I learned a new word recently: Koyaanisqatsi. It’s pronounced coy-e-on-e-skat-see and it’s a Hopi word that means out of balance.
When you really boil it down the word Hopi stands for peace, and the Hopi are known as the peaceful people. Long before the first Europeans landed on our shores and became Americans, and long before the first group of men and women charged across a mostly untouched land to establish homesteads or search for gold, the Hopi lived in America.
I love and appreciate this country and I love the people in it. I love and appreciate and am thankful for the men and women who have fought in various wars and conflicts over hundreds of years to ensure that my daughters and I can live and worship freely here today. But when I think about the founding of our nation by people committed to a better way of life versus the people of today, I think we have become a people and a nation out of balance.
What was once a nation that welcomed newcomers seeking safety or opportunity or more freedom is now a nation arguing about walls to keep people out. Koyaanisqatsi.
What was once a nation of communities that stuck together and made sure all of its families were fed and clothed and tended when sick is now largely a nation of individual people who keep to themselves. A nation arguing over what requirements need to be met for a person to deserve food or shelter or medicine. Koyaanisqatsi.
As much as we get mad about and write books about millennials and their focus on self, it feels to me like we have become a nation of individuals who are way too entitled. We wax poetic about how little we had when we were young, maybe how our great-grandparents or our parents had to struggle for food or things or college or work, but now it seems no amount of struggle in another is enough to warrant help for that person. I guess we feel we have somehow done something to deserve the good life we have but that others haven’t done enough or aren’t lucky enough. Instead of helping others, which was the necessary way of life when this country was founded, we say we feel sorry for people and we hold out hope for them and we’ll pray for them. And while praying is the absolute right thing for us to do, we must do much, much more.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ~ James 2: 14-17.
I am a Christian, and I am so seriously completely one hundred percent over my people saying we’re praying about something while doing nothing. Those are not the instructions of the God we follow. And not only are we skipping the step of action to help people, in many cases we are complicit in the creation of the situations of people who need help.
We don’t want all people to have access to the same health care, but we pray for people who are sick. We don’t want to regulate the right to bear arms, but we pray for the victims in mass shootings. We shame women for even considering abortion and then we shame women for needing help once their babies are born.
Koyaanisqatsi. Koyaanisqatsi. Koyaanisqatsi.
Our life in America – and there are dozens of kinds of American life depending on your age, race, gender, and access to money – is certainly a good one in comparison to many other countries. We are “better than” in a number of categories when stacked against our peers, but is being good in comparison enough? It’s a question for our country and it’s a question for each one of us as individuals. Just because I haven’t murdered anybody doesn’t make me a good human – it simply, maybe, makes me “better than” someone who has taken the life of another. Just because America provides more freedom than North Korea doesn’t make us a great nation – it simply makes us “better than” a dictatorship.
I think we are called to be and do much more. That our privilege comes with more hard work and responsibility, not more entitlement. It’s our job to show others what we can do, not look the other way. It’s our job to help all the people we can, not just all the people who can do something for us in return.
If we expect to continue to live in privilege, we need to live up to the great responsibility given us. We can’t expect to reap a prosperous life or nation when the seeds we are sowing are in things like adding to the debt of our young people, allowing medical bills to force families to declare bankruptcy, treating physical wounds but not wounds of the psyche, or in treating suburban house pets better than children. I don’t think we can expect to continue to live in privilege if we encourage fear of or hatred of people who don’t look like us. I don’t think we can expect to live in privilege if we continue to live out of balance. I don’t think we can expect to live in peace if we continue to live out of balance – each in our homes or in our nation.
Eagles are an important symbol in both American and Hopi culture. They are symbols of strength and courage and connection and vision. They are not passive creatures; they are creatures that do. That soar. And they are creatures of balance. The bald eagle uses their feathers to balance. As part of their growth process, if an eagle loses a feather on one wing, they will lose a matching feather on the other wing. It’s only when an eagle’s wing is injured, when their wings are out of balance, that they cannot fly.