Dear Fellow Christians: Concerning the Next Two Weeks

Dear fellow Christians,

The two week countdown to the 2020 US Presidential Election is in full swing. Emotions are flying high, votes are being cast, and all sorts of nasty and hopeful posts are taking over our social media feeds (with even greater force and fervor than we’ve witnessed over the last year). It is a season of anticipation, excitement, and, for many, anxiety.

In these times, people of faith are attempting to turn our eyes upward and remind ourselves that November 3rd is neither our end nor our beginning. That our promises for this life are much greater and more deeply rooted than any temporary governing body on Earth. For many of us, we are trying to keep our perspective where it matters most—on God, Christ, Kingdom, hope, truth, and love.

I see many posts and stories on social media touting these eyes-on-the-cross messages. Most commonly, some form of, “Whatever happens in two weeks, Jesus will still be on the throne.” As a fellow Christian, I too, believe this to be true.

However, I can’t help but cringe a bit when I see these statements slapped around for all the world to see. Not because of any lack of truth in the words themselves. But because of what they unintentionally communicate to millions of our fellow Americans, and to our world at large.

Our “no matter what happens” statements can, all-too-easily, sound like churchy, quick-fix platitudes that, in reality, do little more than relieve us of some amount of personal discomfort with the heated election season.

In fact, to some onlookers, these quickly-typed-out and posted proclamations resound of privilege and a lack of empathy. They can reek of a reality that is incredibly distanced from the pain and brokenness existing in our nation. They often communicate complacency and apathy—setting us apart not as agents of love and grace and transformative power, but as disillusioned and detached followers of a faith that (seemingly) fails to bring the hope, justice, and love it promises.

Whether or not this is what was intended.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in John 11—the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. To me, the beauty of the incident isn’t solely found in the power to raise a dead man back to life. Rather, it is the heart and emotional stance Jesus—the was and would-be King of the cosmos—took as He gathered with His friends who were deeply mourning. Although the entire chapter is padded with proclamations of faith and belief and power, Jesus, in that moment, places those faith-filled proclamations to the side and chooses to join His friends in their great sadness. He meets them in the midst of their fear, their imperfect understanding, and their “where were You when this happened” frustration. Verse 33 says that, watching Mary weep, Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (New International Version). This is closely followed by the famously-short verse: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

From the surrounding verses, I assume Jesus already knew how this chapter of the story was going to end. Or, at least, that He had a full and complete belief and hope in the fact that the mourning would cease and Lazarus would breathe once more. That the end was good. And yet, in that moment, He chose to enter into the pain of those around Him. He chose to be moved by the reality of that circumstance, and what it meant to those on earth. He chose compassion, empathy, and humility. He was available and relevant to those in pain.

For some of us—if we’re being completely honest—our daily lives will not be too greatly altered depending on who arises as the next presidential victor. Yes, most of us have, to varying degrees, been upended in 2020 because of COVID-19. And whoever is president over the next four years will determine how our nation proceeds in this pandemic. No matter who that man is and what plan he adopts, it will most assuredly bring a certain amount of change, hardship, and frustration for some portion of our country. And this is no small thing.

But there is more than COVID-19 happening in America. Masses of people have vocalized their firm belief that the next president of the United States will directly affect the extent of freedom and equality experienced by millions of Americans across our nation. The president—whoever he ends up being—won’t have all the answers or the perfect strategy for change. Nor will he be the sole hindrance to a nation trying to uproot hundreds of years of bondage preventing true equality. However, the voices that are heard, the extent to which they are considered, and the way in which they are responded to greatly depends on who sits in the Oval Office over the next four years.

The fact is, not all of our friends, family, and neighbors have the margin to say, “No matter who wins, yada yada yada.” (You can fill in the blank.) And let us not assume it is from a lack of faith. It is very much rooted in a current lived and experienced reality. From pain and brokenness that exists in our country right now.

Whether Trump or Biden, we will all have plenty with which to disagree in the next four years. Plenty to roll our eyes at and say, “Well, if it had been so-or-so, life would have been so much better.” Taxes. Masks. Quarantines. Re-openings. Trade. Russia. China. Supreme Court Justices. Etc. And no matter who takes office, we will, as Christians, continue to put our trust in the Lord and intercede for real and lasting justice and mercy on Earth.

But the reality of this moment, this day… it matters, too. It matters how we, as Christians (and maybe especially for those of us who are white, middle-class-and-up Christians), communicate with the world around us. How far we’re willing to stretch ourselves to peer into someone else’s life and see that their reality might be very different from what we have lived and known. It matters whether or not we choose to take on the practices and example set before us by Christ Himself—a real, lived-out compassion, empathy, and humility. It matters how we allow our belief about the end of the story—that it is good—to influence the way we tend to the matters and people of today. It matters that we love in a way that bears witness to our belief that the world is reconciling itself to its King.

Because it mattered to Him. Enough to be moved. To be troubled. To weep.

No matter what color t-shirt we’re donning, what side of the aisle draws our eye, what box we’re checking, we each have a choice about how we will vocalize our faith and the Man we represent as the heat of the next two weeks intensifies.

May you feel Him near, sense His kindness, and be a light to the world around you—in word, in deed, and in social media posts. May we all find unity in our desire to exemplify the glory and wonder of that final chapter of His story, and the hope it means for our world today.

On Truth

“The truth will set you free.”

I’ve heard these words my whole life, as I’m sure many of you have. The origin is John 8:32, a verse in the New Testament of the Bible. However, the words and the idea of the power of truth have spread much wider than just Christian circles. They denote a belief that upholds entire value systems adopted by many religious and pagan civilizations throughout history—that truth is associated with freedom. That truth is good. That truth is what is right—knowing the truth, telling the truth, keeping the truth. Truth as in what happened, as in honesty, as in what is ethical, what is right, what is just, what is inherent, what is vulnerable or transparent. All keys to a more free self, society, and world.

But what is t/Truth? And how much of our personal understanding of what is true is actually part of some cosmic, universal Truth?

Okay, let me be really honest—“what is Truth” is a much bigger question than I am able to tackle. My brain starts to deteriorate about seven and a half minutes into theoretical philosophies on such ginormous matters.

Like, I feel things disintegrating inside my brain as I read…

But on a not-anywhere-near-a-full-time-philosopher level, I’ve been thinking a lot about truth. As I scroll through social media feeds and read posts and make sense of political memes, I am fascinated with the concept of truth. About how people come to form their opinions about what is true, right, and valuable. About how we take what we were taught by parents, politics, religion, and various social structures and mix it all up with our own life experiences to create some sort of intellectual modeling clay. About how we take that clay and shape a personal worldview that is quite intricate—having bends and turns, ups and downs. It becomes so real and known to us, it acts like an actual structure we can live in, with walls and windows and stairs and doors. It becomes our shelter, our safe place, where we feel most comfortable. The hows and whats that make up our personal understandings of truth—which, ultimately, make up the entire way in which we view the world—become a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual home to our individual selves. That’s why, I think, it feels so scary and personal when the storms of differing opinions come rolling down our street (or our feeds). These storms threaten the entire structure of how we view and make sense of the world. And it feels unsafe. No one wants their house invaded or torn apart.

But there is a problem with this tendency of hunkering down into a set of homey and comfortable—fixed and rooted—personal truths. The problem is that no one person—no one family, community, country, generation, or organized religion—has arrived at the fullness of cosmic Truth. (We’re gonna leave deities out of this one.) The problem is we are all extremely limited in how we interpret and understand what we think to be truth.

How do you know that for sure?

Well, I don’t. But that’s my best guess.

We know in part, and hopefully, we’ve gotten closer and clearer and wiser since the dawn of time. Ideally, every generation stands on the shoulders of those who came before, growing and stretching closer to the ultimate Truth that has burdened our hearts with values like justice, equality, order, goodness, mercy, kindness, belonging, and love. (These come from somewhere, after all. So we’ll just non-philosophically lump them in with that ultimate Truth we’re trying to find and access.)

If we can admit we only know in part, that we do not, in fact, have all truth or can even begin to know how far along on the Truth spectrum we might actually be, we should be able to make a good argument for always being on the move as far as truth is concerned. For never settling down, for never digging out a foundation, for never pouring the concrete or putting up the walls. We would probably do much better with temporary structures that help us find shelter from what we don’t understand in life, but ones that can easily be picked up and moved forward as the path becomes more clear and obvious. Structures that allow the winds of life and the changes and revelations of society to reverberate through their entirety.

It’s not a perfect analogy, and I don’t mean to imply we should build our house on “the sand” and not “the rock”… but maybe I’m suggesting we often can’t tell the difference between sand or rock when it comes to how we view the world. Maybe what we thought was so solid is actually pretty shifty. Maybe what we thought was rickety has more strength and validity than we first assumed.

Maybe we’ve spent massive chunks of our lives defending certain things and people and interpretations of various ideals just because we were taught it was right or true. And we’ve never given ourselves the space to back up and reevaluate if it was solid ground to begin with. Or if, just maybe, a more clear interpretation and understanding has been unveiled.

So here’s the conclusion I came to while vigorously rubbing dry shampoo into my hair today (while five unruly children ran around hooting and hollering in the background of my churning mind):

A fixed worldview that does not grow, refuses to admit wrongfulness or shortsightedness, and that will not find the capacity to learn from those who hold opposing opinions cannot recognize the humanity in—and assume the good intentions of—those who hold a different worldview. When our personal truth becomes so grounded in a certain spot and position, it robs our ability to peer into the understandings of others, and to see those others as similar, not-so-different humans who also want what is “true” and good and best for our individual selves and society at large. It is a worldview that is held in vain, offers little (if not nothing) to our overall journey of human progression, and is terribly detrimental to our current society’s immediate quandaries.

A worldview that is set gets stuck.

It’s not that we can’t hold anything sacred. That we can’t have a deep faith that is constant and an ultimate cornerstone in our lives. That we can’t take a bold and radical stance on issues that really matter to us. Rather, it’s our personal understanding and interpretation of faith and justice and freedom and truth that often trip us up and keep others at arm’s length. That makes the people on the other side of the aisle or line look like enemies, rather than fellow seekers of the Truth who hold a different or varied interpretation.

“The truth will set you free.” It assumes movement. Change. That whatever once was becomes something new, fresh, better. Truth—real, capital “t” Truth—leads us forward. Not backwards. Not still or stagnant. The Big Truth we hold onto so tightly (in whatever form we express it, whether through faith, science, politics, etc.) should be a Truth that changes our daily truths—making tomorrow’s truth look different than yesterday’s. It should be a light that pours in to expose our misconceptions, misunderstandings, and our own hesitancy to justice, compassion, and selflessness. If we are not changing, our Big Truth and Guiding Light might not be as true as we’d like to think. At least, our understanding of it and interpretation of it might not be as clear as we imagine.

How we see the world—the people who populate it, the governments that order it, the selves that color and liven it—should never grow stagnant. Our limited understandings should not be “enough.” The progress we made yesterday or last year or last century is not “enough.” The understandings of our beliefs need to ebb. Our interpretations of our values need to flow. All under and within and following that Big Truth and Guiding Light that ushers us into a greater, wider, more broad understanding of what it means to love, to be free, to be equal.

So before I spend another 1,300 words talking in circles, I’ll close by asking you these questions (the same I’ve been asking myself for a few weeks now): What is it you think you know? How did you arrive at the worldview you currently hold? Who and what have shaped the views you hold most sacred and precious? Why are they so important to you? What’s the point of it all? (No need to give answers to these questions here or on my social media feeds; they’re for your own personal consideration.)

I don’t ask out of doubt in you or your values, or because I’ve come to some great answer or conclusion of my own. Rather, I ask because these are questions we all need to be exploring if our goal is truly to sharpen our understanding of what is true and right and just and good for our own selves, our own country, and our shared world. We are at a some big junctures, people. This is a good thing—opportunities to better ourselves and our world sit right on our doorstep. The only thing that will hold us back is ourselves. Our set, stuck selves.

As my almost-four-year-old, too-smart-for-his-own-good Joel told me today, “Just be cool, mom. Just be cool.” (By the way, you should always be nervous when your child tells you this after a long time of being silent and out of sight.) But it’s true. Many of us could use some official chilling out. Not because things don’t matter. Not because we don’t have incredibly important roles to play in moving our families and communities and society toward a greater understanding of what is best for now, best for the future. But because of this. Because we are taking our own selves so seriously that we are often missing what is really important. What is really good. What is really true. What really needs our thought, our support, our voice, our silence, our vote.

I invite you to ask, listen, reevaluate, and realign with me as we as we aim to make today brighter than yesterday, tomorrow more “true” than today.

Until next time, Ana