I’ve been pretty silent on this page in general lately, and especially silent about the state of the world we currently inhabit together.
There’s a reason for this.
My reaction to the current national, and international political landscape is one of tremendous grief. Heavy, thick, disorienting grief. According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. I spent less than 30 minutes mixed up in denial, and begin a kind of rapid cycling between bargaining and anger for many of the months between November and May.
Sometime towards the beginning of this summer, I found myself deep in the tepid waters of stage four: depression. And as it would turn out, one of my most pronounced depressive symptoms is lethargy, or inaction.
I see the globe heating up, the climate changing, and nearly all scientists on earth saying that parts of the planet will be uninhabitable within a century. Then I LOOK AT MY 2-YEAR OLD DAUGHTER, and my heart retreats in on itself.
I listen to interviews with the current President of the United States from the 90’s, and compare them to his interviews today, and too easily diagnose this man with the kind of dementia that co-occurs with paranoid features. Then I look upon the US Congress and see all these smart, capable men and women doing nothing to defend us from the mental illness that’s taken over the oval office, and my heart retreats in on itself.
Each morning, I wake up and learn about new human rights violations exercised or embraced by this administration, and openly applauded by the white nationalist machine that put this political dynasty together, and my heart retreats in on itself.
A Muslim ban.
A Transgender ban.
A NAACP warning that people of color should avoid traveling to Missouri (I can see Missouri from my house).
A Voter Suppression task force packaged as a Voter Fraud commission.
An onslaught of video footage of police brutality towards our black brothers and sisters, and a President who urges the police to be more violent.
A congress that simultaneously calls the current healthcare system broken while actively working to undermine it, so that they can keep calling it broken.
A media machine on cable news that is designed to prey on peoples’ fears, an activate the limbic system in their brains, so that they become addicted to the adrenal responses they feel while watching this hate-fueled, dishonest, toxic bile.
A daily report of deportations of non-criminal, tax paying immigrants.
A deadly KKK and Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA.
And my heart retreats in on itself.
For personal reasons, the sharpest pangs of grief occur for me whenever I look at the role the cultural church is playing in all of this abuse.
I know people – seemingly good people – who celebrated the rise of this white supremacist venom and vengeance, and simultaneously claimed Christ as the center of their lives. They made sure to explain to me that they were not racist themselves, and that they simply believed in the Pro-Life position Mr. Trump had adopted, and desired a conservative Supreme Court Justice at any cost.
To be clear, if the cost falls heavily on your brown and black brothers and sisters, you are participating in racism.
I also know of many leaders and icons of cultural Christianity, who put the full weight of their public pulpit behind their personal endorsements of a candidate who never tried to hide his contempt for non-white America. They, too, claimed this Pro-Life ethic as their policy priority.
Well, let me remind us all about the way this administration has exercised their Pro-Life position:
A Muslim ban.
A rejection of refuges.
A pledge to resume the Dakota Access Pipeline underneath the sacred native American reservation of Standing Rock.
A healthcare bill that would have rendered more than 20 million Americans without health insurance by 2020.
A Secretary of Education that would redraw districts to disadvantage non-white American children.
A deportation task force busy tearing families apart from one another.
A withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.
A renewed “war on drugs”, which is code for reestablishing a school-to-prison pipeline in predominantly black and brown communities.
A promise to defund Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that it receives no federal funding for abortion services, and that abortion services make up less than 3% of their medical procedures annually. The other 97%? Cancer screenings, pap smears, STD testing and treatment, birth control prescriptions, HPV vaccines.
I search, and I search, and I search for evidence that any of these policies suggest a reverence for human life, and each time I come up empty-handed.
And, my heart retreats in on itself.
In many of our American cities and towns, the church is no longer a place of spiritual ritual, and community service, but a place for tribal complaints and opportunistic legalism. i.e. “I’m not gay, so let’s make homosexuality the big thing we shouldn’t do, while every sin we are guilty of – like greed and gluttony – will become perfectly acceptable aspects of enjoying the American Dream”.
This crisis of conscience in the American Church is one of our biggest sociological problems precisely because cultural Christianity is still one of the largest tribal identities in the United States. When it comes to tribalism, people are hard wired – on a neurological level – to link their personal survival with a sense of their tribe’s safety. If we feel that our tribe is being threatened in some way, we will abandon reason, logic, and human empathy to protect it.
Ideas about ‘tribe’ are flexible psychological constructs, however, and it’s important to understand how our social environments are often heavily responsible for teaching us about who belongs to our tribe.
It grieves me, consequently, to watch public figures of faith define their tribal affiliations so narrowly, precisely because this stands in direct opposition to what Jesus preached, as he insisted that every single person on earth belonged to God’s tribe. Anyone who claims to be a Christian proclaims to be a follower of Christ, and Christ taught us to love one another, as we would love ourselves – i.e. as if every human being is an intimate member of your personal tribe – without exception.
It was a powerful, subversive message in a time characterized by narrowly defined tribalism. The world during Jesus’s time was sharply divided along lines of race, religion, gender, wealth, health, vocation, sexuality, and family name in much the same way that it’s divided today. This kind of tribal divisiveness protected the privileged persons, and enslaved and abused non-privileged persons.
Jesus’s message and his methods for challenging the inequitable power systems of his time were so effective and compelling that the people benefiting from this power structure decided to silence him by murdering him.
And this is the man whom today’s Christians claim they are still following.
When I read the following tweet yesterday, the word ‘burden’ leapt into my recently retreating heart, and reminded me of something I had nearly forgotten.
Jesus talks about burdens. He says his is light. (Matthew 11:30).
When I think about the weight of what Jesus carried in his lifetime, it seems clear to me he held the burden of an abiding, enduring, lasting, persisting, continuing, remaining, surviving, standing, durable, perpetual, eternal, unending, constant, permanent, unchanging, steadfast, immutable love for every single member of God’s tribe.
He didn’t accept the prejudices perpetuated within his own tribe, nor the abuses his society leveled on it’s marginalized members because these people belonged to him. And when someone belongs to you, you stand up for them.
No matter the cost.
So, I ask my Christian friends today, who exactly are we following?
The Jesus of the Bible? The guy putting his life on the line (literally) to defend the defenseless?
Or some tribal god we’ve created in our own image?
It’s a hard question.
Jesus’s burden might be light, but his questions were always the hardest.