catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 22 :: 2009.11.13 — 2009.11.26


Placing our hope

“Mr. Gorbachev, stand guard on that wall.” That was the gist of Margaret Thatcher’s advice, two months before the Berlin Wall came down-the same wall that President Reagan referred to when he more famously challenged, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!”

November 9, 2009, marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That event followed Hungary’s opening of its border with Austria, effectively letting citizens of the Soviet bloc move freely into the West.  The most remarkable statements I heard were that of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s famed Iron Lady.   In a meeting with Mikael Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain, told Mr.Gorbachev “We do not want a united Germany,” she said. “This would lead to a change to post-war borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security.”  What was this?  The Iron Lady of Britain, President Reagan’s right hand woman in seeking the downfall of the Soviet Union, pleading with its leader to do anything to keep Cold War borders intact?

This was fear-fear that after forty-plus years of the predictable and known instability of the Cold War, a new unknown instability would be more troublesome to the Empire’s security.  This is how empires work.  Once they achieve a level of stability with which they are comfortable, despite the remaining instability and suffering, they long to keep that stability, that security, in place.  This is why the United States willingly tolerated and set up dictatorships in Latin America from the turn of the 20th century until very recently.  Given the course of U.S. policy, can we really be surprised that Mr. Michelleti and the others in Honduras expected that a peaceful coup could claim to support a constitutional end?  Can we blame them that they did not get the memo about the latest change in policy?

How about Palestine and Lebanon?  Here the last U.S. administration promoted democracy, but then cut off aid to those lands because the people elected governments we didn’t want.  We ended up with Hamas in one place and Hezbollah in the other.  No wonder the petroleum-thirsty United States has tolerated semi-friendly dictators and the oppression of dissenters throughout the Middle East for most of the last half-century.

In the most recent election, Mr. Obama campaigned on the basis of fear’s arch-enemy: HOPE-hope that change could come and that Americans might embrace it.  Many are disappointed in his lack of clear leadership, or in his decisions to try to bring everyone along by being non-partisan.  But even those efforts arise from hope for a new politics.  He has brought the possibility that we might hope for something new from our old sclerotic politics.  He has tried to move our nation toward living with hope for the future, rather than with fear of the unknown. 

Simply by campaigning and winning the election, Mr. Obama offered hope to generations of African Americans and many other Americans with skin a color different than every president before him.  Whether he succeeds or fails, he has offered us a chance to hope for a good future, whether in the areas of health-care, a new post-fossil-fuel economy, or a post-imperial foreign policy. 

I admit there were moments toward the end of Mr. Obama’s campaign and in the first days around his inauguration when I wondered whether so much hope was good for us.  If our true hope is in Jesus and his Kingdom whose inauguration was some 2000 years ago, how much hope can we put in this one man from Hawaii, Kenya and Chicago?  At what point does our hope for real change spill over into illusion?  Some people have been in for quite a bit of disillusionment of late. 

As Jim Wallis constantly reminds us, “God is not a Democrat or a Republican,” and I don’t mean to sound partisan here.  But at this moment in the history of the United States, our President is trying to look forward in hope that something new might be accomplished, while the other side is speaking almost entirely from fear of what change might look like.  And that side seems intent on kindling that fear, regardless of what untruths, slander or insults it takes to do it.

I see one side looking forward to a new future of reasonably equitable health care, green energy and jobs, and friendly relations with anyone who wants to be friends with us, while I see the other desperately afraid of what change from the current health care system, fossil fuel energy and jobs, and heavy-handed foreign policy might look like.  Admittedly, it is the height of exaggeration to call legislation with single Republican votes in the House and Senate “bi-partisan,” but the very effort to include the opposition-the enemy in the minds of some-demonstrates hope that it might again be “a new day in America.”

I don’t believe that any of us want to be in the position of advocating that which we have decried, simply because we are afraid of what something different might look like.  Are we North American Christians willing to look forward with hope not in our current president, but in Christ?   Are we being wiling to be led by Christ and his will, rather than by the fear that talk radio and former governors seek to sew in our hearts?  One of the joys of the Christian gospel, once we really understand it, is that we are not in control and we ought not try to be. 

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