Continuing reflections after reading Michael Walzer’s Exodus and Revolution, who suggests that the Exodus story is the template for revolutionary movements throughout history. I think there are some lessons here for us today.
Walzer shrewdly observes that when the Israelites stood at Sinai they were mid-way between Egypt and the Promised Land, between the oppression of slavery and the possibility of freedom. It was there that they had to decide—look backward or move ahead. Would they simply make their life in the wilderness where they could complain about how much better Egypt might have been? Or, would they boldly commit themselves to an unknown future, one that could mean freedom or, conversely, to a new and different kind of oppression at the hand of rulers unknown?
They chose to ally themselves with Yahweh, the god who had manifested to Moses on the mountaintop. They chose to bind themselves to a set of values and principles that would determine the very nature of their relationships with one another, with strangers, and especially with God. They committed themselves to be responsible for establishing and maintaining ethical/moral relationships characterized by compassion, peace, and tender justice.
The United States was founded on the basis of a similar covenant (written down in the Constitution). While we are prone to talk about the rule of law, the American Dream is really about the rule of ethical/moral values ruling our relationships leading to truth, justice, and the (illusive) American way.
Right now, the covenant seems broken in American society. Our leaders make decisions based on which lobbyists or corporations are providing the greatest financial support. (When we see this behavior anywhere else in the world we call it bribery; here we call it “Citizens United.”) Our citizenry seems more intent on name-calling than on seeking solutions to problems. We can’t decide whether cultic rituals and liturgies (saying the pledge of allegiance; standing for the National Anthem) are more Important or whether the really important concern is social justice (Black Lives Matter). Both side have deluded themselves into thinking that the solution to all our problems is electing the right President and Legislators.
Are we back to Sinai—standing between oppression and promise? Is this the time of choosing—settling for less because it might be more familiar OR girding our loins, putting on our sandals, picking up our walking sticks, and marching boldly toward the promise, toward the dream, toward the possibilities? Will we look like the next installment of the “rise and fall of the Roman empire?” Or, will we continue the parade toward the American dream? One way or the other we will move beyond the current American nightmare.