The Piping for the Flocks — poem by Laura Schmidt
Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds,
to hear the piping for the flocks?
Why did you wait upon your triremes,
to watch the waves creep up the docks?
And when you built your fortress,
did you think about the cost?
And did you ever wonder,
or did you wait to watch,
when our heart burst asunder,
when everything was lost?
A reminder to stay present
These days, it’s all too easy to mentally and emotionally “check out” of what’s going on around us. We may tell ourselves that what’s going on in the world has little to do with us or that we ourselves have no bearing on the broader events around us. But while these may seem true, they’re not.
A democratic society functions only when its citizens are checked in. Only when they take the time to inform themselves and to choose their views. Only when they refuse to be bamboozled or battened down by the forces that be.
I wouldn’t call myself a devout Christian. But I have read the Bible on numerous occasions, and there is wisdom in that big book. In this passage from the Book of Judges, the tribe of Reuben, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, has “remained in the sheepfolds” while Israel is under attack. The tribe of Dan has remained on its ships, and the tribe of Asher has remained by the seashore. As a result, Israel has been plundered.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This time, Americans are taking to the sheepfolds and the ships and the seashore. All across our nation, people give up and resign themselves and begin to build fortresses of glass upon sand. I say fortresses of glass upon sand because, when the flood comes, the foundations will be washed away and the glass will shatter and these people will realize, then, that the only way we could have saved ourselves is by remaining together.
The next 50 years
We are at a turning point in history. A point at which the future could look very different depending on which direction we go. If we continue on our present course, I’m afraid that our society as we know it won’t exist in fifty years.
It’s very tempting to give up. It’s tempting to take a hard look at the climate crisis and the race crisis and the pandemic crisis and say that disasters like these are insurmountable and that it’s about time we give up. But giving up, I believe, would also be giving into whatever future will come if we stay on our present course. And I don’t like the look of that future.
Great searchings of heart
It’s time to search our hearts for the future. What do we want our nation to look like, and what does it need to look like in order to grapple with the upcoming half-century of tumult? Because the next fifty years, no matter how you look at things, will be filled with upheaval. In some ways, we’re already past a point of no return. Seas will rise. Floodwaters will swell. Storms will worsen. Droughts will scorch the land. Refugees will, in all likelihood, flood our borders. Now it’s about equipping the kind of government we think will be able to deal with those disasters.
I’m politically moderate, and I have an innate distrust of institutions. I believe that where institutions are, corruption follows. Be this as it may, I understand that we’ve reached a point at which only a strong government that speaks with one voice will be able to make the necessary changes and steer us in the necessary directions. I don’t know yet who will spearhead that future government. But I hope, for our sake, that it will be strong and steady, and that when the time comes it will dismantle itself faster than corruption takes hold. Not likely, I know, for men aren’t angels.
Tear yourself away from the piping for the flocks
There’s a lot of noise these days from both ends of the political spectrum. In the White House, Donald Trump continues to alienate most everyone except his base of staunch supporters. Liberals like to downplay the size of this base, but it’s large in number. No doubt about that.
Meanwhile, on the other end, Bernie Sanders and other far-left liberals make promises they wouldn’t in a hundred years be able to keep. Free college for all? Sounds great, but where exactly are you getting the money from? Pulling it out of your ass?
And both parties continue to counter the other exactly. If Trump woke up and decided the Republicans were for Coke, the Democrats wouldn’t even be for Pepsi. They’d be for anti-Coke.
I don’t get political very often, but I have to say that the situation has become untenable. Nothing gets done. No one seems to be seeking reasonable solutions to the pressing problems this nation faces. Both parties, in their quest to outdo the other, leave important American groups by the wayside. The working and middle classes. Blacks and Asian-Americans. The Republicans and Democrats, by turns, make empty promises.
The situation is thus epitomized: Trump relies on the support of Midwestern farmers his policies have hurt. Biden relies on the support of Black voters who he assumes will vote for him because “If they vote for Trump, they’re not Black.”
If we’re to believe in the future, we need to believe that our political system isn’t broken beyond repair. We need to believe that reasonable people can survive and thrive in this country and pave our way into the future. We need to believe that rational argument and rational discussion still have a place in American political discourse. And we need to believe that there’s a way forward.
I call you to check in. Turn away from the piping for the flocks. Leave your boats. Pick up your feet and walk away from the shore, towards land, over dunes, through the tall reeds. Your country has never needed you more.
The inspiration behind The Piping for the Flocks
Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
To hear the piping for the flocks?
The divisions of Reuben have great searchings of heart.
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan,
And why did Dan remain on ships?
Asher continued at the seashore,
And stayed by his inlets.Judges 5:16-17
If you enjoyed this reflection…
Get more political.
Try these political and social justice-oriented articles.
- Pete Seeger, Labor Unions, and the Allure of American Socialism
- Q&A: What’s the deal with the Tom Cotton op-ed? And other questions
- Protests and Police Brutality
Stay in touch with the news and learn about different news media sources and their bias.
Consider the future via a media standpoint.
Read about what the movie Tomorrowland has to say about the climate crisis. Or check out a pandemic-themed post written before the current pandemic that ties together the movie 12 Monkeys and the book Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston.
Start a conversation in the comments.
What do you see as the way forward? What are your hopes for the next fifty years? Who or what do you think will lead us into the future? Does America have to change in order to grapple with the things that are coming?