Monday, January 7, 2019

THEM

Not feeling very well a few days ago and unable to fall asleep, I sat in front of the television to continue reading the 2018 book “THEM: Why We Hate Each Other And How To Heal” by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (Nebraska).   I suddenly heard Late Night Show host Stephen Colbert, and to my surprise, there was Senator Sasse.   Quite the coincidence, or was it?

Our Church preaches against hate, and that’s needed because many of us do hate – someone or some group(s).  Sasse says: “The first part of this book is about the collapse of the local tribes that give us true, meaningful identity—family, workplace, and neighborhood.  It’s about the evaporation of social capital—the relational resources that help us navigate the world—and about the precipitous decline in recent years of the institutions that Alexis de Tocqueville, nearly two hundred years ago, saw were the heart and soul of America.  

It’s about the waning influence of the Rotary Club and the Scouts, the VFW and the local bowling league.  It’s about the mountain of data showing that shut-ins are getting fewer casseroles with instructions written on a notecard: Bake at 325 until brown on top! This book is less about legislative failures in Washington, D.C., than about the death of Little League in River City.

The second part of the book…explore(s) how anti-tribes—of news consumption more than political activism—have cropped up to try to fill the void left by the collapse of the natural, local, healthy tribes people have traditionally known.  These anti-tribes aren’t succeeding at addressing our emptiness, and they’re poisoning our nation’s spirit in critical ways.  Lacking meaningful attachments, people are finding a perverse bond in sharing a common enemy.

The third and final part of the book asks what we do about it.  If America is going to survive—and that’s never an assumption to be taken for granted in a republic—we will have to find a way to restore the bonds of community that give individuals a place in the world where they can enjoy the love of family and friends, express their talents, and serve others in fulfilling ways…” 

The book is eye-opening and notes the failures of the political left and right.   He offers ways to heal.  None are easy, but first we must recognize: “One of the core problems with our public life together is that we are constantly failing to distinguish between politics and civics.  Politics is about the use of power – how it is acquired and who wields it.  Obviously politics matters.  But civics matters more.  Civics is about who we are as a people.  A nation requires shared values, a set of core commitments…”

I write this during our government’s shutdown – over a foolish wall with civics being shelved and seemingly forgotten.   Sasse reminds us: “We have plenty of actual enemies looking to harm us.  We don't need to add to their ranks.  To quote Lincoln once more: “We are not enemies, but friends.”

Deacon David Pierce

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