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January 18, 2005
Vol. 2, No. 38



Pat Morrison Living with dissonance and contradiction

Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration

Conscious life is more about juxtaposition than straight-line narrative, more lateral association than logical connection. We learn to live with dissonance and contradiction, however neat our ideas are about reality.

Ronald Reagan, elected by white anxiety at the myth that minorities were catching up because of liberal social largesse, signed into law the national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. in 1983. Celebrated each year since 1986 on the third Monday of January, the holiday ensures that, at least every four years, a robust if only symbolic conversation about race in America will take place on the eve of presidential inauguration.

Dr. King's formidable rhetorical powers now provide a resonant subtext for all major speeches about national purpose. President Bush will take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2005, and his address to the nation will inevitably be placed in juxtaposition to Dr. King's intelligent and eloquent call for social justice and nonviolence.

It will be a tough sell. Forty years after the legal end to discrimination, virtually every index of social and economic equality -- income, health, education, housing, lending, personal security -- still shows African Americans falling behind white Americans. Dr. King's prophetic opposition to the racist war in Southeast Asia fits with alarming particularity the Bush war in Iraq.

Also by Pat Marrin
Oct. 11 Exhibit opens eyes, recalls vision of bones rising
Aug. 9 Time and Again
June 14 Reagan: a more critical subtext needed
Apr. 6 Gray water and an armload of soiled towels
Apr. 5 Recovering Christianity's core drama
Feb. 6 When a local church is decapitated
Feb. 5 The Good News meets the daily news
Feb. 3 The sacrament of touch
The record $40 million cost of the inaugural festivities provides an easy target for critics of the low and slow U.S. levels of aid to the tsunami disaster relief effort, but it is a mere gesture of self-congratulation compared to the weekly $1 billion cost of the war, a hemorrhage of national treasure that, Dr. King would have noted, is being drained from domestic need.

Conservative Christian and Catholic voters, anxious to protect marriage and the unborn, ensured a second term for Bush by giving these issues higher priority than the war, the economy, the environment and the protection of diversity as an American value. The inaugural address of Jesus, quoting Isaiah, will again elude many pulpits because of its call for "good news to the poor, freedom for captives, sight to the blind, a jubilee year (economic forgiveness and redistribution) declared by God" (Luke 4: 14-22).

We are all required to negotiate our own tolerable levels of irony. Some will do it by dropping out for a time. To paraphrase Rilke's letter to a young student, winter is a good time to lie low, be silent, write long letters to friends, live the questions. Dr. King would perhaps also counsel steady engagement, a renewed long-haul commitment to the broad, coherent vision of the common good as the true goal of history.

By juxtaposition, the graces and the losses of each day are sufficient to make life interesting. Holy ambiguity is the harbinger of hope rather than hopelessness. A personal suggestion: Inaugurate the year ahead for yourself, according to your deepest hopes. Keep it short, and remember to include all those who depend on you, especially the many who have been left out in the cold. Meet back here in four years, prepared to report on what difference you have made.

Pat Marrin's e-mail addres is patmarrin@aol.com. Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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