“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”–Orson Welles
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the world is in super-duper shape right now. Now, what you, and they, believe is messed up may be entirely different things, but there’s nearly universal agreement that times are tough. How tough? Are we approaching the times my Grandma Berrigan lived through? Those included the 1918 pandemic, WW1, (brief pause here as the country enjoyed a few years of merriment and wild overspending), The Great Depression, WW2, etc. etc. Compared to that, our current bouquet of crises doesn’t seem quite so odious. And, as the esteemed Mr. Welles observed, we might definitely be more creative in the crucible of strife than during periods of calm.
Studying history does that, gives you perspective.
Tidying my church office the other day, I came across a little book written in 2003, on the occasion of Christ’s Lutheran’s 100th anniversary. Pretty snooze-worthy stuff, right? Au contraire! I found myself reading from cover-to-cover. The writer, Sally Klos, did not shy away from telling it like it was, including a miserable stretch in the 1980s with two feuding pastors and a very divided church. I knew the next chapter, with my dear friend Mike Carlson beginning his 21 years as pastor, was a happy one, but it wasn’t till I delved into the backstory that I really understood the degree of relief and healing Mike’s tenure brought to the congregation.
My current jobs (church worker and writer) have offered numerous opportunities for learning. Some of that learning has reinforced and deepened things I already knew. But my favorite lessons have blown my mind open to unimagined new information. And some of that mind-blowing info has caused me to let go of long-held attitudes and beliefs.
As we learn more, our thinking evolves. For example, back in 1992, Steve and I wrote a light-hearted children’s play called The Columbus Day Sail (get it?) for the 500th anniversary of the “discovery” of America. Our Christopher Columbus was a comically clueless bumbler, who befriended the “Indians” (heck, he even gave them a dandy new name! Based on a mistake he made!) This week we marked what in many places is being re-named Indigenous Peoples Day, as we belatedly acknowledge who was here first, and the horrific way they were treated by many, including old Chris. No plans (ever) to resurrect that particular show.
To quote Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” We know better when we understand more, and that takes some work (intellectual and emotional). So here’s what I’m learning in this year 2021:
There is great cruelty and evil in this world, and there always has been. Our current climate is just magnifying it.
There is also great, great love and goodness.
We have the power to improve our situation, but only if we look, honestly, at what came before us. We can, and must, know better now.
And then, let’s do better.