Thursday, December 4, 2014

Facebook, Meet Spoon River

Pause and consider these words, my friend:
I espoused the cause of the strikers;
And helped the defense of the rebel hearts,
Who losing, revenged themselves with bombs.
And I found myself, who was once esteemed,
And rich in money, suspected and shunned,
And fought at the bank, and broken at last,
And hounded to sickness and death at last,
All for the luring wings of a faith
In justice for men enslaved and robbed.
But what is a single soul befooled,
Compared to a nation out of its mind,
And led to a war with shouts for God,
To find it was only the Devil’s mask?
A nation that for years or centuries,
Faithless, bewildered, in self-contempt
Must clear the wires of broken hopes,
And the ruined fields of liberty,
Till the Devil fools the nation again!

Thus the epitaph of Robert Owens, labelled a labor agitator, in Edgar Lee Masters’ “New Spoon River,” in which we  hear stories of injustice both against ethnic minorities and against the poor, many done in the name of government, of Law and Order, and some in the name of God.

Then I read the news and think, well, we really haven’t advanced much socially as a nation since the end of World War I, have we?

And this is more than plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose; it’s more than this is the world we live in. It’s the Terrestrial World, marching towards the Telestial. And we are, to some degree, all marching along that road.

What’s going to stop the march?

We’ve got to stop being fooled by the devil. And I mean that literally. We are a nation of Christians and Jews and Muslims and atheists and what have you. We’re all being fooled, just as Robert Owens saw:

Yea, and he leadeth [everyone, prideful, stumbling believers and non-believers] by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever (2 Nephi 26:22)

And others will he pacify, and lull [even the goody-two-shoes] away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well – and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none – and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (2 Nephi 28:21-22)

That fooling and lulling and cheating takes many forms, from ignoring the plight of minimum-wage workers to hiding behind law and order when injustice is evident in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

The fooling and lulling and cheating is in our argument that what misery comes to those who work for the minimum wage or who have black skin is their own doing; they could get an education and a better job, they could distance themselves from the “thug life” or whatever. Well:

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just – But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? (Mosiah 4:17-19

This has got to sound familiar:

I’m as guilty as the next man. I’m just as prone to dismissing the suffering of others as their own problem – or their own fault. But I’m trying to change.

So back to that title: Facebook, Meet Spoon River.

We’re writing on our tombstones, folks. What will they say? What will we look back on, with regret or gratitude, when we have passed on and ponder our legacy as strangers mill past our graves, seeking a loved one, seeking whatever? Ours will not be a legacy writ large, for the vast mostpart. Just like the residents of Masters’ Spoon River, our lives will be filled with the small details and events and triumphs and regrets that tell whether we practiced what we preached, or if we are just whited sepulchers.

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