and breathe out.

I leave you with two quotes, from Rev. Theodore Parker and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who remind us that now is the time to act, but it won’t necessarily be the time we see the change we need:

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Theodore Parker, Manker-Seale, Susan (2006–01–15). “The Moral Arc of the Universe: Bending Toward Justice”. Retrieved2008–02–29.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech of August 1967 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference