Break Through the Impasse

The polls have closed.

I am writing this at the end of a long Tuesday, Election Day.

I have no idea as to who won. I have some assumptions about what will happen, after years of involvement in politics and many nights sitting with Manuel Maloof at his bar where various politicos hang. They don’t call me the James Carville of the Episcopal Church for nothing. But this election felt different. This is a peculiar time in our country.

Perhaps it is because it comes after the shocking disruption of an insurrection to overturn the results of our last election. Storming the Capitol, invading legislative chambers where the sacred work of the people takes place, and defecating on our very governmental structures. When and where have you seen a scaffold and a hangman’s noose displayed, as chants rang out calling for the hanging of our Vice President? This was no peaceful protest, no regular tour of the facilities as some disingenuous people contended.

And now, the post-coup continues. The number of “election deniers” running for office, particularly those openly saying that they will control our voting process to make sure that the “right” party wins, in spite of the popular vote, is deeply disturbing.

Regardless of the outcome, we will be left with a divided country, polarized into two separate camps. There is very little, if any, bipartisan cooperative work due to this spirit of division and blinding thirst for power. Some talk of an imminent civil war. Violence has broken out sporadically and some leaders encourage this with their self-serving rhetoric.

What in the world can we do? Is there a way to break out of this malaise that is hurting our sense of connection, our sense of community? As I move into the night that somehow feels darker than before, is there a hope that is more than a childish wish?

Let’s be clear. There have always been oppositional forces vying for political power, even when we were an English colony, straining to break free from that rule The Framers of the Constitution were not lock-step or unified at the beginning as some fantasize. They were drawn together by a passion for freedom, but even then, there was fierce debate as to how we should obtain our independence. That debate and adversarial wrangling continued and has resurrected periodically in our political life as we fight over the role of the federal government and the rights of states. And beneath that is the philosophical polarity between individual rights and the common good. This is a classical dilemma that has to be lived with…it’s not going away. It is not a problem to be solved. Rather, the tension has to be recognized, embraced, respected, and lived with. This democracy thing gets messy. It always has. People get anxious, as I am tonight, and begin to wonder if it’s all worth it. And typically, that is when an authoritarian-type leader emerges, with simple answers to complex problems. It’s an old formula, and it always proves to be wrong….tragically so. And that is precisely where it looks like we are in parts of our country. Maybe we have run out of luck, or maybe will. It’s not easy holding tensions in a creative interchange from which good things can emerge.

We have faced this “living within tensions” dilemma throughout our history as a country. There are some “purists” who literally wish to “whitewash” our history in an attempt to clean up “the record”, as if being honest about our developmental journey as a republic somehow sullies our reputation. But, a clear-eyed look at our history must include an honest look at our past, including our poor treatment of Native Americans, our discrimination and violence towards those not white, and our original sin, slavery. Dealing with the facts of history helps us to live into the dreams of our ancestors for this country, even as it evolves. This is not being somehow “woke” as I heard some Floridian wanna-be leader frame it. Rather, it is simply being honest about reality.

One such dilemma occurred in my lifetime, one that I witnessed firsthand on the Southside of Atlanta. It emerged from the familiar fight over state’s rights and federal enforcement of law in the Sixties around the issue of the desegregation of our schools. Underneath this tension was a struggle over civil rights: did these rights to education extend to all people. And even more deeply, a question of white supremacy lingered, asking for an answer. And some seem still to need it answered.

A quick search of that time in my America will bring you multiple pictures of fire hoses turned onto protesters, dogs attacking, and nightsticks beating people. One image has dominated my mind through the years. Angry faces and snarling looks form the background of a young black girl, Ruby Bridges, walking to school as she was a symbol of desegregation, but more deeply, a challenge to the assumption of racial superiority. This was the dilemma that my generation faced, and is still wrestling with, desperately trying to emerge with a blessing, but surely with a limp. No, this is not a new problem but an old dilemma rising from our evolutionary ooze.

In my office, I have a Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges walking to school. It is titled, The Problem We All Live With. It depicts her courageous sis-year-old walk to her elementary school in New Orleans Because of threats of violence, she is preceded and followed by four U.S. Marshalls, a familiar sight in the South, symbolizing the tension of state and federal law and power. On the wall to her side, are the words “nigger” and “KKK”, along with the stain of a tomato that had been thrown, now unceremoniously dripping.

I have put this iconic painting in my office to re-mind me of the struggle of America seeking to live fully into its aspirational hope of our Founders, some who at the signing of the very declaration of our existence as free, owned slaves. We should suffer from no illusions of purity, but at the same time, claim the high ideals that have served as our Northstar of a vision, a promise of equality. I do not hang the picture to make me feel guilty, but to keep the dream alive, in front of me, as well as the knowledge and recognition that there has been and always will be a struggle. This is a part of the night that I feel surrounding me on this particular night. I would rename the portrait of Ruby “The Dilemma We All Live Within”. It requires courage and heart.

That will have to be enough for tonight as I await the dawning of another day in America. We will be living in the reality of this dilemma, with hopes that the engagement of oppositional forces and perspectives will yield fruit for the future. It has always been our best path, even if it is after we have tried all the others, as Churchill quipped.

Living in the tension known as America, searching the horizon for a better way.

5 thoughts on “Break Through the Impasse

  1. Thanks for the election night reflections, David. And for dealing with “woke” (which I still have not seen a helpful definition of).


    1. I once used an “alarm clock” metaphor when speaking at an NAACP rally in Tyler, Texas on MLK Day. This was before “woke” was hip and in play. I suggested that our alarm clocks were going off in terms of awakening us to the reality of systemic racism in our city, our state, our country. But we kept hitting the “snooze” button….just a few more years of sleep, please. It seemed to work.
      My sense is that “woke” refers to waking up to reality rather living in a sleepy denial.
      In Wiemanian terms, I might say that “woke” means becoming aware of our creative self in spite of being lulled into the sleepy unconscious state of routine of the created self.
      Thanks for reading, and commenting, Mike.


      1. What I really meant to say or ask is: What is it that conservatives (DeSantis is the latest example) see as so negative and harmful about being “Woke”. I agree with you that becoming more aware of the harm, evil, and damage done to human beings by the racism, sexism, agism, that creates whole systems based on those “isms” is a very positive thing. And, as Robert Hall has pointed out: being “woke” and trying to address those issues has created major head-aches for CEO’s trying to address those ‘isms” in their system. Those who don’t like to have those “isms” pointed out are locked into the binary of “good” and “evil” and cannot recogize that both can be and are present in the same system or person. (I would also argue that they probably don’t believe that they are “saved by grace”.) In any case, thanks for your insightful and articulate writing and our conversation. Peace, Mike

        PS I am tempted to try for a “Both / And” this coming Thursday and ask everyone willing to do two things: 1. Share an example of where you saw or experienced CI at work this past week or two; 2. Be prepared to talk about Wieman’s “take” on Justice; Justice and Love; and Conclusion and where you do and do not see it at work in the world today. (WE MUST GET TO “RELIGION” SOON, in my estimation.)

        Peace, Mike M> 

        MICHAEL MURRAY (512) 971-0677



  2. Thank you David, for your point of view and the lesson in history. Much appreciated for this non-US Citizen. Regarding the midterms, the race is so exciting that four days later it is still not entirely clear to me who won. I understood that quite a few candidates went down the drain despite – or because of – the support they received from former President Donald Trump. It makes many commentators, and President Biden himself, believe in the return of common sense.

    Still, it remains IMHO (from a distance – Nancy Griffith) watchful for those who care about democracy. In Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis won by a margin of nearly 20 percent. Meanwhile, the crusader against “woke” is so important that he may well become the next Republican presidential candidate. This is my interpretation since Trump has been blackballing him for quite some time. Whether DeSantis – “a populist with discipline” – is better news for democracy than Trump, that is highly questionable…

    I highly appreciate your dialogue with Michael here! Your definition of ‘woke’ in Wiemanian language is on the spot. To say it in Antony de Mello’s language: Woke is being fully awake (listen to his opening phrases of the video of one of his latest conferences with that name and you’ll see that Antony is paraphrasing Henry Nelson. I understand that Michael is thinking along the same lines.

    the Boy of Flanders


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