It’s an Honor to Watch Your Truth Stand Up
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Although many of us may not fully understand the political and social circumstances or ramifications of the demonstrations in Egypt, we’re heartened by the steadfastness and assured nature of the protesters. This magnificent post from Erica at beenthinking captures the sentiment I think many Americans are experiencing as we watch the protests from afar:
“There are four things you must do in life:
Speak the truth.
Do what you do with intensity.
And do not get attached to the results.”
One night almost two years ago, probably right before I most needed the advice, my friend Sally shared this Buddhist philosophy with me over a good beer. All morning, I’ve been following the developments in the Middle East with a sort of rapidly worsening infection of interest.
I heard a BBC correspondent on the ground in Cairo excitedly report that in two decades covering this region, this is the most noteworthy, remarkable development he has ever seen. Another reported that the protesters are ebullient. Ebullient. Think of the wonder of choosing such a deliberate, incongruous word to describe a demonstrating mass. On the radio, the journalists all testified to the surprising joyfulness of the crowd and even in the undeniable face of such uncertainty; this is something worth sitting down or rising up to consider.
So yes, who knows where it all goes from here. Who knows what becomes of their moment and government or whether their situation betters or not. But what is stunning me, in a sort of unexpectedly emotional way, is the incredible, wildly hopeful power of people who show up and speak their truth. What is remarkable is their power to ignite a revolution. To spark truth in the perceived dark that surrounds them, even across national borders.
I always struggle with that last line of this guidance. Frankly, I don’t always choose to respect that particular instruction, and, if I were a young activist in Egypt, I might happily eviscerate it from the rest of the instructions. I’ll be dammed if I will not be attached to my fate, I might think. But the rest, the rest I think is the marrow of the Egyptian story over the last week.
A few years back, I spent a couple of weeks in Egypt, amongst some of the most reasonable, intellectual, and welcoming citizens I’ve ever met in any country. A Muslim driver helped me decorate his classic car with balloons and drove me to the airport to fetch my parents, whom I had not seen for months and who were traveling to join me for an Easter holiday. He held the other half of my sign that greeted them in a crowded airport and later, when we spoke of politics and the temper of international relations, he said “Muslim or Christian, we all worship the same God. We are so much the same. And you are welcome here.” By which I suppose I mean to say they have earned an esteemed spot in my heart.
The sophistications of Egypt’s political and civil rights situation surely elude me, as they probably do most Westerners whether we realize it or not. I wouldn’t begin to assert a judgment on where they were or the rightness of where they are headed. All I mean to say is this: They know what they are ready for and they are showing up to ask for it. I will always believe that we are better for having more voices around the fire. And it was a strange mix of conviction and honor to watch The People of Egypt show up in a way we do not, maybe do not have to. It is an honor to watch your truth stand up.
Words Never Rang More True
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Krista and the staff regularly find compelling insights in the online journal Sightings out of the University of Chicago Divinity School. The most recent essay by Martin Marty is particularly brilliant and deeply resonates with our Repossessing Virtue series on the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn.
The Pope (John Paul II) was right. The World Council of Churches was right. The preacher down the block was right. The “moderate evangelicals” were right. The first had a perfect record against collectivization; the second had a mixed record, but was positive on this; the third reached a hundred or half a thousand per week preaching “You cannot serve God and Mammon;” the fourth were buffeted in response by evangelical kin who preached “the prosperity gospel” or the “gospel that God blessed only ‘free enterprise.’” In their own ways their criticisms and warnings were directed against “commodification”, whether of labor, leisure, or life. They were not whiners or grumps or exempt from the need for self-criticism, but they were serious, and therefore usually unheard and unheeded.
They do not lack platforms or pulpits today. We see illustrations and confirmations of the problems that occurred when devotion to commodities ruled and commodification set the terms for most of life. Colleague Jean Bethke Elshtain, in my aged and crumbling printout from the 2002 edition of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, celebrated the late Pope’s Laborum Exercens, his “social encyclical” which “shares the basic assumption of Catholic social thought that God created human beings as brothers and sisters, not as enemies…” John Paul II demonstrated his difference from Hobbes and Machiavelli and Marx who “assume worlds of enmity, treachery, manipulation, and conflict.” With the mortal struggle against Communism behind him, he took on orders called “Capitalist” and its cognates, and warned against the trend to measure everything as commodity, as hyper-ability to amass and worship wealth, et cetera.
Today Sightings has bulging files which document where “enmity, treachery, manipulation, and conflict” were consuming us. Documents now come not just from papal and conciliar warnings but in news reporting in The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and your daily paper—if yours has survived. My breakfast encyclical on February 21st included a story by Tom Hundley in the Chicago Tribune. His account shows how pride, not long ago, focused on what luxuries one could buy and own. He quotes one Cecelia Dames, “an expat Midwesterner” who came back from Europe to a changed world. She observes: “Conspicuous consumption is out…Conspicuous frugality is in.” Hundley reports on “the new braggers” who boast of their success in getting bargains at thrift shops, and are now scaling down the goodies they offer friends at parties.
Hundley offers new terms—new to me, at least—such as “frugalista” and “luxury shame” (“a sense that even if you can still afford it, it’s best not to make a show of it”). Dames: “Maybe [those who adjust, and brag] seem ostentatious about [frugality] because they have to embrace it.” Paul Harris in Britain’s Guardian: “For three decades, American culture has celebrated the glories of unabashed capitalism and the ideals of the rich. No longer. Frugalism is taking hold.” What remains to be seen is whether the collapse of everything—of global markets, shopaholicism, et cetera—are replaced by culture-wide adjustments to a changed world, to fresh thought that can inspire more than bragging.