We’re beginning to make the turn towards home in To Kill a Mockingbird in my American Lit. class. We had a discussion today about the way in which a crisis exposes both the things that tie us together and the things that tear us apart. Maycomb, the little town where the story takes place, had some deep divisions around race and class that stayed mostly unspoken until Atticus Finch, a white lawyer, agreed to represent Tom Robinson, an African-American man who had been accused of raping a white woman. She also happened to be dirt poor. In a few pages, the biases and boundaries of the small town were exposed as though a sirocco had blown through blowing all the top soil into the next county and leaving everything out in the open.
In one of the most powerful scenes, a group of white men come to the jail to exact their version of justice on Tom. Atticus is sitting on the porch of the jail (Where but the South do you have a jail with a big porch?) to be a human barrier between the lynch mob and his client. The men respect Atticus but don’t intend to be deterred. What none of them knew was that Scout had followed her father to the jail and was hiding in the shadows. As the tempers begin to flare and the volume begin to grow, Scout recognizes one of the men as the father of one of her classmates and she calls out to him and asks about his son. The shouting stops and the man answers the question. Scout calls out in greeting to some of the other men who greet her in return, and, within a few minutes, start heading for home, humbled by a ten-year old prophet.
Her forthrightness turned a light on the lynch mob and called them into honesty.
Though I won’t feign understanding of all of the implications of the Wikileaks mess that is going on, I do think about Scout calling those men by name when I hear another story explaining what was in the diplomatic cables. I am not naïve. I know the world has convinced itself that secrecy and even deceit are a necessary part of diplomacy and politics. And look how well it’s working. From the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to elections in Haiti to civil war in Sudan to the arrogance and incompetence of our own leaders in Washington, our leaders sit just as Buddy the Elf accused the false Santa: on a throne of lies. And they probably smell like beef and cheese, too.
Power is the primary currency and it has left us bankrupt.
At least in the book, there’s a sense that the men came to themselves, much like the prodigal son, and realized they needed to stop what they were doing and go home. Listening to the congressional rhetoric, the win-at-all-costs-anything-for-power mentality feels conscious and brazen. Wikileaks or no, they are going to keep on keeping secrets and banking both power and money because that is what they think matters most. While Congress let the Dream Act and the chance to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fall by the wayside, the same Wall Street firms that imploded our economy are paying out $90,000,000,000 (yep – 10 zeros) in bonuses (so they need those tax cuts to continue, don’t you know).
King Herod, who would have done quite well in Washington, was willing to wipe out every toddler in the land because he was afraid of whom Jesus might become. Two thousand years later, we as the Body of Christ aren’t scaring anyone hardly at all, or expecting much to change. Christmas will come and Washington will go on having prayer breakfasts and listening to lobbyists without any sense of irony and very little integrity, ceaselessly campaigning for the next election.
I am not saying I expect our government or this nation to be Christian. It is not by definition. I am saying for people created in the image of a subversive, inside out, unabashedly loving God who picks the poor every time, we have work to do to make speaking up our daily practice rather than letting it become an occasional event.