For a few weeks now, this phrase has been like a non-musical brain worm, stuck in the part of me that wonders about the state of the world, and my place in it. You know the legend—Nero playing music while the city burned around him, and later blaming Christians for the fire.
Obviously, Nero could be analogous to any fatally flawed leader. That would be an easy bit of mental gymnastics, as in, “Our President is like Nero.” But that’s not where most of my thinking ends up. Instead, I find myself squarely in the middle of that analogy: How am I a fiddler in these times? That train of thought is a little more honest and a lot more difficult. Not easy to shake off.
Similar to Amos’ warning about being “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1) , Rome-fiddling names any of my behaviors that don’t take seriously the grave condition of my surroundings. Going about business as usual, as though the deterioration of the environment is not my problem or my responsibility. Feeling comfortable in my lifestyle, as though everyone can afford to live this way. Tut-tutting about the general lack of civility while not reframing my own discourse into positive and uplifting experiences for others. Fiddling…
Wallowing in guilt isn’t a helpful attitude or action in the face of societal upheaval, either. And so I choose to focus on possibilities.
I am drawn to the recent example of millions of children, teens and young adults who have taken to the streets—and elsewhere, I’m sure. They continue to protest the inaction of climate change fiddlers. The willingness of these young people to challenge all of society about an impending catastrophe is inspiring. Although they may lack economic or political power, they are rich in persuasive powers. Who can doubt their legitimate claim to a future that’s not draconian or desperate? They are gathering attention in high places and may become the irresistible force that overwhelms the inertia of political and economic leaders around the world.
Although I may be a fiddler in some ways, I think I can also claim a place alongside these young folks. I can understand their viewpoint—in my childhood and teenage years, we encountered the looming reality of nuclear war. Because I’m one who’s able to write well, I can double down on my handwritten messages to decision-makers—including politicians and business leaders—to take significant action on climate change. (My letters are personal, to-the-point and plain-spoken—readable and persuasive!)
My wife and I have also begun working to elect and re-elect legislators at various levels of government who will take on societal change as their vocation. As difficult as the process may be, laws and regulations need to be changed so that the environment does not tumble into irretrievable disaster. So that economic disparities are corrected. So that oligarchies do not determine the course of our nation. So that God’s justice comes to pass.
Because I’m an older fiddler—and non-fiddler—I think that my testimonies and urgings might have a special place in the rhetorical universe we inhabit. Every voice counts in this struggle. There’s power in that life-stance, and I will keep on using it for the good that God requires!
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