Who do we want to be?

It’s taken me a few days to put my finger on what I’m feeling, but I’ve finally figured it out. What I feel is powerless. When I first read about the president’s proposed budget, I simply couldn’t believe it. It just seemed so cruel. What kind of country intentionally stomps out the arts and museums and libraries? What kind of society decreases funding to programs like Meals on Wheels and after school programs and yet grossly inflates the military? It’s like we’re living in an alternate universe and not the fun kind. I feel like we’re moving towards becoming a country of stormtroopers. I worry that all of our beauty and imagination is slipping away. Is this who we want to be?

 

When I was a campus minister, we had a retreat leader lead us in an activity called “The Game of Life.” I don’t remember the specifics of it, except that we were all given an identity and a life situation. Then, we went to different stations, trying to get an education and a mortgage and other services. It was alarming to me how quickly my students, people of privilege for the most part, turned to looting. There was just no way to survive in the system, so they gave up and turned to desperate measures. These past few months have made me feel desperate and afraid. I just want to give up.

 

I think this is part of the plan. They want us to feel powerless and to just give up. So, what power do we have? We can vote in every election. We can call our elected officials. We can mentor our children. We can use our voices. We can re-evaluate where we will donate our time and our money. Budgets show us what is valued. This is true of families, churches, schools and nations. We can figure out what we think is worth protecting.

 

When I was in middle school, one of my favorite movies was “The Neverending Story.” The movie is based on a German book and has a decidedly 1980’s feel. My brothers and I watched it countless times. In the movie, a boy goes on an adventure to protect the kingdom of Fantasia from a swirling gray storm that threatens to destroy them all. In this fantasy movie, there are spell books, a Swamp of Sadness, talking turtles and snails and a flying good-luck dragon with the face of a dog. What the boy is battling is called “the nothing.” Even as a kid, I recognized that “the nothing” represented a vague adult apathy and a lack of imagination.

 

I remembered my fear of “the nothing” this past week when I heard the news that agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were being cut in the president’s new budget. It made me sad and fearful about who we are becoming as a nation.

 

Even back in December, I sensed this cultural shift from beauty to brute force. I splurged on Hamilton tickets for Caleb and me in Chicago. Maybe I was just justifying it, but it felt less like a luxury and more like a donation to the arts. It felt like I was investing in wonder and re-enchantment. I feel this way about supporting authors, musicians, painters, actors, dancers and artists. The arts bring us imagination and wonder. They add beauty and color to our lives. What’s the point of having a huge military if there’s not much worth protecting? I want enchantment in our lives.

 

I don’t have a lot of power or a lot of money, but I do intend to use what little influence I have for good. I have a new rule as of Thursday: if you, as an organization or a non-profit or a religious institution, aren’t easing suffering and binding up the broken-hearted or re-enchanting the world, we will be parting ways. How we spend our time and how we spend our money speaks volumes about what we believe. I want to be always on the side of fostering beauty and easing suffering.

 

My mom was a weekly Meals on Wheels volunteer when I was a child. I went with her a few times to deliver meals. It made an impression on me; first, that there were people who needed this service and also that my mother believed that taking a meal to the elderly and the disabled was important and right. This was how she chose to spend her time. This was who she chose to be.

 

Our kids are watching us to see how we spend our time, our money, our lives. As for me and my family, we will uphold those who create beauty and wonder. We will do all that we can to ease suffering. We will fight “the nothing.”

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