Mourning in America

When Ronald Reagan first ran for president, his ads proudly proclaimed it's "morning in America." But 30-second spots and pep rallies won't address our current economic ills. For there is "mourning in America" this time, and if we wish to move forward, we must first understand and engage our sorrow head-on. Just yesterday California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger began the process to lay-off 20,000 state workers. Every day the economic bad news piles up with seemingly no end in sight. Perhaps the end is just around the corner. I know I keep hoping for us to finally bottom out, and then start the process of recovery.

But in our eagerness for a quick fix, we may miss a key point.

We are experiencing fundamental changes to our economy, and our society, too. Take, for instance, America's auto companies. Their restructuring plans are due out today, and even if they re-emerge as healthy companies, they will have laid-off tens of thousands of American workers and shuttered scores of factories. The economic distress felt in communities large and small will last for many years to come. One need only look to communities like Flint to witness the long-term devastation and challenges in bringing about renewal.

But this time fundamental change is coming to every part of our economy and every region. From Bank of America and Citicorp, to Starbucks and Circuit City, to local restaurants and corner stores, we are seeing major economic and social upheaval. White collar workers who once thought they were immune to these economic travails now face dire straits. Many non-profits, public broadcasters and others are cutting back too. The death-knell for the newspaper industry seems to draw closer by the day.

Before looking ahead too quickly, we must take stock of where we are. Our nation is hurting. Industries are imploding. Communities are in trouble. I don't write this to sow pessimism -- not everything is gloom --  but the situation is serious.

Some people are now saying that President Obama needs to talk more of "hope" again, to give people a sense of inspiration. They say that his Inauguration Speech was too serious, too stern, too based in reality. Like a local chamber of commerce, they want him to convince people that their community is the best place on earth, immune from bad news.

But there are real losses in America. There are fundamental changes happening to various industries, communities, and in individual families. Ultimately, we will succeed in lifting ourselves up, and when we do our success will not come simply by putting all the pieces back together again in the same order and form. Humpty-Dumpty cannot be put back together again. Instead, we will create something new, which we have yet to fully imagine.

I have great confidence in our ability to tap our imagination and set out on a new path. But I also know that to engage our imagination in ways that matter, means that we must first understand where we are. We must be able to see with clarity the destruction and pain and dislocation occurring. And with such clarity we must make room to mourn: to see and grasp the losses involved, and to grieve.

I'm always reminded of the prophetic tradition which is often equated with calling people to imagine something different -- to look to the future. But in reading the prophets, I am more struck more by their call to see reality, to understand it, and to grasp its meaning. There is the need to know where you are in order to move forward.

To read more about how to both see reality and move forward download Make Hope Real