There are two good men in recent news who are warning us against our complacence: Pope Francis and Barack Obama. They have both made enemies by speaking the truth.
Pope Francis has confronted naysayers head-on and issued an encyclical that underlines the connection between human behavior and the dangers of global warming. According to the pope, mankind has forgotten its connection to the Earth and is consumed by greed, obsession with technology, and the need for instant gratification. (Well, that’s to say those people in control are obsessed—those who have some measure of wealth and political power. Everyone else is just obsessed with trying to stay alive.)
To quote the Pope: “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes.” He is telling us this is no longer a point for debate. This is a reality we must confront. In other words, do something.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has been speaking out about two long-time American problems: racism and gun control. To the naysayers who say racism is a thing of the past, Obama says, not so fast. Racism still exists. Perhaps it has mutated into a form that is not so in-your-face as it used to be, but it nevertheless exists. The news reports the killings of blacks stopped for traffic violations, or for holding a toy gun, or walking home carrying a bag of Skittles. If you’re black, you’re suspect.
Last week there was the news of the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. Although this was a racist act, it is also an issue of gun control. How many of these massacres have we been through in recent years? Too many to keep them all straight. Every time there is a call for gun control and then the gun control lobby revs up its engines and goes to work to defeat any effort to come up with a reasonable solution to prevent these kind of atrocities. Americans love their guns and their constitutional right to bear arms. Fine. But no one needs to be armed with weapons of mass destruction and there ought to be tighter controls to prevent weapons from being issued to the criminally insane. Congress is impotent before the powerful gun lobby. (Selling guns is a big business. America be damned.) We as a people are incapable of reconciling gun rights with the safety of citizens and the need to adequately care for the mentally ill. Obama is saying expressing your grief for all this death is not enough. It rings hollow. Americans must stand up and do something.
What do you think about what these two leaders have to say to the world and you and me? Can we find a way to set aside greed and ignorance and dedicate ourselves to preserving this planet for future generations? Can we set aside guns and fear and choose a path forward based on love and equality?
Of course, saving the world is a BIG endeavor. It begins, I think, with baby steps in your everyday life. If you live in a drought area like I do, you think of ways to conserve water. You recycle. You choose not to pollute the environment with pesticides, etc. You respect the earth. If you don’t vote, educate yourself and show up at the polls. Take care of the weak and vulnerable in your own family. Give others a helping hand. Shun the ugly speech of hatred and try to set an example of love and understanding. Don’t force your beliefs on others. Share. Care. Tell the truth.
Perhaps everything boils down to that old struggle between good and evil in our daily lives and in the world as a whole. In the past, civilizations that failed to reform themselves ended in self-destruction but the world continued on. The world has now come to a point of reckoning. Our capacity for destruction is technologically more sophisticated. Look around you and know that the world cannot sustain itself if it continues on its reckless path. Our planet is being damaged. We have had two devastating world wars from which the world eventually recovered, but the next war that looms on the horizon could be the one that ends it all. We must each pause and rethink how we all got to this place and how we can fix it today and tomorrow.