Friday, February 25, 2011

American Activism

I subscribe to the investigative journal Mother Jones. They sent me a survey the other day. One of the questions wanted to know the following about me:

In the last year, have you...
o voted in a Federal, State, or Local election?
o taken part in some local civic issue?
o actively worked as a volunteer for a nonprofit organization?
o written a letter to the editor?
o spoken at a public meeting?
o actively worked for a political party or candidate?

The question made me reflective of my participation in civic society as an American and as a Christian. I've voted and I volunteer, but I haven't taken part in a local civic issue, nor written a letter to the editor (I almost did two years ago...), nor spoken in a public meeting or actively worked for a political party or candidate. If I'm not very active in civic life, does that make me a leech?

The oft quoted tag-line for Mother Jones is, "It's worse than you think." The investigative journalism reveals the corruption and failures of government, business, civic and religious institutions and individuals. I can't read the magazine before I go to bed, otherwise I won't be able to fall asleep. I carefully choose when I'll read the magazine so that I have the emotional energy to react to the articles. Anger and frustration rise up in me as the stories unfold of the stupidity and cruelty that often mark the leaders and institutions of our nation.

What to do with that anger and frustration? Rant and rave? Despair and whine? Or fuel convictions with wisdom and action? And this is why I was affected by the series of questions about my activism as a citizen. It gave me a series of choices, ways to serve and channel my anger into constructive action. But it also revealed my lack of participation in American civic life.

There's obviously lots of anger in the air towards the state of affairs in America. Rage against government inefficiencies, bureaucratic sludge, corporate vampirism, and religious ridiculousness. But all of those institutions we are angry with are made up of fellow American citizens. We end up being frustrated at the system and at people - and maybe even with ourselves. And then we are torn between feeling helpless and wanting someone to come and rescue us and fix the problems.

Instead of waiting or wailing or whining, I must get more involved in civic life. Not from a posture of arrogance or anger, but as a neighbor. A neighbor who links up with others - others in need, others who are like-minded, others who have gifts to give, others who are different. A neighbor who gets involved in the complicated, messy, enduring stuff of community-life.

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