We Americans recently learned that our government has banned the use of 7 words and phrases in budget documents being prepared by at least one agency charged with advancing the Common Good. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” I didn’t find the list surprising overall; we are in a new era where banning words, and these in particular, is consistent with the goals and stated priorities of the current administration. I’m disturbed, but not surprised.
What did surprise me was my immediate sense of heartbreak at the inclusion of one word on the list: vulnerable. It leapt off the page at me; I literally felt a twinge in my chest as the significance of a ban on this one word hit with gale-force: those most suffering among us have officially been declared unmentionable. Already largely invisible, they have been rendered irrelevant by the very institution whose role is to protect them.
I have plumbed the depths of my own broken heart for an explanation of why I am having such an anguished response to this. Like so many, I have been walking through that liminal space between darkness and light, trying to live in loving hope, clinging to the Light, seeking and finding it in so many acts of kindness, tenderness, and compassion all around me. My reaction is intensified, though, because of the Season in which the ban was announced: Christmas celebrates the power of vulnerability, after all. You can’t get much more vulnerable than being born in a stable or hanging on a cross.
83% of Americans profess to be Christian, yet we are complicit in either promoting or merely tolerating policies that not only do not assist the most vulnerable among us, but actually increase their suffering. Such blindness makes a mockery of the words often repeated this time of year: “He has lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Christmas celebrates the birth of the One whose public statement of purpose was “ I have come to bring good news to the poor, to free captives, give sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free.”
The banning of the word ‘vulnerable’ is a national, public declaration of what has been our reality for decades: the long-standing but rapidly-worsening disregard for the welfare of our poorest, most frail, least powerful, yes, our most vulnerable sisters and brothers. We rarely hear about the needs of those of us living largely cash-less lives, homeless or in inadequate housing, the desperation of those suffering from addiction and mental illness, the utter impossibility of raising a family on income from a minimum wage job.
It is not enough to say we are horrified, or to feel dismay or even outrage at the unraveling of the Heart of our humanity. It is not enough to show up for an annual march , or to post our outrage and judgment on Facebook. It is not enough to engage in partisan politics designed ‘to win’; that’s part of what got us into this mess in the first place. To do only these things is to be complicit, and the cost of that complicity is a staggering acceleration in the suffering of our most vulnerable neighbors.
We need transformation in how we live and love every day of our lives. So this is a call for radical discernment and personal commitment. This Season of Light is a good time for all of us, of whatever religious or spiritual persuasion, to dig deep and connect to the Light that lives within…always. Each of us was born for this time, to be Light in new and as yet untried ways as our world experiences a critical healing crisis. If you claim the mantle of Christian, then find the Emmanuel in yourself and birth that into the world as only you can do. And do it from the place of your own vulnerability, with kindness, tenderness, and compassion. We have no time to waste on judgment, contempt, and arm-chair complaints about the deterioration of our world.
The antidote to despair, to being overcome by the darkness, is to open ourselves to the suffering world and be Fierce Lovers. Whether we find these opportunities in our own families, neighborhood, town, nation or world, we heal ourselves and the world by responding, wholeheartedly, embracing our own suffering and vulnerability and that of All, in whatever way we are uniquely suited to do.
Throughout my adult life, whether practicing in my original faith tradition or not, I have found comfort and guidance in the beautiful poetry and insight of the ancient Book of Isaiah. I seek and find it there now; perhaps you will too.
” The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” And the Christian scriptures echo the theme: “The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.” For millennia. Has not, and Will not.
We all hold the Light. We are bearers of the Divine to each other and our world. What Light will you visibly be carrying in 2018?
May the New Year be Luminous.