rueful ruminations

What's happening in the South has everyone talking and thinking. Today, Eric wrote some brief observations on something Michael Spencer wrote. Though Spencer's observations seem sound and I found myself agreeing with each item he mentioned, I wondered at the end what he was trying to say. (That's no slam on Spencer, it may be simply that I'm a bit daft.)

I commented to that effect on Eric's post and added that I think the sad rage, looting, and violence that we are seeing and most likely will continue to see in New Orleans reflects not simply that it isn't our (our) finest hour, but reflects instead who we really are. Here's exactly what I wrote...

I have no problem at all with the term we. I can own what's happening there (here). When I read the piece though, I honestly couldn't figure out what he was trying to tell me.

Finally in his comment he said, "it's a culture problem, not a race problem." I would say it's a human problem and what we're seeing in our country today is who we really are. It ought to make us rethink (metanoia-- turn around, in other words, and to employ an oft misunderstood word, repent) who we are, each of us. And when we're done rethinking, to act.

Eric responded with this...

And, of course, we're powerless to change who we are, without some Outside Assistance.
I readily agreed. But after thinking about it, I'm not so sure. Not about how we can't change without God, of course I believe that. After mumbling to myself for a few minutes, I finally said out loud to the coffee machine, "we're powerless to change ourselves, period."

If I want a change in the essence of who I am, and sometimes even when I don't, it is the Other who authors the change. I may provide the assistance, God's is the power.

Eric reads this blog regularly (to my great honor and astonishment I might add), and I don't want to sound like I'm disagreeing with him since I believe he might just affirm what I wrote above. The point of this scatterbrained post is not to quibble over Eric's or Michael Spencer's semantics, but to suggest that the violence, rage, blame casting, etc that Spencer talks about in his post is in part the result of the misguided notion that we have the power to change ourselves. Now don't go arguing with me over little changes in habit and stuff that self discipline and hard work can accomplish. Okay, I grant you that. I'm talking about an essential change in who we really are. As I said, what we've seen in New Orleans today and yesterday reflects who we really are (I heartily agree with Eric's choice of the word 'we'), and that's not something that changes through our efforts.

As Jen pointed out in another comment at Eric's place,

After 9/11 we had a clear culprit at whom we could direct our anger - 20 specific people: Osama bin Laden, 19 hijackers, and in a larger sense Al Qaeda.There's no one to blame for this natural disaster and so people are blaming whomever is next to them - the President, the Governors, the Mayors, the police, the military, etc

That's a good point. This time there's no one to blame. We're not to blame for the disaster that occurred, even though there is a debate that is worth having regarding coastal development and civic design etc, there's no one to blame. And that's trouble. Because there needs to be somebody to blame. Anybody! Anybody! So long as it isn't me.

Remember Adam's words in the garden, when God asked if he had eaten from the tree... "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some of the fruit and I ate." Notice how he blames everyone present but himself (okay, he doesn't mention the serpent either).

So self reliant, so self sufficient we are. Until disaster strikes and we realize we need each other... and then, we've either fled the scene or been stuck there for whatever reason (possibly our own choice but not only that--how many people are in New Orleans now only because they lacked resources such as a car and money to fund their flight?) and there's no one to help.

Calvinists might chalk it up to 'total depravity.' I think that's a way of trivializing something by labelling it.

The fact remains, whatever you call this disorder in us or whether you even believe in it, that we need each other. We are not self sufficient even when we think we are. We are powerless without the Other as well as others. The sooner we learn that, the better. I am hopeful that it's not yet too late for those immediately concerned with the situation in New Orleans to learn that. Further I have faith that God has placed (and will place) people there who proclaim this truth with their lives.

But what about the rest of us?

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