I don’t want to talk about the President. It’s not that I don’t care about the office or have no opinion of its current occupant. It’s simply that in these ham-handed, binary times during which subtlety and nuance have become casualties of public discourse where reason and reasonable objectivity once felt comfortably at home, I’ll express my political thoughts in the ballot box. Besides, I try to keep in mind that nausea and diarrhea are not the real problems when I’m suffering such maladies, but the outward expression of something deeper.
So no, I’m less concerned about the President than I am about the rest of us. This is surely not the first time in history that a people have lost their way, but we seem hell-bent on elevating our particular manifestation of lostness to epic heights. Or perhaps we should be speaking, instead, of depths. Wiser social observers than me will better understand what brought us to this morass. Stolen opportunity. Economic frustration. An increasingly crowded and diverse public and philosophical space. Instant and constant communication of both news and opinion with no rubrics to differentiate the two. All of the above. And more. But whatever the drivers, they have brought us to a very loud, aggressive, intolerant and unforgiving place. And it’s frightening. I wish that the shameful clash of people and ideologies last weekend in Virginia – fueled by prejudiced hatred – was the exception, but alas it is paradigmatic.
Only two descriptors present themselves in what remains of the conduct of our public life: “me”, and everyone else. Every now and then multiple “me’s” seem able to make common cause, but they are marriages of convenience rather than sacred vows, as fragile as the egos that beat their chests behind them.
But of all the battling contestants in this Roman Coliseum called “America” I am perhaps most disappointed in my own lifelong community: the church. Our most visible representatives have become “hater apologists” – or, in the words of our biblical forebears, “Court Prophets.” And our congregations, once ideologically royal purple, have segregated into Reds and Blues. More partisan than confessional, more defensive than invitational, more condemning than caring, it’s hard to find much residue in our worship and our “discipleship” of the one we profess to follow.
As long as we view ourselves as “supreme” – racially, politically, patriotically, morally -- we are missing the point, and are well along the way to losing our soul.
The fact is we simply cannot love by hating. We cannot welcome through exclusion. We cannot heal by brutalizing. We cannot grow deeper by becoming more and more shallow. We have a better story than that. We have a better message than that. We have a nobler mission than that. And we have a more powerful example than that.