mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF willing spirit & weak flesh

Stamina for Democracy

At moments I'm amazed when I think about what democracy is and am impressed by how well it took hold in our country and am sobered by the thought of how fragile it really is. In Iraq we've learned a lesson: dumping a dictator and holding elections doesn't create a democracy. Freedom — without a clue about what "citizenship" is — can lose its rosy glow fast.

Early today I heard a BBC explanation about the bloodless coup that just occurred in Thailand. Thailand is a long standing monarchy ("The King and I"). But the government had been unstable and coup-ridden for decades. With the Asian prosperity of the 1990s and the growth of a middle class, the King created a constitution and a parliament was elected. The Prime Minister was wildly popular — but also, it turns out, corrupt and inept. Lack of harmony. The military got impatient. The tanks rolled in and the constitution was torn up. The people cheered and draped garlands of flowers over the tanks. Unbelievable. Elections were only a few months away, yet a great mass of people lost their stomach for the hard work of democracy. So... nevermind.

Here's a Jesus quote I always go back to: "The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). A lot of folks think they want freedom, then run crying back to mom and dad when they find out what hard work it is. (Hmm... sounds like adolescence...)

It makes me think about our American ancestors. How did we get through the tough adolescence of democracy without begging England to take us back? Or without allowing American dictators to step in and rescue us from ourselves?

If I look back at the New Testament quote, I have to conclude that "the flesh" of our ancestors was not weak. They must have been totally energized by the New World. There are lots of factors, I'm sure. (Remember that Canada and Latin America had very different paths.) The constitution. The vision of the Founding Fathers. The refusal of Washington to don the trappings of monarchy. But then what?

Early immigrants to America had to be a tough bunch. Once you got here, there was no easy way back home. My own great-great grandparents survived the 1847 ocean voyage, the yellow fever in New Orleans, and the cholera and fires on the St. Louis riverfront. They still had energy enough to establish a farm in Catawissa, Missouri, and raise 7 children. They had to have tremendous physical stamina. Maybe enough left over to participate in local politics, to endure the tendency toward government corruption, and to know that the next election was always just around the corner.




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