Sunday, July 10, 2016


In upbeat times, I'm often cynical. In agonizing times, I look for hope.

It's what you would expect of someone blogging as The Perverse Lutheran. It may be that one of my foundational beliefs is that things have to get really bad to start getting better, so if they're pretty awful, hope can't be far away.

Or maybe I just believe that things are never quite as they seem.

After the grief and sorrow of this week, with the deaths of two black men at the hands of police officers and the mass killing of five police officers by an angry black military veteran, I found hope in a couple of places yesterday. My Saturdays are often spent in and out of the car, so thanks be to NPR for bringing me the world as I drive.

The first place was in President Obama's news conference and how he did not hesitate to describe both problems with policing in the African-American community and the problems faced by police, including how guns complicate interactions and endanger both citizens and law enforcement officials.  No politics--yeah, yeah, I know opponents, especially of gun safety would argue--but really, he described the world as it is, in all its complications, nuance, hardship and sorrow. But Obama's rational, thoughtful manner made me believe there are solutions and that talking about the problem, naming it on every side, can make space for understanding and working together.

The other thing I heard on the car radio was a segment on the TED Radio Hour titled "Do Animals Have Morals?" They do--or at least they have the basic emotions that lead to moral behavior. (Listen or read the transcript here.) Frans de Waal, the researcher who was interviewed, and colleagues have designed experiment in which primates show fairness, empathy, cooperation. Chimps reconcile after fights. They console those who are upset. Humans face more complicated choices, but still, morality comes from emotions that are wired into us, not from reasoning, philosophy, or religion. How can we harness those things?

I know there's also research that shows how tribal humans are, that our best impulses may not quite extend to those outside of the group of people who, for whatever reasons, we count as our own. Jesus, after all, made the hero of the parable a Samaritan, going against the expectation of his listeners in order to teach that empathy and care for someone in need were more important to God than clannishness or purity.

But still--we were created to live together in cooperation, sharing one's another's joys and sorrows, puzzling—and protesting—when things go wrong, like the monkeys do in the cucumber-and-grapes experiment show in Dr. de Waal's  TED Talk.

That's something to build on as we talk about how people in our diverse American society can create a better future for all. Lord have mercy, and show us your way.

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