by the Rev. Barbara Threet
What a truly magnificent day it was last Wednesday! Enough pomp and tradition and gravitas, enough adaptation and innovation, a poem that was beyond stunning (I think ‘breathtaking’ would be the appropriate word), music that was wonderful – and a new President and VP!! A WOMAN as VP! I probably wept more as I sat glued to the TV all day than I have cumulatively in years, tears of sheer joy and delight and even pride!
And then in the evening, John Legend singing Nina Simone’s classic, “Feeling Good”: “It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new life, and I’m feeling good!” Oh, YES! Then fireworks, during the pandemic, when they’ve been almost non-existent since summer 2019. What a gift of a day!
It’s not really a new life, of course, just because of a new administration. It’s not that simple. A new hope, certainly, but not automatically a new life. Every time a new executive order is signed undoing something I detested, or putting in place something I support, I rejoice – and I am also keenly aware that every one of those can be undone by the stroke of the pen by the next president. I’m very glad for every one of them. And that’s not the way to make permanent change – it’s not even supposed to be that easy. They’re shortcuts and that troubles me, even with the ones I’m delighted about. The way to permanently address DACA, for example, is with the hard work of getting something passed through Congress which creates law defining a path to citizenship, not with an executive order by Obama, or Trump, or even Biden. In the long run, in my opinion, each of those Orders is trying to create the solution desired by that particular administration by just declaring it a New Day, rather than taking the time to create a more certain and permanent New Life. And yes, Congress has sort of wrestled with DACA, and seems to have decided it’s just impossible to find consensus. But that leaves the DACA population subject to the whim of whoever’s President – it doesn’t create a reliable New Life, but just a shaky New Day. Several of the changes the previous administration tried to force that failed, failed because they were enshrined in law rather than an executive order: Constitutional Amendments and Title IX and the various Civil Rights Acts are legally part of our country’s New Life, and can’t simply be undone with the stroke of a pen. Creating a ‘new life’ is a lot more work, as any person who’s tried to make a major life change knows. It’s even harder when creating that New Life involves reaching a group decision.
Deep change rarely happens quickly, or easily, or painlessly, and the pendulum does swing back and forth. I’ve been reading 16th and 17th century English history recently: is the country Catholic or Protestant? With each ruler, who’s labeled ‘heretic’ or ‘patriot’ or ‘priest’ or ‘traitor’ changes. It took centuries, literally, to get to a climate of relative religious tolerance and diversity. It took hard work and negotiation, and failure, and what each faction regarded as several false steps and tangents, and a lot of listening and trying again.
It’s really important to claim and celebrate and create New Days. But it’s just as important to remember that creating a New Life takes a lot more work. Perhaps one of the gifts of the past four years is that so many more people have gotten so much more involved in political dialogue, some with outrage and some with glee. Now it’s up to each of us to stay involved, to stay informed even as the addictive Twitter drama fades (I pray!!), and to work to create a real, lasting, New Life – a life with more inclusion, more justice, more honesty and more hope.
Shalom and Salaam – and Hurrah!!!