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Sending the Dawn to Its Post

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This may well be my last post of the year, since I'm leaving for Christmas with the family tomorrow. I always pretend to myself that I might write something over the Christmas holiday, but between playing with the little ones, hanging out with the rest of the family, having dinners and lunches with friends, eating carbs and protein, and chopping wood and baling hay on the farm (okay, made that last one up -- I mainly sit around and talk and eat on the farm, although I do sometimes ride in the tractor with Barbara's brother when we are visiting in the summer), I never seem to get around to posting anything. While some weird thing could change all that (weird is the name of the game in health care, for example), I'm very much guessing this will be it for the year of 2009.

It has been one of the strangest years ever politically. A black man with an African Muslim name, son of an African immigrant father, a former community organizer with a very liberal voting record in both the state and national Senate bodies where he served, became our president, and he has been pushing for universal health care and big bills on climate change, regulating the banks, and immigration reform. And with all that, he has managed to anger and alienate much of his activist/small donor/volunteer base that made him President. That takes special talent, and officially qualifies as making it a truly strange year. Contradictions all over. Voters are massively outraged at the big banks, yet Wall Street has never seemed more powerful. Democrats have made the case for health care reform by attacking the insurance industry, yet the insurance lobby will still likely win most of what it wanted on the health care bill. Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize while escalating the war in Afghanistan twice this year.

And yet weird people like me still believe there is hope in the political battle. Progressives keep battling, and we and our values endure. Progress is always possible, but it always, always comes with struggle, as Frederick Douglass taught us so many years ago:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

So let's plow our ground and plant our crops, and hope for the best.

Personally, I kind of like the strangeness and the contradictions, even if the specifics get discouraging sometimes. The paradox itself is exciting even while infuriating.

Now those of you who read my year-end post last year know that I like to return to my church going roots this time of year, and quote you a little Bible. My favorite Bible verse, which I quoted last year, is the one from Matthew where Jesus basically tells people that all that other stuff people have been saying about how you get saved and go to heaven, how God judges you, is all wrong, and that you get judged solely on how you treat "the least of these": the poor, the hungry, the stranger (talk about paradox: how so much Christian theology got from that message to the one about how you only go to heaven if you believe what we believe is beyond me).

But my second favorite verse is about the paradox of life. Its message basically is that us humans have no frickin' clue what we are talking about if we think we understand the nature of our existence and the world we live in and the nature of what God is or isn't. It's from Job:

Then from the heart of the tempest God gave Job his answer. He said:
Who is this obscuring my designs with his empty headed words?
Brace yourself like a fighter: now it is my turn to ask questions
and your yours to inform me
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations?
Tell me, since you are so well informed.
Who decided the dimensions of it do you know?
Who stretched the measuring line across it?
Who supports the pillars at their bases?
Who laid its cornerstone when all the stars of the morning were singing with joy,
and the sons of God in chorus were chanting praise?
Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leaped tumultuous out of the womb,
When I wrapped it in a role of mist and made black clouds its swaddling bonds;
When I marked the bounds it was not to cross and made it fast with a bolted gate?
Come thus far, I said, and no further: here you proud waves shall break.
Have you ever in your life given orders to the morning
or sent the dawn to its post,
telling it to grasp the earth by its edges
and shake the wicked out of it, when it charges the earth to
sealing clay and dyes it as a man dyes clothes;
stealing the light from wicked men
and breaking the arm raised to strike?

In a world where quantum physicists tell us that alternate universes, 10 dimensions, and time travel all might be quite possible, I think it is quite appropriate to ask these questions from Job once again. The more we think we know -- about science or about the nature or even existence of God -- the less we actually do. We humans are way too arrogant, way too prideful, if we think we understand the nature of the universe or the meaning of life. We never have given orders to the morning or sent the dawn to its post. We weren't there when the foundations of the earth were laid.

Some things seem more certain to me though. I know that I am boundlessly lucky to have been raised in a loving family, with plenty of food to eat and a roof over my head. My parents brought me up to spend my life working on behalf of the least of these - the poor, the stranger, the prisoner -- and my life has been blessed a hundredfold as a result.

We live in a world where children are abused and abandoned, where families are starving and without health care or homes, where innocents are tortured for their beliefs. We live in a country "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal", but where thousands of people die every year because they lack health insurance, and millions go hungry and homeless while the wealthy and powerful get ever more so.

Those of us in the progressive movement are determined to change all that. Progressives in these United States -- those of us who take that whole "All men (and women) are created equal" thing seriously, and who believe that the golden rule and taking care of the least of these applies to society as well to individuals- have been fighting the good fight for 233 years now, and we'll keep fighting that good fight.

2009 was a weird and fascinating year. Here's hoping that 2010 is one where we make some real progress.