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Polarization – A Reflection

February 11, 2020

As I watch the political drama unfold in the primaries and in the “business as usual” environment in Washington, DC, I cringe. I remember the days when politicians worked across party lines for the good of all the nation’s citizens. Nearly everyone has their own answer and few are willing to cooperate or compromise it seems. When asked what they stand for, some politicians say “I stand against the ‘other’.”

Basic civility and decency seem to be in short supply. We are so busy lobbing “grenades” at each other that we don’t stop long enough to realize how insane this is. Nobody is willing to put down their sword so to speak and extend their hand in welcome.

A story is told about the Christmas Truce during World War One. The gunfire had stopped because of the truce. Slowly, the troops on opposite sides made their way out into the open. A Football (soccer in the US) match even began. These sworn enemies who had been trying to kill each other the day before were playing Football and sharing cigarettes with each other. As dusk descended, you could hear in the silence, Christmas Carols being sung. The tunes were familiar but the words were in the native tongue of the singers.

Sadly, the truce ended and the insanity began anew. The common bond of remembering the birth of the Prince of Peace had silenced the Guns. Why, oh why, couldn’t they have learned from that experience!

Thomas Merton wrote about peace and peacemaking in the midst of the nuclear arms race, the Cold War, and the war in Vietnam. He wrote about the frustration of seeing mindless devotion to ideologies at the expense of the “enemy.” Seriously though, he realized that the enemy was not the “other” but the enemy was within each of us. Humankind was its own worst enemy. In the words of Walt Kelly’s cartoon character Pogo the Possum, “We have met the enemy, and He is us.”

How can we begin to make a change that will ripple out across our country and world? How can we escape the grip of this paralyzing fear? Merton in his article “The Root of War Is Fear” said the following: I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party or nation but that all must arrive at it by working together. (p. 32 in the book Thomas Merton: Passion for Peace)

It begins one life and one person at a time. Someone who is willing to reach across the divide which we have created and join hands, beginning the work of peace. May God help us to do that…

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