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+ A LAMENT for the SUMMER of the YEAR of our LORD ONE THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED AND NINETY-EIGHT. A view from Oakley Street, Kansas City, Missouri.

So has this been just another hot boring summer or what.

Two hundred thirty million people are displaced by floods in China and thousands are dead. The Indonesian government is asking adults to fast two days a week to conserve food -- now there are riots, ethnic and religious minorities are targets of violence. All over Asia, economic collapse brings hardship and misery. The Russian ruble and stock market tank, and the government is following the blind right into the same ditch. There are very ugly scenes at Russian banks.

US embassies in Africa are bombed, too many are dead and injured, millions are affected. How many cruise missiles into the Sudan and Afghanistan constituted our response? Last week's absolutely positive "direct link" of the Sudanese site to the current main international bad guy has morphed into an "indirect link". The US government's denials that the site was producing medicines had their 15 minutes of fame and the Clinton administration now hopes we don't remember their confident assurances that no medicines were being produced there. Sudan already had its own overflowing measure of craziness and tragedy-- famine and starvation and war and human slavery, among the other typical suspects. Meanwhile, the Serbs and Albanians are shooting at each other and NATO is threatening to get involved.

The US stock market is on its own zig-zag course, while a nation whose people are starving perfects its ability to fire a two stage rocket kerplunk into the Sea of Japan. The US government remembers that a two-stage rocket means that Hawaii and Alaska may now be within shooting distance. Oops. Our relations with the North Koreans these past 40 years or so would appear to be another triumph of our post-World War II foreign policy.

The Zionists blockade Hebron, and Palestinian children are dead because they can't get past the Israeli lines to access a hospital. People are chased down the street and hacked to pieces in the Congo, a country without an effective government that is currently hosting six armies, while the Hutus and Tutsis get ready for another go-around. UN food has been looted and missionaries are being killed. The World Bank meets in rooms with gold-leaf ceilings and imported hardwood floors, paid for with the interest they have extracted from the rice bowls of the poor. Don't even get me started about the IMF.

The world burns, and the ruling political and economic elites of the United States are doing what? Engaging in wise and prudent responses to an increasingly chaotic world situation? Embracing truth, justice, and honesty? Only in our dreams. In this very real world, the US political and economic elites are groveling in a self-inflicted public orgy of shame, corruption, lust, greed, narcissism, moral and political impotence.

Look who is cheering them on, watching it all on the TV and reading about it in cyberspace and the newspapers, lapping it up like a cat licks cream, fascinated by the deadly interplay of it all. Just how kewl can things get? In this rich and powerful country, where the only people who are poor are those who want to be poor (I believe it, don't you, I heard it from a politician, it must be true), soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters are a booming business. Millions are off the welfare rolls, but nobody quite seems to know exactly what they are doing now.

An August report from the General Accounting Office, US Government, about the year 2000 computer "crisis" (their word) is entitled "Strong leadership and partnerships needed to mitigate risk of major disruptions." Hmmm. . . If strong leadership is what is needed to avert a disaster in January 2000, we'd all better be installing wood burning stoves and stockpiling macaroni and flour, because strong leadership is not what we are going to get from the ruling political and economic elites of these United States of America, not now nor in the foreseeable future.

Sow not in the furrows of injustice lest you harvest it sevenfold, the Bible says, and if the truth be told, we're watching the tragic literal fulfillment of this scripture, live and in color, instant replay, 24 hours a day, on a hundred channels and more of news and entertainment.

There is a deteriorating and somewhat desperate feel to current events. At what point does a negative synergistic effect begin that could spin things even further out of control really fast? Slippery slopes are a fact of life, and we are on one right now, and we are nowhere near getting a firm hold on something that promises to mitigate on-rushing events.

Maybe that's the wrong question, however. Perhaps we should ask -- how much good has to happen to turn the world in a better direction? Can we not see a true vision for a third Christian millennium, complete with vast planetary vistas of beauty and hope, harmony and community, healing and reconciliation, justice and holiness, love and peace? Do we always have to do what we always do, and thus always get what we always get?

The future is being birthed now in the present. Non-involvement in this is not a possible option. In such circumstances, I'd say the obvious pro-active choices are evangelism, catechesis, and orthopraxis, especially since the primary alternative appears to be hoping for some kind of positive leadership from alienated, depraved, and decadent political and economic elites who are lost in world-class denial as to our risks and hazards in these last years of the second Christian millennium. Such pride and arrogance is a deadly fault.

One hopes to hear a clarion call, but trumpets seem to be sounding uncertain notes these days. Thus, whatever it is that each of us is now doing -- to light candles and to build candle-making factories -- to work for justice and peace -- to strengthen and build communities and families -- to witness, remember, teach, and tell -- to ensure justice and food security -- to make injustice visible -- to speak truth to power and to recognize and hear truth when it is spoken to us -- to protect the poor and the powerless -- to celebrate life and beauty and to practice peace and harmony -- may we not only continue such work, but may we also do more. May we be wise as serpents and harmless as doves in our work. May many more people open their eyes and ears and hands and hearts to join in this journey of justice and peace.

This weekend, in the Gospel of the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, we will be reminded of the cost of discipleship and the transitory nature of our relationships with material possessions, and we will be called to carry the Cross that is set before us. These are hard sayings, but we live in hard times. May our hearts not be hardened to this Gospel's call to justice and peace.

So let us remember that Attila the Hun never quite made it to Rome. Sometimes the darkness does turn back, and the Exiles do return from their Babylonian captivity. What we do today, tomorrow and the days after, matters greatly. It is neither meaningless nor ineffective, but rather the veritable "substance" from which a future of beauty and joy will grow into being. Each work of justice and peace, whether it be small or large, spoken about in the streets or hidden from view, is joined together in love and grace with every other such work, today and throughout all human history and the future yet to come. It is by such work and prayer, ora et labora, that deteriorating chaos is redeemed as harmony and community. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

+ For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given Wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight, and men learned what was your pleasure, and were saved by Wisdom. From the First Reading of the XXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time, Wisdom 9.

Robert Waldrop

2 September 1998

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