I came across a story about a man driving faster than he should have been on a country road. Suddenly, from around the corner, another car was careening toward him and a crash seemed inevitable. At the last second, the two drivers were able to avert disaster. As they sped by each other, the driver in the other car – a woman – yelled out her window and called the man a pig. Incredulous, he shouted back at her as their vehicles passed each other, calling her names, using expletives to criticize her driving. A split second later, the cars had passed each other and standing in the road directly in front of him was a large pig. Due to his speed and his momentary inattention for having given his energy to criticizing the other driver, his day was about to take a marked turn for the worse.
It’s the first question an ethical leader asks: What is going on? It’s the old line from Superstar: “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happenin’!”
What’s happening in our world? In our nation and state? What’s happening in the small church of which I am a pastor? Inherent in the question is a willingness to consider the backstory. Knowing what is really going on usually means having some understanding as to how we got to where we are. Some are saying that we are re-living the 1960’s all over again, absent a war like Viet Nam. The “Establishment” is corrupt and inept; business is greedy and the marketplace is tilted heavily in favor of those who already have. College campuses are feeling the pressure of student voices growing louder in their protests.
The challenge in the midst of the confrontations and chaos is to know what is truly going on. As a child of the 60’s I now have some historical perspective. I recognize that many of the “isms” that were the focus of our protests have become the very inequities my generation strives to protect. The “boomers” have lived a privileged life, abdicating our youthful high ideals for the more staid assurances that corrupt systems provide. It’s not that there are no “pigs in the road”; it’s that some of us are given safe passage around them without having to change our habits or pay for our privileges. As college presidents are discovering, too many of our monuments are back lit by prejudice, hatred and violence. The men (it’s usually men) whose names are on our buildings and whose legacies we celebrate are too often as notorious for their corruption as they are esteemed for their wealth. We have to come to grips with just exactly what it is that we admire.
It is in the nature of What is going on to have to react quickly, almost instinctively. As I stood amidst protesters recently, listening to poems being read and watching as tears spilled out of people like burdens racing uncontrolled down a hill side, I found myself asking the question: Where is this heading? How close does grief expressed in protest come to violence erupting in the street?
From the neighborhood to the national landscape, at every level that affects the lives we live, more of us need to pause and reflect on what’s happening. We have learned, haven’t we, that problems aren’t solved by trying to obliterate them at breakneck speed? Drones high in the air, tanks on the battle field, riot gear in our streets – none of these things are working too well.
I read recently that history doesn’t repeat itself as much as it rhymes. Someone has just sped by us and shouted “Pig!” What’s going on? What should we do next?