Sunday, July 17, 2016


   It's happened again.  This time, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  More deaths.  More thoughts and prayers.  A Presidential candidate declaring that he will be the "Law and Order" President. Etc., etc.  And soon, no doubt, it will happen again.

   After Dallas, President Obama pointed out how the people who were protesting against the police turned and began to protect the police when the shooting started.  He then passionately added, "That's who we are!"   

   Yes, President Obama correctly identified the Center of our society: showing love for one another for the common good.   He correctly identified the Kingdom of God on Earth, that Jesus told us to pray for.

    No, that's who all Americans of good will want to be.  That's who we should be.  In truth, our Center just shows itself in times of crisis, and then fades away.  It is not a consistent mark of our society.  In truth, we are a broken country.  A sentence in an Internet report on the Dallas shooting gives us an insane, comic-tragedy example of our brokenness. "While many of the protestors were helping the police, about 20 men openly carrying rifles ran away from the scene."  Every person openly carrying a weapon is a sign not of how unified we are but how stupidly separated we are. 

   An insightful, ominous view of our brokenness is given to us by poet W. B. Yeats, in his poem, "The Second Coming," which he wrote in 1919, following the Irish Easter Uprising and the First World War.  It was the First World War that moved Existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre to lament, "Reason was murdered in the trenches of France."  Prophetically, Yeats says the same thing about our world today.

   He begins the poem with an example of our loss of control:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

   The bird has flown away from the control of its owner.  Interpreters of the poem say that Yeats is saying that reason and intelligence have flown out of our control.  And as a result:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
There ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

   What a harsh, insightful view of our society today!  When reason and intelligence are lost, we lose the pure clarity of our human, national and community oneness.  We lose clear thoughts and ideas, and strength of conviction, and we scream and yell with blind, self-serving, even killing passion.  

   Does Yeats offer us any hope?

Surely some revelation is at hand;

   Yeats was a member of the Anglican church and is writing from within a Christian mindset. Is there a new revelation to help us?

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

   Is this New Revelation the second coming of Christ?  No.  Christians believe that the second coming of Christ will mark the end of the world.  Yeats sees a new world, a new civilization/culture being born here on earth.  And it is ominous.

The Second Coming!  Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight:  somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with the lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

   The Spiritus Mundi is the human spirit, as contrasted to the divine Spirit of Christ.  Yeats sees a new humanism being born and replacing the Christian spirit which has been dominant for the last 2000 years.  He uses the Sphinx to exemplify the new spirit:  a creature with a human head and animal body, the body of a lion. The indignant desert birds recall the falcon that has escaped from the control of the falconer.  Again, in this new era, reason and intelligence are out of control.  And so

The darkness falls again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at land,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

   The new beast of spirit-less humanism causes darkness to fall again upon the world.  The two thousand years since the birth of Christ were also dark, but at least they were vexed by Christ's cradle.  Yeats is saying that Christianity brought some light to the world, and that light had "vexed" the sleeping world.  But now, what is this new beast that slouches toward Bethlehem to be born in Christ's place?

   Here, he likens the separation of reason and intelligence from unrestricted passion with the separation of God from modern culture.  In both cases, he sees the decline of reason, intelligence and Christianity and the rise of an anti-reason, anti-intellectual, anti-Christian world spirit.

   President Obama is desperately  looking for the American center that can hold us together.  He found it in the scene of people and police working together to protect one another in Dallas.  But in his yearning for unity, he lamented that such mutual caring occurs only in times of crisis.  A reasonable, intelligent, Spirit-driven unity, the Kingdom of God on Earth, only "vexes" our everyday darkness. 

   Sadly, tragically, for the foreseeable future, things will keep falling apart and the center will not be found.  The open-carrying men will continue to run away from real danger and need into their world of personal supremacy; the politicians will continue to fill the airways with self-serving, lying rants; the corporate executives and polluters will continue to create economic inequality and pollution of the environment; bishops like Charles Chaput of Philadelphia will continue to misunderstand Pope Francis' Christianity of mercy and love and continue to reduce morality to sexual conduct.  All will continue to represent the beast of distorted humanity and spirituality that is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born in place of a community of justice, peace and love that is represented by Christ and by all people of good will.

   Dear Lord, help us to "vex" today's darkness with your Spirit of Light and Love.