Here in the United States, it's July 4, Independence Day, a day to recall the colonies' independence from British rule. Flags are flown, speeches are spoken, remembrances are observed and it's a holiday for a lot of people who will eat hot dogs and hamburgers.
Independence is no joke. But since it is no joke, what is it?
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once observed that "democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest." Politically, that's probably as close as anyone is going to come to describing what the United States claims for a legacy... a really, really good thing, by comparison ... and it sucks.
Nations have their politics. Good, bad or indifferent, it's how they operate. But do people find peace in politics? Maybe fools and intellectuals do, but otherwise...? Does the political independence of this day guarantee an independence in the heart?
Today my political fuse got lit when reading a well-woven opinion piece about the flotilla attempting to bring supplies to Gaza in the Middle East. Israel claims that its naval blockade of an area that has produced some of its verifiable enemies is legitimate. But Israel's posturing knows no modesty and knows no shame. People are starving in Gaza. The unemployment is said to be 45%. The water is not clean. The hospitals are overtaxed. Gaza is in thrall to Israel ... and the United States pimps for Israel. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said ".. it's not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which Israelis have a right to defend themselves." Who will defend us from Israel? The flotilla offered to allow inspectors aboard to assure that no arms were secreted among the hospital and other supplies being ferried to Gaza. The New York Times paints a glowing picture of an improving life in Gaza. If life is so improved, who would imagine supplies were needed and why would they risk renewed assaults by the righteous Israelis? It's not clear that Israel sabotaged two of the boats in the now-grounded flotilla, but it sure as hell isn't clear that they didn't. Where are U.S. principles in all this? Where is the shame?
But that's the politics of democracy, of independence. One man's independence relying on another man's subservience. One man's comfort relying on another man's discomfort. It's just politics, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere.
I have my doubts that you can teach anyone shame any more than you can teach them an independence that will assure a personal peace. One thing's for sure, flag-waving and hymn-singing and righteousness don't work. The Anglican theologian and author of metaphysical thrillers, Charles Williams, once put the words in one of his fictional character's mouth: "People believe what they want to believe." I thought it was a stunning observation. People don't believe what is true; they simply believe what they want to believe. And if this is true, then I think a person seeking some peace would want to examine very closely what s/he wants. Is it enough to be 'right' or is being 'right' a sure sign that you're missing something? Is 'peace' merely the absence of war, or is such a definition merely the guarantor of more war? Is 'independence' a matter of depending on others or is there some freedom which is not included under that umbrella?
Nobody likes to be ashamed and yet people of good conscience are aware of the regrets in their lives. Analysts twist and turn and write footnotes when the word "shame" is mentioned. But I think the old Zen teacher whose name I have forgotten had it right: "In order to do this practice [he was referring to Zen Buddhism], you must feel shame." Not to wallow and quetch, but to investigate and clarify. How could anyone lay claim to independence, lay claim to an honest peace, without such an investigation? And Zen Buddhism is no different from any other exercise: People want to be happy and independent and at peace. They build their political structures of belief. They learn, if they are wearing their glasses, to see the shame such structures assure.
But they investigate and keep on investigating.
With luck, they find out what independence and peace might actually mean.
Pimping really is not enough.