With neither George Bush nor Dick Cheney on the political landscape, both Republicans and Democrats in the presidential race are free to demand that we start over. Now more than ever, Americans feel we are at an ending and we need change by leaps and bounds.
This is where our religious experiences should be instructive, because starting over is fundamentally a spiritual invitation. At the deepest level, our longing for a restart points to our longing for beginning — not a slight turn, but a fresh start. It’s not incremental. When we’re ready to start over, we want to start over — cleansed, freed, opened. We want what we cannot give ourselves: We want faith.
At a spiritual level, we know that we can’t start over on our own. Mistakes, losses, failures, missed opportunities — they’re all inescapable parts of life. Sure, we can try to forget them: We can change jobs, move apartments, find new partners, open a new book. But on our own, the past lingers, the sour taste remains, the mistakes exact their emotional toll. We are trapped in finitude and unable to escape the deep flaws that accompany it. Failings — especially our own — are like acid: They eat away at us.
That’s where we are as a country: At a certain level, many of us feel that we’ve fallen short — we haven’t measured up for our children, our workers, our soldiers, for the tests of our times. We know we should’ve done better for them all. We should be a beacon of hope to the oppressed, a land of opportunity for our children, a bulwark of strength for those who seek freedom, a leader for those who believe in the beauty of the earth and the hopes of the vulnerable. Instead, we just haven’t gotten it done.
Now, we want another chance, and we need more than new plans; we need faith.
American politics, like American faith, has always offered that chance: renewal, hope, starting over, profound and not incremental change. Europeans came to this country hoping to start over and prefaced many of the names of the towns they founded with the word “new.” Africans came as slaves to the distorted demands of greed and inhumanity, but even within that experience, they wrote and sang and longed of the coming of change. Frontiersmen and women created an identity steeped in starting over. The history of new deals and new frontiers and new freedoms all stir a deep wellspring of faith: perhaps it is possible. Perhaps we can start anew. Perhaps we can become what we dreamt we could be.
That’s why we need faith right now — faith in our leaders, faith in our country, faith in ourselves. Starting over is an act of sacred trust, an act that eschews the cynicism brought on by past failures and invites atonement, renewal, grace. We need not just energy but also forgiveness; not just plans but belief; not just an agenda but a vision. We’re looking for something to believe in, not something to agree to. Alone, we can’t wipe the slate clean but with faith, all things are possible.
Such a leap will be anything but a dreamer’s fancy; instead, it will be the combination of daring policy and sacred purpose. It will include bold new proposals that call us together to pursue that which is elusive but attainable-something we can achieve only by calling forth the absolute best in ourselves in pursuit of a transcendent purpose.
The options are plentiful: atone for our disastrous environmental policy of recent years and join a global campaign for a clean future; renew our commitment to peace and inaugurate a multi-decade campaign to eradicate nuclear weapons; work tirelessly and realistically for the grace necessary to bring peace to the Middle East; transform the healthcare debacle; unite our country in pursuit of schools that care; end the tyranny of preventable disease; promote economic growth for those hungering for a chance.
The nation is facing a moment of decision. As we seek the possible, the hunger for a new generation of moon shots abounds. Sacred hope, patriotic purpose, faithful action — these are the combinations that our time requires. To have faith in ourselves again — what a joy!