The ego strikes back
I’m going to be honest, as a lesbian woman, I didn’t feel much like celebrating the Fourth of July this year.
Supreme Court decisions ending affirmative action, codifying discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in public services, the rise in anti-transgender (and LGB) legislation across the nation, and an indicted politician still bringing in so much support have, frankly, soured me on the “land of the free.”
I understand that progress always happens in fits and starts and hard-won gains are often tenuous at best, but it feels as if something deeper is happening. The pendulum of social progress is swinging back toward oppression and away from freedom, and it’s so tempting to join in the fear, demonization, and hatred being offered to us on a daily, perhaps momentary, basis.
I was listening to Rachel Maddow’s fabulous new podcast, Deja News, yesterday and Sherrilyn Ifill — the Vernon Jordan Endowed Chair in Civil Rights at Howard University and former (now emeritus) leader of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — nailed what’s happening. The episode focused on how conservatives in the 1960s were working to suppress the Black vote and had complained that the election that put John F. Kennedy into office was stolen. How familiar it all sounded!
The shift that we’re experiencing now — as issues around race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity that we thought had been settled are suddenly up for contention again — has, at its base, according to Ifill, the whole idea of human decency. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted under Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the overt racism and homophobia in the country was driven underground, but the emergence of a certain candidate in 2016 brought up the simmering resentment in some people.
He tapped into something that I think many of us didn’t realize many white people were experiencing, which was, they just wanted to be free of all of this. They want to be free of the requirements of decency, free of the requirements of embracing a belief in equality, free of having to speak in a way that shows respect for others… that all of this, it turns out, felt unbearable for a segment of the white population. And he came and said, then don’t do it. You don’t have to do it. You’re great. In fact, you’re better.
Let that sink in for a moment. According to Ifill, some white people in the U.S. “want to be free of the requirements of decency.”
I admit that, at this moment, I am angry — because Ifill is right. At our basest, most egoic level, we have no decency, because the ego sees decency, kindness, compassion, or empathy as weakness. It whispers constantly to us that we are better than others and, as such, deserve more than others.
This is a lie and if we look deeply at the situation before us, we can see the ego is up to its old tricks of stirring up feelings of separation, division, and fear. Like many of you, I am battling my own egoic tendency to jump into the fray of fear and negativity. However, we cannot let the circumstances of the day convince us to give in to the ego’s zero-sum game.
Instead, this is the moment we must double down on decency, on love, on compassion, on empathy, and on grace. This is the moment when we say no to the illusion of indecency, to the illusion of our prejudice and fear.
I know it’s difficult, but we must ever more deeply embrace our role as the light of the world, as the Love (the only thing that’s real) that does not overcome evil (since it’s not real) but puts all things right.
We can only do that if we dedicate ourselves to Love — to cultivate it within our own hearts and minds — and practice looking deeper at the people and events going on around us.
I listened, a few days ago, to an interview with a right-wing conspiracy theorist who was spouting all the talking points. Usually, this would immediately trigger me to anger, but instead, all I felt was compassion and love well up inside of me. Instead of ranting at the screen I was watching, I looked deeper at the person speaking and knew they were in deep pain.
This person wants exactly what I want — to feel safe, to feel loved, to feel as if they matter in a world that chews them up and spits them out. We disagree on how to get there, but when I can see our commonality, I can have empathy (maybe even love) for them.
A few Sundays ago, I used a quotation from Ernest Holmes’ Science of Mind that reads:
We have looked at poverty, degradation, and misery until they have assumed gigantic proportions. Now we must look at harmony, happiness, plenty, prosperity, peace, and right action, until they appear.
It may seem Pollyannaish to do so, but this truly is how the world changes — we see the infinite possibilities for love, peace, joy, abundance, and compassion to set things right — and we do our work to embody that and make it our reality.
We’ve already caught a glimpse of this world, and our task now is to embrace decency with more passion and light than ever before. When we believe in this world of “harmony, happiness, plenty, prosperity, peace, and right action” more than we believe in our current world of fear, anger, and despair, we will see it come to pass — and not pass away.
And that will make the whole world say: “Oh, Yeah!”
How are you working to put more love in the world?
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.