19 December 2010


from Proverbs Twenty-Three
"When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider well him that is before thee; and put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite."

Mishley's concern here is with appetite, with power, with the insatiable desire for more and its blinding, perverting effects on the soul. 

Writ large, it speaks to a greater problem in our own nation, drunk with the need to satisfy immediate desires and the propensity to be anesthetized by our devolution into glowing screens, celebrity gossip, and "reality" television, all the while having our pockets picked.

We saw "The King's Speech" last night at the BAM and as the movie ended, the audience broke into applause.  Okay:  I'll admit I was the first to start clapping; but, as soon as I threw my mitts together, others immediately joined in and as I listened to the sound, I wondered what they were cheering for:  was it King George VI and his heroic triumph over abuse and personal pain?  Or was it that in his triumph he was able to unite Great Britain in its stand against the Nazis at one of the most critical moments of the twentieth century?  Personal strength and triumph dedicated to a greater cause--that was the reason for my applause and I felt a kind of responsibility, sitting in my local theater, to rally the crowd around this idea.  I wanted to stand up and pass out flyers for a demonstration, pat people on the back, check in on the soup carts outside doling out food to the hungry and jobless, visit the shelter where a small chorus was singing songs of holiday cheer to those seeking a roof and a warm bed, in from the cold.

Of course, the cold air that woke me from this reverie revealed a city at play, a beautiful picture of Brooklyn at its best--hip, young and vivacious.  Waiting for the train at the Atlantic Center, holiday shoppers crowded the platform with bags overflowing.  But looks can deceive.  One can't help but imagine that we are whistling in the dark, blindly making our way through a forest that has no real end in sight.  This is the illusion of the quick click, the shiny screen, swiping debit, paying on credit.

"Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth its color in the cup, when it glideth down smoothly; at the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like a basilisk.  Thine eyes shall behold strange things, and thy heart shall utter confused things."

Being reminded by Frank Rich this morning that Peter Orszag, President Obama's former budget director, has taken up with Citigroup, only proves the point.  One would have liked to have seen (far be it from us in this day and age to expect to see it) a former White House employee remain in public service rather than cash in on the experience of sitting and eating with the King. 

Jay-Z, Beyonce and Kim Kardashian sit pretty at the courtside of a Nets team that still stinks, overshadowing on the sports pages the last gasps of laudatory remembrances of Bob Feller's World War Two sacrifice.  Buried even further was Packers teammate Donald Driver's advice to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers' mandate that he not play in Sunday's game because of the continued after-shock of last week's concussion, arguing that his life was more important than the game.  Obviously--but not to everyone.

America has had a concussion for some time now.  And our appetite for personal gain continues to postpone our recovery.

Until we break its grip on our body politic, we will continue to slide into mediocrity. 

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