“. . . and on earth peace, good will among people . . . .”
These words from Luke’s scriptural account of the birth of Jesus have become a de rigueur phrase for the Christmas season, more likely seen on treacly Christmas cards or heard on a Peanuts holiday cartoon special than read in the scriptures. But if there was ever a time for these words to come alive, the time is now.
It has become a standing quip that people cannot wait for the year 2020 to end, which it will in just a few days. Another thing that needs to end is not a joke; it is reality—the divisions that have emerged and threatened our nation throughout 2020. If we believe that the Christmas season—which, by the way, begins, not ends, on December 25th—is a time of joy and peace; it is time to take actions to prove it.
While 2020 has thrust upon us many disconcerting and divisive events, to me the most heinous purveyor of dissension is the current political atmosphere of incivility and in some cases outright hatred.
Throughout the year fractious flames of discord have been fanned continually by the outgoing president. His preposterous incitement of his nationalistic—not patriotic— racist, xenophobic base has rent the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities. So let’s start there.
I suggest an easy first step to narrow the political divide is to take down all political yard signs from our lawns.
Whether fair or not, seeing these signboards causes many folks to make certain judgments about the occupants of the abodes beyond these signs. It makes it too easy to label those neighbors as “one of them,” whoever that is. The election is concluded; let’s move on together, not disconnected.
After the political posters are removed, it is important to reconnect with your neighbors and friends, especially those who were, at least for a while, on the “other side.”
Pick up the phone and just check in with them, making sure they are healthy and and comfortable. Or click the FaceTime app on your cell phone and have a brief digital face-to-face chat catching up on what has been going on in their lives.
Or better yet, plan a cop-style conversation—you know, two cars in a lot somewhere parked driver’s side to driver’s side—and share a built-in socially distanced cup of coffee to learn the latest gossip or other chit-chat. It’s not much, but it might be just the first step needed to heal any perceived wounds.
It is, after all, the holiday season, a natural time to reconnect — masked and six feet apart, of course — and offer a smile, share some cookies, and spread some good will.
For the secular world Christmas is all about consumption based upon the fallacious notion that buying and having more will lead to happiness and peace.
For the Christian community Christmas is a time of rebirth represented by the Holy Infant Child in the manger. The “Silent Night” of Christmas Eve leads to a time of making holy noise that calls out the inequities and injustices of the world.
For those who live Spirit-led lives, the Christmas season is a time of reconciliation and forgiveness, first between God and the world’s people, second among God’s people themselves. Forgiveness can be difficult, but it is necessary if we are to overcome the divisions in our communities.
In his article “Restoring Relationships” the Rev. Richard Rohr writes: “We all need to apologize, and we all need to forgive, for humanity to have a sustainable future. Otherwise, we are controlled by the past, individually and corporately. History easily devolves into taking sides, bitterness, holding grudges, and the violence that inevitably follows. No wonder that almost two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching is directly or indirectly about forgiveness.”
This is a time to forgive and forgive, not forgive and forget.
Writing on forbes.com, business consultant Kathy Caprino offers further advice on how to reconcile strained or broken relationships:
“Choose to practice gratitude multiple times a day and feel the meaning of it. In addition, choose to focus on some tangible action items. Limit how much news is watched if it limits your overall happiness. We have far more choices in life than we tend to realize. Everyone has a choice with what to do with their time, so determine where attention is given.
“We are all far more alike than we are different, and we all tend to agree on way more than we realize—we just don’t highlight the similarities and the agreements, especially when there is vulnerability and discomfort.
“For each of us as humans, what we can do is listen. Listening is one of the most powerful tools to facilitate connection, change and growth.”
Note what Caprino says, “We are all far more alike than we are different . . . .” Such recognition will make healing brokenness a less onerous task.
Thus far I have offered views that address the healing of personal divisions; however, even greater fundamental discords challenge our very being.
Certainly 2020 has been a year of political hostility, but perhaps even more impactful is 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic. This pervasive horror has not only threatened corporate health; it has also exacerbated the myriad economic and social inequalities imperiling the world.
“Rising inequality is a major fault line of our time, with adverse economic, social, and political consequences. It has depressed economic growth by dampening aggregate demand and slowing productivity growth,”writes Zia Qureshi, economist at the Brookings Institute. “It has stoked social discontent, political polarization, and populist nationalism. And as the pandemic has revealed, it has increased societal and economic fragility to shocks.”
Such systemic inequity can best be addressed by governmental bodies; we must encourage our new Congress and our new president to take bold actions to remedy these divisions, for instance income and wealth inequality.
The Pew Research Center reports, “The growth in income in recent decades has tilted to upper-income households. At the same time, the U.S. middle class, which once comprised the clear majority of Americans, is shrinking. Thus, a greater share of the nation’s aggregate income is now going to upper-income households and the share going to middle- and lower-income households is falling.
“From 1970 to 2018, the median middle-class income increased from $58,100 to $86,600, a gain of 49 percent. This was considerably less than the 64 percent increase for upper-income households, whose median income increased from $126,100 in 1970 to $207,400 in 2018. Households in the lower-income tier experienced a gain of 43 percent, from $20,000 in 1970 to $28,700 in 2018. (Incomes are expressed in 2018 dollars.)”
As a part of this healing process, we all should resolve in the new year to push our government representatives to raise the minimum wage, push for national infrastructure projects, invest more in equal educational opportunities for underprivileged youth, make income taxes progressive, and make affordable health care available for all. Diverse economists and social scientists acknowledge these moves, among others, are key to narrowing the societal gaps in our country.
Now is the time for us all to give Christmas gifts to our nation and our world — words and actions of healing and unity. Only then will we experience true “ . . . peace, good will among people.”
E pluribus unum and Merry Christmas.
Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page Readers may contact him at [email protected].