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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

November 18, 2023: A bug on a branch swept away down the river still singing her song

Saturday, November 18, 2023


A bug on a branch

swept away down the river

still singing her song.


A reflection by Brother Toby (excerpted)


In his famous haiku, Issa (1763-1823) wrote,


A bug on a branch

swept away down the river

still singing her song.


The poet was describing our journey in life. Today we would have to write that we are tossed around in the rapids and screaming as we are pushed into a tidal wave!


We have been in those rushing rapids of change before. Once was at the very beginning of our nation. Let us look back to James Madison (1751-1836). He was a reserved fellow who was just over 5 feet tall and weighed around 100 pounds. Madison went on to become the 4th president of the United States, but before that, he was an ardent Virginia farmer. He was also the person who cut through all the self-serving arguments of the colonial delegates and provided the framework for the Constitution of the United States.


When Madison took pen to parchment and began that work, he wrote what I have come to believe is the most important word in the Constitution: WE. You know how it goes:


The Preamble: “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice and insure domestic tranquility do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."


And ever since that moment, the citizens of this nation have been arguing about who was included in that sacred WE. I am sure anyone reading these words today is well aware of the struggles that have gone on in this country, many of them about who is embraced by that WE. Does it include women, or people of color or all cultures, or folks walking on multiple spiritual paths, or indigenous people, or LGBTQ+ persons, or the Disabled, and so on?



There are still people today who are essentially saying, “The WE only means people like ME.” For them, “we” certainly does not include those 2 million kids now living without insurance simply because they were born into low-income families who cannot afford to provide the cost of medical care for their children! Did you notice that Democracy, that wonderful eagle, just flew out the window?



We must value our diversity if we are to continue down the rocky road of democracy. It is important for us to listen to each other. And, if we are lucky, to find the common ground between us all.


In the polarization now present in our country, we are often approaching our relations with each other like fans of different sports teams. We believe our team can do no wrong and the other team can do nothing right. That's an appropriate perspective for football or baseball, but it doesn't work in politics or in crafting a humane existence for our fellow citizens. Our moral and spiritual lives are also deeply tarnished by such an attitude when we apply them to everyone who has a different way of experiencing life in this country and on this planet than we experience it. And every once in a while, we even learn something from people with different experiences and attitudes.


A few years ago, when Anne Applebaum (1964- ) wrote her helpful and frightening book, TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY, she subtitled it “The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.” Near the end of her book she writes, Because all authoritarianisms divide, polarize, and separate people into warring camps, the fight against them requires new coalitions.”



I hope we are moving toward making new coalitions that bring about a new approach to our moral history and the political necessities of our day. It may start with something as simple as the chat-bench we put out on Annapolis Road or by listening to someone who shares different outlooks than ourselves in any other informal non-threatening situation. But if you have all the concern and the energy of the young people who have graced our life here at Starcross in the past few months, you can accomplish this in other creative and active ways.


QUO VADIS? Where are we going? Who knows, but it would please me greatly to think that what each of us does in the days ahead — be it a few moments with a stranger or changing some law in our country or whatever comes our way — will contribute significantly to the world we leave for future generations. As my young colleague Mia Martins puts it, “A world where people live in peace and harmony, honoring each other's differences.” Can we do that? Yes, we can!



May it be so.

Brother Toby



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