Help me, Jesus.
I’ve taken two months to write this post. I have started it many times. I’ve written two complete ones, neither of which I’ve posted. Why? There’s too much to say. I’ve felt hopeless, paralyzed, too angry, overwhelmed. No one is listening, people are mocking others’ pain, people don’t seem able to hear or see or register what is right in front of them.
A few days ago, 2.9 million people–2,900,000 people–marched in protest in the United States, with accompanying protests on literally every continent. If there are that many people upset, do we ask, “Why are so many people upset?” Or do we dismiss and criticize and ridicule?
I’m glad I waited this long–sorry if you’ve been waiting, too–because I didn’t have the words before. Now, I think I do.
In Part 1, I addressed people who might not understand why others are upset about Trump’s election. This is for those who are. If that’s not you, you’re welcome to read on, but I’d ask that you read to understand, not to criticize.
I’m hearing this call from both sides:
“We need to unite! Too much division! Now we must come together!”
But I don’t see uniting. Do you? I see anger and attacks and I read, over and over, name-calling and spite and scorn.
I know this: Jesus loved his enemies and spoke truth to power. Jesus threw the vendors out of the temple because they had disgraced it with their actions and, even more, he was protecting its true purpose.
Jesus didn’t look away when people were abusing others. He didn’t cough politely and encourage them to talk nicer. When the scribes and pharisees had taken over and were functioning as if they were holy men leading others to God while actually feeding their own egos and barring the way for others, Jesus got in their faces. He did. I can’t read what Jesus says in Matthew 23 with a soft, lilting voice. I preached this passage once and suggested that Jesus raised his voice. A man in the congregation got this pained look on his face, as if I had just offended him by speaking something vulgar and mad.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”
Maybe I’m wrong and Jesus whispered these words, but at any volume he tells the scribes and Pharisees, who believed themselves the most holy and righteous men of their time, that they are children of hell. They are children of hell who do even more harm to their followers than they do to themselves.
Jesus confronted hypocrites. He didn’t call them names behind their backs or tweet about them with scathing, dismissive insults. He told them directly that they were in trouble. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He gave them the list of what they were doing wrong. They were acting one way but doing something else entirely, acting like they were devout and praying but actually making a show of their devotion to get attention. They wanted applause. They wanted all to speak well of them. They wanted acclaim.
These strong, direct, blunt, confrontational words were love for the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus wasn’t taking them apart, throwing them under the bus for the amusement of his crowd. Jesus desperately wanted them to get it, to change. These men were in horrible trouble–assuming here that Jesus knew what he was talking about–and he was screaming, “STOP!”
What do we do now? We speak truth to power. We love. We show compassion to our enemies.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] If God’s Spirit is not leading our revolution, then it’s not our revolution. [/pullquote]
I read comments that a Trump supporter demands people show respect, the way they showed respect to Obama in 2008 and 2012. Then I saw a picture of Obama, hung and burned in effigy. Does anyone grasp the irony of hanging a black man in effigy in the United States? Of “symbolically” killing the then-President by the means that people killed slaves and blacks, outside of any legal or due process. A lynching.
“Okay, so respect at that level?” is the retort.
People have called ex-President Obama and Michelle Obama and their children the vilest, most racist and defiling names they could conjure up, for nine years (they didn’t wait until after the election). If you think that isn’t true, I’m telling you now you’re in denial. I’ve read it, over and over.
I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I think that behavior was sickening, atrocious, shameful. I think conservatives and other Obama opponents should have rushed in and objected. I hope some did.
So today, when I see that people are now mocking Trump’s son, Barron, I must say “That is wrong. Stop!” I don’t imagine I’m being particularly impressive or heroic. That’s minimum expectation stuff. Jesus said don’t be hypocrites and love our enemies.
If we believe that the battle we’re seeing is a reflection of what is happening spiritually, if we believe that the end does not justify the means, if we believe, with MLK, that “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” then our call is not to do back what we’ve seen done. Our call is never, “They did it first!”
How do we speak truth to power while living the truth of the Gospel, that love is the strongest redemptive force in the universe? Again, Jesus loved by using very strong words, and not by making them more palatable. I’m proposing that we both speak out, challenging the lies and the misinformation and “alternative facts,” and seek to love our enemies as they have not loved us.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] If we respond with hostility, if we let ourselves hate, we will become what we oppose and we will fail to bring the redemptive good that this moment demands.[/pullquote]
I’m angry. Understand, I’m angry and fearful and horrified at what is going on. Every. Single. Day. But these feelings mustn’t inform my behavior toward those with whom I disagree. If we respond with hostility, if we let ourselves hate, we will become what we oppose and we will fail to bring the redemptive good that this moment demands. I honestly believe we’re needing a revolution, but of the most radical kind, the kind that overcomes hatred with love.
No, stop right there. If you’re thinking, or maybe saying out loud, that I’m being too idealistic and naive, I’m not. I’m talking about being radical disciples of Jesus Christ, which, if we’re admitting it, are the only disciples of Jesus Christ, because you can’t follow that Guy unless you’re willing to do some worldly-wisdom defying, foolish looking, Sermon on the Mount-type stuff.
I’m talking about challenging everything we see and hear that we know is wrong. I’m talking about remaining not just vigilant, but engaged. And I’m talking about returning love for spite and bile. If God’s Spirit is not leading our revolution, then it’s not our revolution.
Can we do this? We have to. This is the time and and we must. We’re here now.
Quoting Dorothy Day:
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
We have to do one more thing, one more category of things.
We must make our world as beautiful as we can.
Now what the heck bizarre tangent is that?
It’s not one. I’m on the same subject. Here we go.
Those of us who are horrified by President Trump’s behavior, attitude, words, decisions and plans, all of us must take seriously the task at hand:
Laugh and play and grow flowers and make music.
Are you laughing less these days? That’s a sign. It’s time to laugh more. Not bitter laughter. Free, joyful laughter. Seek what makes you laugh.
Take beautiful pictures and share them. Take ridiculous selfies and share them. Take pictures of beautiful people in your life and share them.
Love children, especially children, and live and teach kindness and compassion.
Advocate for the powerless in our sphere and develop genuine friendships, heart friendships, relationships of mutual giving. If you can put yourself in the vulnerable position in which someone poorer than you has something to give that you need, that you can receive with joy equal to your joy of giving, then you have risen above charity. You have bestowed dignity. You have loved as Jesus loved. (There was this woman who poured expensive perfume on his feet and he defended her actions and received her act of love as love.)
Give gifts. Be generous. Be overly generous. Be stupidly generous.
Speak hope. Search out the small signs. Call for everyone’s attention when you see them. Spread hope.
Exercise. Oh, please, get good exercise. Do the exercise you most enjoy or, if you don’t enjoy any, go (back) to looking until you find one.
Eat better. Fewer empty calories, more fruits and vegetables. I’m serious.
Drink, sure, but be wise. This is not the time to develop a drinking problem. Okay, there’s probably never a good time to develop a drinking problem, but right now definitely isn’t it. We need all of us now. There is too much work to do.
Pay attention when you’re lonely, angry, hungry or tired. Care for yourself. I mean, always care for yourself, but especially when you realize you’re any of these. Don’t make significant decisions in this state, don’t believe your own dismal, hopeless evaluation of things when you’re in this state, don’t do yourself harm because you’re in this state.
Get up, get off of social media and go do these things. For yourself. For others. Stop obsessing, stop reading comments, stop following arguments you know will never go anywhere productive.
And oh, I am so much preaching to myself with this, but STOP TAKING THE BAIT! Stop fighting back when people tell you to “get over it” and “stop whining” and “accept it” and “shut up and be patriotic!” You’re not going to win that argument; there’s no good in having that argument. If someone wants to have a meal with you and hear you out why you’re so upset right now, go for it. But just don’t spend the emotional energy on those fruitless arguments. Disengage. You will be a happier, more peaceful person making that change alone (he said to himself). I’m not jumping into these debates, meaning I’m not even having these arguments anywhere other than in my own mind and I’m still struggling. God help me, I’m done with that. In fact, God give me strength, I’m done reading all those comments and debates, period.
Do what is lifegiving for yourself and for others. Now. I’m serious. This, too, is the revolution.
I’m exhorting us to these things for two reasons. Those of you who struggle probably recognize that I’m giving you my best counsel on how I respond to and alleviate depression.* So many people have told me they are now suffering from some level of depression, including many who never have before. I get it. I suspect this administration is going to get worse. Don’t wait for the political sphere to improve so that your emotional well-being will improve.
Second, we’re the ones to fight for the United States to become our hopes for it. Genuine patriotism means holding ourselves to the ideal we preach and doing what we can to make it so. I’m not the first to say this, but if we want to make America great, again or for the first time, we have to embody what we believe that means. I think it means a revolution of compassion and kindness and caring for our weak and vulnerable and changing the toxic atmosphere we’re breathing right now. I think it means a thousand small acts that make those ripples.
What do you think it means? I sincerely want to know.
If you’re a follower of Jesus and relate to what I’ve been describing, chances are you also feel alienated from much of the evangelical community in the U.S. (Note that the evangelical community in the U.S. does not, in fact, equal The Church.) I’ve tried hard to help other Jesus followers see what I see about Trump, but I don’t think this has accomplished much. I’m remembering that I’m not responsible for their understanding; their relationship with God is theirs, not mine.
But our responsibility is to pray. We cry out to God. We cry for God’s justice, for his protection for the vulnerable and suffering, for immigrants (biblical “strangers”) and for his truth to come to light. We repent of being judgmental and forgetting or failing to extend the grace we ourselves receive. We beseech God to search our hearts and make us instruments of love and reconciliation.
And then, when we’ve done that, we speak up. We speak prophetically and we come together as God’s people. We pray more and act more. We don’t judge Christians who disagree with us; we don’t fight with them. But we speak. We act. We challenge. We follow Jesus in opposing injustice and racism and sexism and destruction of His Creation. If we see these things are becoming institutionalized**–as I fear we will–we stand against them. We aren’t the first Jesus followers to have to confront our own government, nor will we be the last.
What do we do now?
Of course we resist. Of course we rise up. We also love wildly and boldly and as if our future depended on it.
I believe it does.
*None of these is a cure-all and your depression may require medication. These have helped me all my adult life.
**Or already have become institutionalized.