I had some lines running through my head the other day. I knew it was William Blake so I thought I’d check it out. From the “Songs of Innocence”, the poem entitled “The Divine Image.”
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
All Pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love,
Is God our Father dear;
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is Man, His child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart;
Pity, a human face;
And Love, the human form divine:
And Peace the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine:
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.
One occasion on which these lines came into my head was the excellent and moving play, The Laramie Project, which was performed by high school kids at Evanston Township High School recently. Being a good grandmother, I went to see Warren Nicholson Weber play several roles. If you don’t know it, the play was written by a group of writers who went to Laramie, Wyoming, to gather the community’s perspectives after the horrific torture and ultimate death of young Matthew Sheppard. It is a stunning piece of work and was performed with passion and intelligence by these 14-to 18 –year-olds. Apparently the drama teacher at ETHS chose the play to combat the homophobia he sees in the school. That is no surprise to me; I saw a lot of homophobia when I was at Latin 20 years ago, beginning with the Headmaster.
The play is about hate, indifference and compassion. What degree of hate propels two young men to persuade a 5’2” young man, openly gay, to accompany them in their truck for some unspecified adventure, drive to a lonely country spot, beat him, bind him to a fence and leave him to die? Portrayed among the townspeople were reactions ranging from horror, indifference, and, as the trial of the two assailants took place, the fulminations of the bible-thumping Baptist minister who, speaking for God, pronounced God’s hatred of fags.
Then there is the ever-receding comprehensive immigration reform. Since I am in my second year of being embedded in a Latino community, I am attuned to the insults and discrimination visited on our Hispanic citizens. Governor Quinn came to Erie Neighborhood House for a press conference last spring when the Illinois legislature was contemplating such draconian cuts to childcare that Neighborhood House would have had to cut its child care program in half. Therefore the women who depended on childcare would no longer be able to work and the downward cycle would begin. People on the edge in an unstable economy would be in jeopardy, and, by the way, Latino citizens shun public assistance programs unless they are truly desperate.
We turned to the blogs after the press conference—praise for the Governor? No. Calls for restoring funds for child care? No. Comments about the “illegals over at Humboldt Park”? Yes. Insults about the employed woman with six children who would lose her job, with vulgar comments that perhaps she should curb her childbearing? Yes.
The fear of the “other” as exemplified in the Bush programs to focus on exclusion, deportation, and punishment with no ameliorating process leading to citizenship or apparent recognition of the contribution the Latino population makes to our society and our economy—and to votes—is a human phenomenon and has been with the world since The Flood. But our present society seems to be moving in two directions at once—toward greater suspicion and exclusion of the “other”—blacks, Hispanics, gays, Muslims—and at the same time, in some quarters at least, greater acceptance of those same groups. When my conservative native state of Iowa legalizes gay marriage, you have to say that a long road has been traveled.
Perhaps the most serious threat to the social fabric of our time is the polarization of our America, with its unacceptable gulf between the rich and the poor and between the educated and the uneducated. The gap is fueled by a media with a no-holds barred “Gotcha” approach, with the result that a gullible poorly-educated public believes our President is a non-American Muslim and that there is no such thing as evolution.
How do we—individually and as PCG—persuade a fractured society that only where “Mercy, Love and Pity dwell There God is dwelling too?”