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The Battle for Our Higher Angels

Abraham Lincoln Had It Right!

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." - Abraham Lincoln

OK. I know I’m a little different. Spirituality –being my favorite subject of all — always has me questioning what’s going on in my inner world as well as the outer world from a spiritual standpoint.

Right now, I’m trying to get a grip on what’s happening, on a spiritual level, with events in our country. (And, even if you don’t like my politics, please hear me out!)

September 11th was the last time I strove to understand something that totally baffled me from a spiritual perspective. I fully believe that some things are beyond our comprehension. But that never stops me from trying to go beyond the obvious and to see if there could be a spiritual learning in everything that happens.

My theory on September 11th: it was an event that brought our country together like nothing had since Kennedy’s assassination. During the aftermath of September 11th, we were all the same, going through the identical nightmare experience of shock, fear and sorrow.

We were united in our love for our country and tearfully sharing our suffering for every single person lost. We were determined to defend ourselves and each other and to appreciate what our country stands for.

You might be scratching your head about where I’m coming from, but then as someone once said to me:

“Kathy, you could complicate a three piece puzzle.”

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meachum, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who is a presidential historian.

Now, I happen to agree with his dismay about our current political environment. He sees Trump as a dangerous voice for fear over hope. (Which, in “spiritual speak”, I would translate to promoting fear over love.)

I could write a litany of complaints about our flirting with demagoguery and populism. It sometimes feels to me, and many others, that Trump has besmirched our country in ways that might never be remedied and that he is not a force for good and stability, but one for chaos and strife.

At first, my spiritual theory was that all of the negative underbelly of our nation’s collective consciousness had to come to the light of day to be understood and healed and that Trump was the perfect guy to do the job. Kind of like having all of the mess of a Thanksgiving turkey pan coming to the surface before you can really clean the pan itself.

But after reading this book, The Soul of America, I’m changing my tune. For starters, Meachum reassures us by recounting other moments in our history when the battle between our best and worst seemed to also be in question.

The 1850s — when half of our population feared for the loss of their economic security and so was willing to shed its blood in support of slavery – simply beyond our moral imagination today.

The 1920s — when the power of the Klu Klux Klan peaked during a time when urbanization, industrialization and immigration frightened many Americans. At the height of their popularity, 30,000 KKK members were cheered on their march down Pennsylvania Avenue. During that time, there were 3-5 million card carrying KKK members!

The 1950s – when Joe McCarthy, at the height of the scare around Communism, had a 30% approval rating.

In my opinion the true problem with Trump is that he’s sowing fear and hate in our nation – on both sides of the equation. Whether you love him or hate him, he undeniably generates fear in us all for entirely different reasons.

Meachum’s overall point is that while Trump may be muddying the waters and we’re living through contentious times, both our institutions and our Constitution will ultimately prevail. I certainly hope he’s right!

But back to my spiritual take on this…what’s it all about, Alfie? In addition to fear and dispiritedness running rampant, we aren’t talking to each other, we’re talking at each other in a kind of tribalism that pits one group against another. I am as much to blame as anyone else.

When it comes to our politics today – it’s a case of: I can’t hear them and they can’t listen to me. How very sad. Judgments abound and each side cannot come to an understanding of the other. Why are we so polarized? How will we ever come back together again? I have no answers here, but this might just be the spiritual challenge of our time.

With the mourning and honoring of Senator McCain, I couldn’t help but notice that all of us – left, right and in between – were equally grieving a man who we all admire and respect for the same things – dignity, courage, patriotism, civility, decency, honor, humor and love. None of us can go wrong with adhering to the principles that were represented by John McCain!

My guess is that there were as many Democrats as Republicans standing in that line to pay their last respects yesterday in DC – all to acknowledge a man who, with all his flaws, always had our nation’s best interests in mind. He gave us faith in our core values; he bridged the divide, representing the best in us, not the worst in us; encouraging the generous rather than the mean and petty.

I pray to the “better angels of our nature” that we can now see more clearly what is truly worth valuing in our nation.

Don’t take my word for it. Watch the eulogies of Joe Biden – one of the best speeches I have ever heard; and of Meghan McCain – one of the bravest expressions of grief I have ever witnessed.

They will give you faith and hope for the future; not pessimism and despair. They will show you love, not fear.

And, since we don’t have an Abraham Lincoln at this moment to help us refresh our memories about the healing balm of affection, let’s simply do it for each other by small acts of decency, love and respect.

Oh, and thank you, Abe, for the perfect history AND spiritual lesson. We sure do owe you a lot!

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