Please Don’t Ruin America

I am psychologically exhausted from the position I stand in. I have close and deep connections to Americans on both edges of the political spectrum in our country. As with any spectrum, it’s likely that most people are near the middle. I know plenty of those, but because of my roots in extremely conservative Christianity, my college years spent at an institution that is part of a far-left Christian denomination, and my professional sphere of the arts, I’ve got mostly extremes in my personal collection of people I know and hear and love. And y’all are wearing me out.

What I want to say to all of you (and my mom) is that none of you are as evil as the other side has decided you are. So, whether you read National Review or The New Yorker, please breathe. And please make a friend on the opposite end of the spectrum–and I don’t mean someone just down the line from you; I mean someone you think is politically (maybe also theologically) INSANE. And please read Brené Brown’s 2017 book “Braving the Wilderness.” In fact, please read it with your insane friend and please talk to each other. Please talk knowing that you will passionately and permanently disagree but knowing that we are all seeking basic human flourishing.

Basic human flourishing is something we can seek together if we can be respectful. However, what I’m hearing (and I’ve heard it since eating childhood lunches with Rush Limbaugh on the boom box) is degrading, disrespectful, and frankly absurd. If you live exclusively in one niche, you might not realize that all the vitriol your tribe uses to refer to “the others” is the same vitriol they’re using to describe you. So it’s clear you have at least that in common.

I do not think the Republicans want to ruin America. I do not think the Democrats want to ruin America. Furthermore, I do not think the Republicans are capable of ruining America, and I do not think the Democrats can pull it off either. I do think that a polarized concept of each other and a willingness to engage in ridicule absolutely can ruin a whole lot more than America.

I’ll be in my hammock with my reading list. It would probably horrify you if you saw what it includes.

On Kim Davis, Bullying, and the Impossibility of World Peace

I have a few things to say about Kim Davis. I know everyone does, so forgive me, but these have been burning like fire shut up in my bones, to quote the songwriter.

On Sunday I stood in church and we sang about peace. “Hope dawns in a weary world when we begin to see all people’s dignity.” It’s a nice enough song – a little on the cheeseball side – but the celebration feels premature. This week it grated on my ears and stuck in my throat.

As Christians we are all about premature celebration, coming to The Table every Sunday to engage in a feast that hasn’t happened yet. “Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!” It’s true that all the world will, in wonder, whisper ‘Shalom,” as the song concludes with promise. But this particular prematurity doesn’t feel like hope and faith. It just makes me angry.

See, Kim Davis is not unworthy of the dignity and shalom we are singing about. It’s easy for that stream of the church that comes down on the side of the gay rights movement (seeing it framed as the same sort of humanitarian question as racial equality) to start waving victory flags; this summer the gay rights movement had a big win: according to a handful of people who are allowed to judge, these relationships deserve marriage licenses just as much as the next guy (and girl).

My problem is this: The work of the gay rights movement is not done with the SCOTUS ruling. That’s not the way our country works. We have somewhere along the way lost as a people an awareness of our own governmental process. The courts (that means both SCOTUS and Kim Davis) exist to uphold the law. They don’t make the law. That’s the job of the legislature. There was a reason this system was put in place at the inception of our country.

It was to handle the problem of bullying. The law transcends the wishes and opinions of individual people, and in its transcendence it protects the magistrates (we call them judges and county clerks) from having to be the meanies. Their job is just to do as they’re told by the law. And until the actual law has gay marriage on the books, Kim Davis is not failing in her duties by refusing those marriage licenses, and consequently no one can fault her.

Unfortunately this summer we are a little blinded by our celebration of SCOTUS, thinking that now finally there is law on this issue. My message to the gay rights community is this: Your work is not done. If you want to be able to insist that Kim Davis issues you a marriage license, it’s time to lobby your actual lawmakers.

Until then, Kim Davis has a right to her grey area as a member of the judicial branch of our government, and however rude and obnoxious and generally backwards you find her behavior, you have to acknowledge that she is within her rights as a citizen of this free country.

But there’s a bigger issue. Kim Davis has been thrown in jail for her religious convictions. She’s being seen as a bully, a member of the government gone rogue. She’s an embarrassment. But the problem is, in our collective embarrassment and disgust we have turned the tables and become the bullies. If we really can’t allow her to gum up our progress, due process would look like impeachment, and perhaps administrative leave in the meantime. She is an elected official, after all. No one has any business throwing this magistrate (not to mention citizen) in jail over something that we profess to value as a country (see Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner): bravery. She is bravely standing for what she believes and I don’t care how backwards and rude you think that is: you are just as backwards and rude if your solution is to jail her and scorn her.

It’s hard for me to say that. I grew up squarely planted in the religious conservative right. As a child I didn’t really think you could be a Christian and not be socially, politically, and morally conservative all the way across the board. When I discovered a bigger world out there (you’ll find this filed under “all people’s dignity”) I was angry at the monochromatic lie I’d found my identity in. It’s hard for me to stand in solidarity with Kim Davis, because I know the warts inside the conservative, fundamentalist church and I hate them because, while not technically a fundamentalist myself, I rubbed shoulders with this sector of the Church plenty. I identified with their long hair and long skirts and long lists of siblings. I identified enough, actually, to have a really hard time calling them “the Church” now because I find their moralisms routinely distract me, them, and (worst) the watching world from the glorious gospel of Jesus. I just can’t deal with it. It makes me crazy. As a loud-mouthed conservative Christian, I find Kim Davis embarrassing and I want her to go away. I don’t want the world to think this is what the Church looks like.

But this is my confession: that I am embarrassed by her. In my best moments I am not proud of that. If you corner me I will admit that, according to my system of thought and theology, she and I stand together at the foot of the cross of Christ, which makes her my sister. Sisters don’t bully each other or stand by and let someone else bully.

On Sunday as I groaned through our reflections on Shalom I recognized my own sin in being so quick to judge this annoying sister instead of looking for the good in her. Upon looking, I see it: a clear awareness of what her position as part of our judicial branch requires and does not require of her, a jealousy to protect that system of liberty-under-the-law, an integrity that lives what she believes, and, most of all, true bravery: a willingness to put herself in the public eye where she will have to bear all of its scoffing and ridicule and angry, bullying attempts at hiding her like she’s that embarrassing relative we can’t not invite to the party.

I’m going to acknowledge that she is braver than I. In my very writing here I have made that obvious: Go ahead and try to infer from what I’ve said what I think on the underlying issues about the legitimacy and goodness of gay marriage. I’ve very intentionally not planted my flag, and I suppose in reading this your conjecture will leave you horrified that I’m not like you and comforted that I am.

See, the anguish for me, and the reason bravery feels hard (too hard, to my shame) is that “my people” are not to be found in the middle of this question, if a middle exists. My people are the ones running out this summer for their hard won marriage licenses and my people are the Kim Davises. Somehow that’s the world I live in, and it is exhausting. So go ahead and think I’m on your side. I’m not even sure I know and I’m not even sure that matters.

What I do know is that Shalom is 100% elusive, and I hope there is a large sector of the liberal church that can stop waving their festive branches over the triumph of the SCOTUS ruling long enough to recognize that there is shame here this summer. Shame, yes. Shalom, no. When jailing a woman over her views because they don’t line up with ours and those of SCOTUS is our solution and maybe even our delight, we do not get to claim Shalom.

Perhaps my view from this place–where my communities feel like a frantic pendulum-swing between Kim Davis and the people she won’t marry–is a sane view. And what I’m here to report from what I can see is that Shalom is coming, but definitely not on our watch. There is no way for peace to exist before Christ comes to “judge the living and the dead” and in so doing ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. By this I mean to say that we will not, can not, ultimately, be the ones to usher this kingdom in, even though we try to live in a way that actively anticipates it. (I only wish I knew what that looked like.)

We keep sharing the peace of Christ amongst each other, but sometimes all we can see of that peace is its absence and impossibility, because as long as we have two sides seeking it, we will have two incompatible concepts of it, and Kim Davis will still be sitting in jail being the scapegoat. If she doesn’t get to be a participant in the peace, we are doing something wrong.

So Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

Football in Babylon

It’s homecoming in this college town. The air is crisp, to put it politely, and the leaves are already near their peak. At 1:15 I was whizzing down the highway with my sunroof open and Switchfoot singing loud about living in Babylon. Looking for a home where I belong and all that good stuff.

I passed the stadium where the homecoming football game was in full swing. I’ve always noticed how palatial, commanding, inspiring its architecture is as it comes into view when you first drive into town. Today it struck me how much like a temple it looked, maybe because of the endless sprawl of the worshipers’ parked cars. Everyone gathering as if for a festival.

I’m not the only one to whine out an analogy between football and religion, but what captured my imagination today was more positive than that complaint. I thought of all the delight, perhaps even joy, certainly fun, collected inside those towering walls and I saw its tokens on smiling faces walking the sidewalks. Then began my fantasy of that stadium a true temple and all those celebrators there for true temple business. This vista is the closest we come these days to seeing what a temple festival would’ve looked like in the days of King Solomon or even Josiah or Nehemiah.

For now it’s 21st-century America and I am only driving past a football game, but I am allowed to imagine those swarms of people busy with the happiest business of all, and what I know and what my children will know with me is that it’s more than mere imagination, it’s hope for a certain future.

Until I die I’ll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong