“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5
In politics and religion, I’ve always felt very torn in my allegiances. I love and hate my home state of Alabama, which is mostly conservative and sometimes quite progressive. Weird and traditional. Kind and cruel. Ruled by God and the devil.
I left Alabama, but I love going home. The people there are friendlier, funnier, more eccentric, and more open than the people near DC, where I live now. Here, people are mostly busy shuffling facts, climbing ladders, and trying to sound incisive.
And yet. You’ll find more overt racists in Alabama (and the Deep South in general). You’ll find more people who are scared of new ideas and new people, who want to return to some mythical past everyone was happy with a clearly-defined hierarchical social order. Back then, they say, God was in His heaven. Wealthy, worthy (white) men led the state and country. Husbands ruled their households. Tragically, many people who champion the old ways truly believe they’re doing God’s work.
When liberal progressives browbeat conservative evangelicals and call them stupid, conservative Southerners just dig in their heels. They think they’re like the horses in this Mary Karr poem, “Who The Meek Are Not.” More often, they’re like the serfs. Middle-class and lower-class Southerners work hard carrying water for conservative politicians—men with money and influence who pretend to be populists. The poor get nothing but lip service for their labor. They “make the wheat fall in waves / they don’t get to eat.”
Things are changing, though. They will change. And to say the least, conservative Alabamians don’t have to give up their faith to kill their cruel sides. They can open their Bibles and consider what it means to be meek.
Over the years, my religious beliefs and my politics have changed. I’m not a conservative evangelical anymore. I’ve seen the closed-mindedness of the Deep South hurt others with overt racism and poor access to social services, and I know it’s hurt me with sexism and regressive attitudes towards mental health care. Yet whatever questions I’ve had about life and God and eternity, Christ’s basic teachings are incredibly clear. He taught that the work of life is to love. He taught that what we do for the poor, we do for God. He taught that the meek (not the rich, not the popular, and not the good ladder-climbers) are incredibly powerful. They will own this earth.
This message has been bought and sold so many times, it’s hard to hear. It’s muffled by pop songs and politicians’ speeches. Sometimes the call to live with love seems preachy and cliché. To make matters worse, some liberal progressives pretend to be caring and kind, and then they call people names, live in mansions, and pretend to be Mother Theresa. How can you win people over to a life of love by mocking them and lording over them?
Similarly, many middle-class and lower-class liberal progressives are also serfs. They carry the message for rich liberal politicians and celebrities, and they get nothing in return. While the rich and powerful get glory, the rest are left behind, “bent in burlap sacks,” forgotten and unimportant in the continued hierarchy.
As Karr’s poem encourages us—let us not be serfs who serve the rich. That’s not the meekness we need to inherit the earth (or America). I don’t blame you if you don’t believe in the Great White Man in the Sky. I personally do believe in a conscious deity, and in the deity of Christ. But even if you don’t, you probably do believe in love.
Like the great, muscular, and meek stallion in Karr’s poem, ordinary people are powerful. We carry the wisdom of generations. Without the ease of vast wealth, we have learned to overcome tragedy through personal courage. We are rippling with strength that the rich and famous lack. I hate to see us waste that strength. I hate to see Alabamians (and anyone else) squander their spirit in the service of leaders who don’t care about them. Only when we surrender our strength to the service of love can we be led to green pastures and still waters. Surrendering to the greedy and power-hungry leads us only to strife and want.
As long as we wish to conquer others, to live in a world where we are served by serfs, we become serfs. We acknowledge the hierarchy by attempting to be at the top, and then we devote our lives to maintaining it. As Christ said, no one can serve two masters. You can’t serve love and hegemony.
How can we pave the way for a better America, a united nation with policies and attitudes that serve the people? In one sense, the answer is very complicated. Choosing the best policies requires research, thought, and serious debate. Our guiding principles, on the other hand, can be quite simple.
We can stop seeking our own glory. We can stop the push to dominate others. We can learn to serve others and esteem those who serve. We can become meek and submit to the rule of love.