I grew up in the church. I’ve considered myself a person of faith for most of my life. That doesn’t mean that I am not challenged by many aspects of my Christian faith tradition. What bugs me the most? Why doesn’t God get on his microphone, turn up the amp real high, and tell us all, in no uncertain terms and just in case you forgot, that he judges us? Why doesn’t He post a message on every billboard or interrupt every television show and remind all of us that He is watching? And maybe he could interrupt all those shallow tweets from self-absorbed pop stars and athletes with His own message reminding us that his judgement is based on how we treat each other.
I am convinced, having drawn the conclusion from a lifetime of sermons, that God and his message can be reduced to a single, four-letter word: love. If you treat others like you love them, there will be no war, religious extremists who slaughter innocents in the name of God would lose their way, bigots would hug the people they hate, we would stop heating up the planet. We would stop complaining about paying taxes to help the poor; we would end the inexcusable disparities in our public school system.
Muslim, Jew, Christian and nearly every other believer on the planet would lay down their guns, smile at strangers, happily raise workers’ wages rather than keep more profit for themselves. We would confront our friends when their behavior suggests their position on race is, well, racist.
Amazingly, it will soon be 2016. It feels to me like time is running out. But for the many reasons to be pessimistic, even fatalistic, there are plenty, too, to give us cause to be hopeful.
First, I believe the so-called “Millenials,” those young adults in their twenties and early thirties, are an enormous force for good: they reject the suburban cul-de-sac in favor of vibrant urban streets, they don’t promote the products they buy by blazing corporate logos on those products like the generation before them did; they don’t understand why their parents’ generation was so homophobic and they are paying attention to how to make their communities better.
Second, the Lehigh Valley is coming alive. For years we have characterized the region as being a place that’s near where you want to be; I think the Lehigh Valley is starting to be transformed into a place that is worthy in its own right, a progressive place with viable cities, a place that takes care of its own, welcomes the stranger and accepts people without being so quick to make assumptions about their character. We can laugh at Billy Joel rather than whine about the damage he’s done.
Here’s where we are:
We are (generally) receptive to Herculean measures to revitalize our cities. People of color (African-American and Latino) are organizing and our elites are recognizing that that is a good thing. We are appalled by the rapid loss of farmland to warehouses owned by companies that will only ever see us as being near where they want to be while paying pathetic wages and offering awful working conditions. Those who live here but work in north Jersey and New York or just want to visit want to take a train to get there. More and more of the high school graduates who come here to get a college education are staying rather than returning to their home states when they graduate.
These are good things and demonstrate my point that the Lehigh Valley is getting cooler as a place to live, work, raise a family and have some fun.
But we have plenty of work to do if this is going to stick:
We have to find a way to get wages up and/or get housing costs down. We have to break up the concentration, isolation, alienation and disenfranchisement of poor folks and find a way to raise their voices so they can fully participate and be a part of the action. We want our food to be grown down the street instead of poisoned in a lab from afar. We have to take radical steps to end educational apartheid that locks injustice into our society. Perhaps most importantly, we need to stop electing people who hate government and do everything they can to demonstrate their radical notion that government doesn’t work by making sure government can’t work.
We need to embrace the notion that we can, indeed, make our world a better place, that we have the power to do it if we only demonstrate the will.
John Lennon got it right: all we need is love. Happy New Year.