“Late morning, September 11, 2001 stood silently with Department of Juvenile Justice staff watching the Twin Towers crumble. No one knew who did it.
I went to get a sandwich for lunch. I nodded, “As-Salamu Alykum,” when I passed the Islamic Center on Castle Street, whispered “Shalom,” when passing the Temple of Israel, stopped to pull weeds from St. Francis’ garden at St. James, and read, “Make me a shadow of your peace.” A lot of shadows. Little peace.
After an afternoon meeting in Brunswick County, I drove past the Confederate flags on Midway Road to the Buddhist Temple. A Yankee humanist recalling the prophet’s peace at an Islamic center, shalomming past a synagogue, cultivating St. Francis’ garden, sitting at a Buddhist Temple, nestled deep in Bible Belt Dixie. I sat with silent sorrow but smiled with pride at an America where, along with men and women, “All gods are created equal.”
That evening at Winter Park Optimist Club I watched my 9-year-old pitch his very first game. One of the other coaches gazed at the silent skies and said, “This is the beginning of the end.”
Not very optimistic.
I scoffed then, but now I hope my friend was right. I hope that was the beginning of the end of the American Empire. Lincoln told the story of an emperor who asked his sages for one sentence that would always be true. They presented him, “This too shall pass away.” Lincoln hoped it was “not quite true,” that by proper cultivation of the inner and outer world, “we (America) shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.”
Unlike many today who believe in America’s divine right to military and economic domination, Lincoln knew we weren’t even entitled to endure. He said, “It is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the definition of men-to lift artificial weights from all shoulders-to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all-to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance…”
Unlike Reagan, to Lincoln government wasn’t the problem; it was part of the solution. (Lincoln intuitively understood what today’s economists are finding out: Good government plays an essential part in the evolution or extinction of prosperity.)
Empires deny evolution, deny the changing climate, become overgrown with weeds and either explode or erode. Civil societies evolve and endure. For at least 60 years we’ve cultivated twin-towering weeds of military and economic empire rather than the roots of civil society. Since WWII presidents from both parties have professed reluctance, regret and unwillingness before unleashing the dogs of war. One look at our defense budget suggests we actually like war. Economically, we act as if we’re entitled to at least 70 percent of Earth’s resources. Would Native Americans have accepted $24 to allow folks to settle an island they thought could never be bought if they knew that centuries later the whole planet would be bet and bought as a “commodity”at the Casino Manhattan?
Like Lincoln, I want America to endure. But, for Lincoln’s America to endure, we need to share the weeding. With one man’s weed another man’s beloved Marlboro Red, “shared reality” is a shaky term and this type of weeding is a daunting task. For example, are we Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” because we are willing to bend our backs toward a more just, civil, and sustainable society, “a more perfect union” or because we are a “chosen people”? For me, I consider our intolerance, arrogance, avarice, and ignorance weeds that threaten to strangle by far the strongest strains of human generosity, resilience and intelligence.
Sway and pray with yet another Texan governor for the emergence of a Holy American Empire. Burn a ram’s thigh bones to Zeus for all I care. In America, “All gods are created equal.” I’ll cultivate St. Francis’ garden and a civil, sustainable society whose roots are sunk deep in the common sense of folks like Thomas Paine—“The world is my country. My religion is to do good.”
I remain optimistic that the 9-year-olds at Winter Park a decade ago coming of age now will choose to help America evolve and endure rather than defend the deluded and doomed Holy American Empire.