The Sound of Rain
It could have been a quiet day at 36,000 feet. Upgraded into first-class leather comfort, I could have settled into the half sleep my 3:00 a.m. rising demanded. I could have, should have, done the usual for my transcontinental trips and played a nonstop background of my favorite classical music—sleep-along music, as my teenage daughter often tells me with no subtlety intended! It would have made the five-hour-or-so flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, Washington, ever so relaxing!
Instead I fell for the lure of free video and turned on the news. Instead I watched a national soap opera passing for politics. No sleep. No peace. Five hours of worry and horror at where we find ourselves as a society—as a nation, if you will.
When did Supreme Court nominations veer so dangerously into farce? Not since the Thomas and Bork passages, I think.
I write this after the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh to the High Court. I pray that his tenure is marked by thoughtful jurisprudence. To wish him ill is to further damage us all, and I continue to pray that goodness and charity will have their day.
But I cannot erase those hours of painful testimony and vitriolic defense; the display of raw political intention that proceeded regardless of the questions that demanded a more honest enquiry.
Back home a week later, I pulled a record from the rack and played it as a reference to those events. (Yes, I actually still have some LP records!) The song I played was a crossover combination of Philip Glass minimalism and the then-poppy voice of Linda Ronstadt.
Allow for the romanticism of courtly love ever devolved by the troubadours, and the words speak uncannily to the moment—our moment in U.S. history.
“A man wakes up to the sound of rain
From a dream about his lovers
who pass through his room. . . .
The man is awake now
He can’t get to sleep again.
So he repeats these words
Over and over again:
Bravery. Kindness. Clarity.
Honesty. Compassion. Generosity.
Bravery. Honesty. Dignity.
Clarity. Kindness. Compassion.”
Are those one-word character sentences evident in our rain-soaked distress? I thought back over the process. A witness who had been wronged by someone: bravery of a sort, to be sure. Prudence was evident in the way she was treated in the hearing, if not in later comments by leadership. No real kindness that I could see, though. And the nominee who defended his honor so vigorously, as anyone would? Honesty? One hopes so. Dignity? Hard to pull that off under the circumstances. But I think for many watchers the proceedings veered in dangerous directions when beer and parties and yearbooks came up. And absent responsible enquiries, a moral miasma will settle over future court events.
Because it is raining. Not the sort of biblical rain that literally preceded a good and plentiful harvest, or the biblical symbol of rain as a spiritual refreshing. No, it is the rain that follows the thunder and lightning. It is the besetting rain that washes away the remaining topsoil and gathers to a flooding rush that can sweep away field and village.
And one wonders—well this one, at least—where morality/religion figures in all this. The song lyrics invoke moral values of a rather antique cast for today. Not so much talk of real morality today beyond a certain “gotcha” if the wrong person does the wrong thing at the wrong time. Meanwhile some public officials benefit from—indeed, glory in—a new morality that is beholden to no one. And turn from the newscast of “morally” fraught hearings, and you just might catch a glimpse of some reality star between marriages and cosmetic augmentation; you might see the blurred pride of a naked couple on survival mode, or hear the crack of firearms as righteous violence dispatches the unworthy. And we thought the Roman love of the Colosseum a singular sign of moral depravity!
But not to worry: we have an unprecedented alliance between faith structures and the reins of political power! Of course, not too many options for those who exist to evoke conscience. They could raise a Greek chorus of public conscience and even call down the true rain of cultural spirituality. It might work, if conscience is still to be found online! Or they might take the easy way out and decide to legislate faith. A perplexing possibility at a time when there are so many scofflaws.
A few years ago Roman Catholic presidential contender Senator Rick Santorum created headlines by opining that Protestantism is absent in America today. His comment certainly caught my attention and intersected with my view of a drastically declining spirituality in the U.S.A. Of course, one could say the same for much of the Western world, but the loss here is more related to a sense of national self-image than elsewhere: think “In God we trust,” and the other vaguely religious national icons that have long worked to create national identity.
Then I came across An Anxious Age, by Joseph Bottom, published in 2014 by Image Press in New York, a trademark of Random house. Its subtitle reveals a lot: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America. This is how he sets it: “The general conflux of the major Protestant denominations remained for nearly three hundred years as a great river at the heart of American public life. . . . Everyone knew that Protestantism for what it was--our cultural Mississippi, rolling through the center of the American landscape. . . . Somewhere in the 1960s the waters began to run shallow, and by the 1990s the central channel of American mainline Protestantism was almost dry” (p. 12).
Maybe a little rain will flood the channel again. Or maybe not! The author goes on to note that “an entire social class—of American Protestants . . . simply stopped being Christian believers in any meaningful way, even while they kept the assurance of their Protestant parents that they represented the center of American culture. . . . They remain puritanical and highly judgmental, at least about health, and like all Puritans they are willing to use law to compel behavior they think right” (pp. 13, 14). Right on the money, I think in identifying the new “form of religion that denies the power thereof,” as the Bible puts it (see 2 Timothy 3:5).
Then the summation, which puts to mind the Kabuki theater of the hearings that so troubled me. “The new elite class of America is the old one. America’s mainline Protestant Christians, in both the glory and the annoyingness of their moral confidence and spiritual certainty. They just stripped out the Christianity along the way” (p. 14). Which is one reason Animal House so blithely coexists with piety nowadays!
It is more than 50 years since I came to the United States as an impressionable teen. The energy of the place back then was palpable and optimism ascendant; even if the draft and Vietnam dragged at us. I lived to see Washington burning—literally! I lived to see a president leave office for shame of what he had said and done. I lived to see the collapse of a cold war enemy and the parallel collapse of the game whereby we posed as Christian soldiers against a godless threat. I lived to see something so real it looked fake, as the towers of complacency collapsed into perpetual war. And I’ve seen the 2008 fissures in the dam wall spread crazy-tile-like over the landscape. I just wish it would stop raining.
Article Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."