I’m spending this 4th of July week at my spiritual home, Chautauqua, New York. It has been said that there is no place more American than Chautauqua. In many ways that is true. While Chautauqua is not at all representative of the ethnic and economic diversity of our culture, there is a broad spectrum of political and religious beliefs represented here.
One of the things that I love the most about this place is the Socratic nature of public discourse. Chautauqua has one of the most informative, insightful, inspiring, and provocative lecture series in the country, and is committed to presenting a balanced view of issues. In fact, I chose to come this week because the morning lectures are all about the upcoming presidential election and what the informed voter needs to know. Jim Lehrer of PBS is the moderator for the week.
On Sunday evenings during the summer season, there is an ecumenical sacred song service. Shortly before the service began, I heard the choir rehearsing Paul Halley’s “Agnus Dei”—a piece that I love—and it drew me in, even though I had not planned to attend. I am grateful for that serendipity, because the service helped me come to greater peace with my own inner conflict over love of my country.
The truth is that I love my country very much. I travel extensively for my work, and it is always good to return to my home shores. We are blessed with great freedoms and abundance in the United States, far beyond what we sometimes acknowledge. The founders of our country were free thinkers who had high ideals and great commitment to individual liberty, and they were willing to make great sacrifices for what they believed.
Yet I also experience deep sadness and conflict over choices and actions made in the name of America. As a nation, we have been incredibly generous to other countries in their times of crisis, yet have also at times exploited others’ needs for our own economic interests. We have stood up for human rights in distant lands, yet have not always honored the dignity and equality of all people in our own land. We sing “Oh beautiful for spacious skies and amber waves of grain,” yet we allow continued polluting of the air and water. My friend and colleague David Robinson says, “Being human can be a messy business. To pretend otherwise is…well, to pretend.” Like all cultures throughout history, we are in our own learning and development curve, and it has indeed at times been very messy. Let us not pretend otherwise.
America, and indeed every nation, is a collection of humans who are both on their own individual learning curves as well as a part of the collective learning path. I continue to seek deeper levels of compassion within myself for all people of all ideologies, beliefs, choices, and actions, while at the same time balancing that compassion with right action – doing my part to create a world of greater equality and freedom for all. These days, I’m doing more work on the compassion part of the equation. I find that the deeper I am able to go in compassion, the more I am able to move out of judgment of others and just focus on the potential that is ready to unfold next. My heart opens more and I feel like I can actually make bigger strides towards a greater good.
It’s a messy business, and I’m not always so filled with compassion. Yet when I remember that compassion opens more doors than judgment and condemnation, the path forward toward a greater good becomes clearer, and I am able to take more decisive and productive action.
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