When I looked up the word loyalty in the dictionary, the word “faithfulness” was primary in each explanation. Faithfulness to an ideal, principle, etc. was expected. When it came to defining loyalty to a person. though, it added an important word: “faithfulness to a person who is due.” The word “due” is an important distinction in my mind because it infers that the person has to deserve my loyalty, that they have earned it. It is also a point of clarity for me. Over the years, and I have spoken of this before, I have had to filter out and clean my own personal loyalty house. When it comes to an ideal, or principle I think it had become clear that certain groups or institutions to which I had plead wholehearted faithfulness no longer represented the principles to which I believe they were supposed to represent. While the stripping away part may have taken effort, it was a necessary step for me in clarifying where my loyalties would lie. And I think in the present culture it has only intensified. How can you be true to a person or institution who isn’t the reflection of the ideas or ideals they claim to represent?
We all have had the experience of being loyal to someone who really didn’t deserve it. I’m not talking about our shared human frailties, I know I have acted in a way on occasion that could be considered disloyal…I’m speaking about those toxic people who continuously behave in a way that defies the reasons we were loyal in the first place and leave us diminished rather than enhanced as people. Those experiences should help us hone our ability to choose better people in the future, and also more importantly show us how to be better worthy of another’s loyalty. Those relationships that command loyalty come from an investment of time, experience and continued proof on both sides that the loyalty is justified.
So there is reason to be concerned with what we are asked to do in today’s market of social media regarding our loyalties. There are those who play on our weaknesses, fears, laziness and at times character flaws to create such a divisive and angry divide. I see cable news do it, political parties do it, religions do it, and the list goes on and on. They demand loyalty without being held to account for whether or not they hold up the ideals they are supposed to stand for, claim the exclusive power to define who is right and who is wrong, are just using people for their own personal gain, or even more nefarious reasons, all to create an us vs them environment where no one can think differently without being vilified. The thing that befuddles and concerns me most deeply is to see good intelligent people fall prey to this kind of nonsense just because it suits their color or symbol of the moment. The leverage we give these groups instead of truth or principles they are supposed to stand for, is one of the greatest evils of our time.
And yet, how do you address it? It has become so difficult to have a civilized discussion at all about people who strike such polarity in our world. It never used to be a big deal to have friends that held different beliefs than I did…not so anymore. So rather than conquer the great white elephant in the room, let me ask you this: To whom or what are you pledging your loyalty? Do they represent your values, and would you stake your soul on it? These questions shouldn’t be answered easily, because there is just too much smoke and mirrors out there that the truth must be fought for. Expecting loyalty should take time, patience and experience. If the behavior doesn’t measure up, or isn’t truthful, then cut them free and look elsewhere. My loyalties may be few, but I believe they are worthy of my fidelity…until they are not.
Look at the above picture. One person sees a square, another sees a circle. They are both correct in declaring what they see. Except what they see as individuals doesn’t create a full picture. The object itself is greater than just one perspective, it demands that we see it from three dimensions, from different angles. The problem lies when a person who sees only the square tells a person who sees the circle that what they see can’t possibly be true…that they must be lying, crazy or guided by some nefarious force because it is absolutely crystal clear that what they see is the only correct perspective of the above image, and from their vantage point they would feel certain in their position. The person who sees only the circle may feel the same way. Except both would be wrong, the object is a cylinder that expresses both a circle and a square depending on where you are standing. The truth is never two dimensional, ever. But we seem to live in a time where people think it is, and that is the real root of our problems today.
As an individual, you may be clear on your perspective, but when you rigidly stand in one place, refusing to listen to another who offers another angle and then vilify them for it, to refuse to stand in their shoes, and see something from their perspective, I truly believe that you don’t really want to understand the greater truths of the world. To expand your perspective lies at the heart of the Gospels. Jesus asks us constantly to stand in another shoes, to not judge, to love our neighbor, to treat the least of society with great respect. And while I understand that to your eyes, what you see is definitely a circle or a square, I’m asking you to walk, move around to another angle and see if your perspective changes. You may be surprised. You may be angry. You may even still refuse to step away from your initial perspective because of a deep hurt, pain, past mistreatment or judgement. But the truth is never flat, two dimensional or rigid…its just not. If you want the truth, you have to move beyond where you are standing right now. Otherwise you will be ever caught in a lie, regardless of how real it looks to you.
I feel like a circle person living in a square world a lot of the time. I don’t like it much, especially when I read such derogatory descriptions of circle people, because I’m nothing like that. I also get frustrated at the judgments hurled at square people by other circle people, because I live among them and find their judgments faulty as well. Notably, I do see that both sides are just sick and tired of being judged. So lets move people, lets walk outside our perspective to see the truth from 360 degrees. That begins by listening, talking and the goal of wanting a greater truth.
In Goethe’s “Faust’, the character of Mephistopheles, i.e. a devil, bored with all things in God’s creation, wagers a bet with God that he can tempt Faust (whom God proudly uses as an example of goodness) to commit evil acts, and thereby gain his soul and service for all eternity. Mephistopheles approaches Faust experiencing a crisis of faith and after some malicious tricks, makes a pact with Faust to give him such ultimate bliss that he would never want to leave, in exchange for his soul and eternal service in hell. In the end, love and grace ultimately win and save Faust, because try as he might to create evil moments where Faust is lost, Mephistopheles somehow creates opportunities for goodness too. The joke is on Mephistopheles, the ultimate cosmic outsider, because he has no true awareness or understanding of love…he only understands deceptions and illusions (the whole Father of lies thing). Love is our true weaponry and armor against the Mephistopheles of the world. They prey on those who feel isolated and disillusioned with the world and tempt them with those things they believe will fill their personal void, except it’s all smoke and mirrors.
The human spirit was created in love and goodness. I see it every day, and it is time to let it sing. Cumulatively we have to stand for goodness and all the hallmarks of culture that humanity has brought forth. Denouncing those periodic elements of hatred and strife is how love works…to keep silent breeds complicity, period. No one wants to confront the disparate events of hatred, but that is what goodness or love does…we transform them into something greater. In times of great evil, like Faust, lies the opportunity for goodness and love. We have been a divided country for awhile, polarizing politics have damaged relationships, I know they have damaged mine. The tragedy in Charlottesville offers us an opportunity for goodness, to walk together undivided, even if momentarily, and stand for something greater than hate. I have seen posts circulating on social media attempting to diminish these hateful groups as a handful of crazies etc. To dismiss these events that are happening around the world as just a few crazy people who don’t deserve our attention is completely missing an opportunity to shut down yet another Mephistopheles. To say it is no big deal is ultimately an act of cowardice. A small cancer is still a cancer. Acknowledging it early offers an opportunity for a cure.
So before we try and band together about hate let me say this: blaming one side or the other obfuscates the real problem. I am a liberal, and I defy anyone of you who knows me and yet still condemns liberals as a matter of course, to maintain those judgments when they see my face in their words when they disparage the party of my choice. So we tackle problems from different angles, big f-ing deal we are not evil because of it. I refuse to judge people on those kinds of generalizations for the same reasons: because I walk, work and live in a very conservative area and it is their faces I see when I engage in political discussions and refuse to disparage an entire party. Vilifying each other is just Mephistopheles whispering in our ears. Personally, in all honesty, I do take much of the unfair criticisms and name calling to heart and wonder, when they hate liberals so much, how can they then purport to be my friend? Is it that they surround themselves with only people who think like them? Is it unthinkable to disagree, to be critical in a civil manner of a president who is so negative and polarizing? Truthfully people? to work through our disagreements is the job of an engaged citizenry.
What I will condemn, and hope you on both sides of the aisle will too, is the KKK, White Nationalists, Nazi’s, and any other group who preaches hate and condemns another’s right to liberty and happiness, because they are antithetical to who we are as Americans. Being disenfranchised is a problem we can solve together, but not the furtherance of hating a group of people who don’t fit your definition of worthiness. It was disgusting when Hitler preached it and it is disgusting when they preach it now. So I offer this. Let’s take the evil and transform it by shutting it down with goodness, with love. The way Faust saved his soul, was by engaging his goodness, even in the darkest moments. So lets band together, all of us against hatred, against violence, against bigotry, against religious intolerance. Let’s together pray, bring out our goodness to the forefront and stop the judgement, even privately, and focus on who we really want to be as a nation.
My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.
It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.
I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.
We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.
There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.
I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.
Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.
My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.
We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.
Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.
Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.
That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.
Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my visits to Russia, once when it was the USSR, and once after it dissolved. I was reading through my journals about the trip the other day, and I thought I would honor that young girl by first sharing some of her insights about the trip. I was the youngest member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches, being only 24. I had to study extensively before hand as well as attend briefings for days at Columbia University in New York City before we left. It was 1984, and there was still a cold war, but I believed that this opportunity was a God-given one that I couldn’t pass up. There are so many more stories that I can’t print here, but I want to offer some of the insights that shaped my future thoughts
Notes during our briefings
Like America, there seems to be a big difference between the people and those in power. The big difference is the sense of futility of the Soviet people feel in overtly doing anything about the injustice they are forced to live with. I was also amazed at the structured and networked way people work around the system. I’ve always believed things are not always what they seem to be, that we live in a time of Olympic level charades-the feeling that things are not what they appear to be. In the USSR it must be overpowering. Again, the difference between the two countries is not just ideology but one of survival. All the bullshit in America is who can get ahead-who can accumulate the most. The feelings in Russia are to survive, to beat an unfair system-yet Hedrick Smith says they’re very generous people-they love to share gifts with people. We are not allowed to bring any denim and the woman have to wear skirts or dresses. Clothes of the west are a hot commodity. They asked us to bring pins to share, I am completely unprepared.
about the Olympic boycott
I’ve just heard about the boycott of the Russians to our Olympics. I’m sad that our two countries keep egging each other on.What will this do to my trip? I’m beginning to realize the seriousness of what I’m about to do. I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect, but don’t want to push any preconceived ideas into my thinking.
On the the trip
After our city tour, we went to a small village church. The pastor’s name was Basil and I know what will have been the highlight of my trip was the children, it was wonderful! There is no way I can explain it in words…just freedom. Fr Basil took us to his “home” where we had another “gala” dinner-we made many toasts (too much vodka). During one of the toasts by Fr Innocent (irony of the year) I started to cry, partly because I’m tired, but mostly because of the double speak, the secret language of the heart and the language of the mouth, or party line, which I’ve had pretty much enough of by now. My eye contact with people has become quite piercing…and they don’t like it, not at all. But you see, you have to look so deeply for the truth and when they deceive and you’re looking deep into their eyes, they can’t hold your gaze. It started having a bad effect on people…not speaking but just forcing eye contact. I hoped my eyes say “I see YOU”. It was when we visited the collective farm I wanted to scream “Do you really think we’re that stupid?” It doesn’t matter to me that you’re trying to impress me, what I want is the truth…a rare commodity here. I’m tired of the press, people taking our pictures and the presence of the KGB. Do they think I can’t tell the difference between a real seminarian and a Soviet officer, especially the way they look me up and down?
Celebrating the high holiday for Russian Orthodox-Pentecost, at Zagorsk, which is their equivalent of Rome was beyond words. When our many buses drove into the monastery, there were thousands waiting to greet us. Walking through all those people just staring at us made me realize that we were definitely on display. The whole experience was beautiful and breathtaking and yet completely freaked me out.
The cantata at the Baptist Church
There was quite a bit of excitement at the Baptist Church. They had prepared a special cantata for us and it was really beautiful. But after the music was over, some people held banners over the balcony claiming in English that many pastors of Baptist Churches were being imprisoned. I was astounded, everything had been so “perfect” until this point. Our leaders avoided it and we were basically told from everyone, what you saw, you didn’t see. Afterwards, I could see one of the wives giving an interview with journalists. I am impressed by her determination and guts and will pray for her protection.
Gala Dinner Menu (one of many)
Cocktail/Salad: rolled ham stuffed with eggs, stuffed hard boiled egg with tomato, salmon and white fish, tomatoes, and breads with caviar. This served with vodka, also for toasting.
First course: crepes and black caviar. Served with red wine.
Second course: Chicken Kiev, with vegetables and rice in a puffed pastry. Served with white wine.
Dessert: Ice cream and filled cake. Served with Champagne.
Coffee: biscuits,cheeses. Served with cognac.
Dancing, and most were a bit drunk…Cheers to my Irish tolerance (and I did toastes with water, not vodka)
Leaving the USSR
I’m in the Moscow airport ready to board the plane for Amsterdam. My feelings are mixed. I’m sad to leave because I feel like I haven’t seen enough-but the tension of this society is so oppressive that I can’t breathe. I’ve also felt disillusioned about this trip. It seemed to be so much media hype for our Leader—– I don’t like to be part of diplomatic niceties which I feel most of this trip was, especially near the end. There were times when I felt like I was on the mountain being tempted by the Devil with all the fanfare, pampering and “gala” dinners. Everything. was. just. too. nice. It makes me wonder what the results of our trip will really be. Will all the frosting hide justice? i.e.the women at the baptist church.
The lay over in Amsterdam was a needed break. My wild side came out, and I’m sure a bit of repressed anger too. I waltzed some of the ministers down to the red light district..he he. Their faces as they looked at the prostitutes in the store fronts doing their best come hither, is something I will never forget.
They said everything was a perfect success. I began to panic because I knew I had to tell people about my experience-that was part of the deal. While going to the USSR was a dream, I had to borrow against my next year salary to do this, with the little I make working with the church it was such a risk. I thought I would be making a real difference, and now I wonder. One of the youth group members committed suicide just as I was arriving home. Physically her life was nice, like our peace mission. Nice isn’t enough, it just can’t be. Christianity can’t always be nice. Peace should be defined by more than nice. It means pain, sacrifice, being vulnerable, being scared and letting go in the face of it. I didn’t get that from the leadership of either country. I felt those things personally and I’m angry that those feelings were never supported by a group speaking in my name too.
We Americans and the Soviets are different, I accept that. I accept protocol and diplomacy are very important. We depended too much on behaving “appropriate” and not enough on being Christians. Our connection was our mutual faith. The Church’s route just has to be different than a political one, it has to be. Politics is rooted in a struggle for power, Christianity is rooted in the spread of the gospel and love. Human beings have proven through history that they are incapable of bringing about lasting peace by their own initiative. It doesn’t matter how good and noble the intentions are if they become egocentric somehow.
Because I am young, the youngest that went by far, my insight and intuition isn’t quite as keen as it will be some day. God has blessed me with much potential, though. So I will listen to how deeply disturbed I feel. There was so much going on in the Soviet Union on a completely different level. I could tell by eye contact, body language, atmosphere-the shadow language. It was all very subtle, but clear enough to demand attention, because when added to the whole picture, my impressions were radically altered. My struggle will be to create an honest picture without embellishment.
Afterwards, I was relieved when a journalist called to get my opinion of the trip. Excited to tell my truth, we talked for a long while. When the article came out in a national paper, not only wasn’t I mentioned, but it “nice.” In my mind, I had been censored and rendered insignificant. I became depressed and disillusioned after that. I spoke three times about my trip, the bare minimum and I continued to worry and pray about the baptist ministers wife and what the truth really was….so I went back, four years later……
Let me begin by saying this post is indeed political and may indeed seem polarizing, but it has nothing to do with political parties or the election per say. As part of my year of clarity, which is almost at an end by the way, I remain committed to see the world as Christ intended when he said blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Having come so far, I certainly am not going backward now. In many ways, this year has been a torturous stripping away of every illusion, every chain and old belief that I held onto as an appeasement to my fears, insecurities and those beliefs that limit my personal evolution. I never anticipated what asking for the eyes to see and ears to hear would do to my life. It was upended. Be careful what you pray for, I’ve heard. And as much as I had no idea how naive my request was, I remained stalwart through every point of this journey, sometimes to the detriment of my health and personal psyche. I also want to say, while not everyone is a Christian like I am, I hope you will appreciate the conclusions I’ve come to anyway. Today, I am Peter, when Jesus was walking on water:
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified, “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Even after all I’ve learned and how deep my faith has become having answered Jesus when he said “Come,” now that I am here standing amidst the turbulence, I am trying not to be afraid, trying not to sink into the depths. I have the benefit of hindsight that Peter didn’t. I already know Jesus response, “oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” In this moment of such turbulence, I will not let fear falter my journey. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid, I just simply reject the doubt so I don’t sink. I will walk on water regardless of my fear. I will respond to Jesus command when he says come. So what does that even look like? This may take a moment, so please bear with me until the end.
For that last few weeks, I have pondered, and worried a bit over Jesus words in Matthew 10 when he describes the world they, as disciples, would venture into:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more that me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his/her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses her/his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he/she is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous person because she/he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of theses little one’s to drink because he/she is a disciple-amen, I say to you, surely he/she will not lose their reward.
Life as a disciple is often life shattering. It is an ultimate test of loyalty and faith. If we succeed, we can walk on water. Call it whatever you will, a metaphor, a means to make the unfathomable, fathomable…I really don’t care. What I really care about is that regardless of the fear that holds many of us paralyzed right now, we must keep walking, we follow Jesus command to come. We refuse to doubt and be one of little faith. We do what seems at the moment to be the impossible. Because with God, all things are possible…right?
Now, here is where it gets tricky for me. As many of you know, I have friends who are democrat and republican. I embrace and accept that different ideologies exist. We’ve all walked different journeys and have embraced our own conclusions about what we’ve seen. I have friends who are religious and non-religious alike. So, my beef isn’t about that, hence the latter scripture that speaks about peace vs the sword. Here is my beef. Political ideologies, in essence, belong to Caesar (see last post), and we give to Caesar in our own way. How we express those ideologies most definitely leaks into giving to God what is Gods. So this is when the fear grips me most deeply. When you use an ideology to set others apart, to demean or demoralize them, to treat them disrespectfully you are not a being a disciple of Christ. When you cross the line in defaming your opposition, someone who doesn’t support the candidate you do, you are not being a disciple of Christ. That doesn’t mean the conversations about ideas won’t be difficult and painful. Where it became appalling to me in this election cycle was the deeply vicious and slanderous way people shared their opinions and almost never to anyone’s face. I always thought that to the people who know me, they know I’m a good person and so would listen to things from my perspective as well as their own and that they wouldn’t dismiss me or talk about me behind my back because I thought differently than they did, or get angry when I expected truth beyond salacious innuendo. I am not a bad person because I voted a certain way. Winning this election doesn’t give you God’s stamp of approval, God doesn’t give a shit about who won this election. But losing this election doesn’t give you the right to give up all hope or hate the other party either, God has clear opinions about those kinds of judgement too.
Being immersed in an environment that often is diametrically opposed to my most core beliefs has at times been difficult for me, but I’ve adapted because I’ve learned to see the deep goodness in the people who surround me. It has always been my prayer that others would offer me the same accord and it grieved me when that didn’t always happen. This year of clarity has given me freedom from that concern. I don’t care if you judge me, because my journey is sacred. I’ve said this before, that until you walk in another’s shoes you can never understand or judge their journey and I’ve worked hard to try and do that. So I implore people to listen to, and most importantly actually see those who are hurting right now and try and understand why. Sometimes seeing life through another’s eyes isn’t pretty, especially since it challenges our assumptions. There are people of color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, different levels of education and economics, who are devastated by the situation they are in today and the implications they may face come with deep feelings often times fear and rage. But when you take time to really see them and hear them, and break the confines of a limited perspective, fear diminishes and the walk gets easier, kind like gliding on water.
And yet to those who remain convinced that the problems we face are someone else’s fault, or that your “side” has the license on righteousness or God’s imprimatur, or that the answer lies in one person’s judgement against another, I choose to stand against you, whatever side of the aisle that puts you on. To refuse to recognize that we are all of us together, citizens who should all enjoy the the same self evident truths that are the cornerstone of this great country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is simply unacceptable to me. So, as a Christian, my sword will be lovingly raised, and wielded in every moment the Spirit deems fit. Go ahead hate me, reject me, whatever. I choose to answer the call and walk on water.
Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census to Caesar or not?’
Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.’ Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They replied, “Caesar’s,’ At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’
Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s is found both in the gospel of Mark and the gospel of Matthew. The two parables are different, but important in understanding the lesson that follows. In one parable we come to understand what belongs to God, and in the other, who controls the timing and invitation to God’s Kingdom. The phrase “Repay to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s” is not mutually exclusive, one guides the other.
In Mark, Jesus tells a story about a man who labored and built a vineyard and leased it out to tenants and went on a long journey. At the proper time, he sent his servants to obtain a sample of the produce of the vineyards. Some servants were beaten, others killed, all were sent away empty handed. When the owner sent his beloved son, thinking that they would respect him, they killed him desiring his inheritance. When Jesus posited to the crowd what the owner would do, they said the owner would kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. To which Jesus responded: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
So in this story, what belongs to God? The tenants believed that the fruits of their labor were theirs alone. How many of us still believe that? We forget that all we have comes from God. When God asks us for something, a mere sample, we are expected to give it, but not to show how generous we are, but as a sign of gratitude and a reminder that it was never ours to begin with. Remember in the story all the owner is asking for is for a sample of the produce, not enough to ruin the tenant but simply as a reminder of what they owner gave them since he labored and built it up to begin with. Celebrating all that God has built for us should be the only incentive we need to share our good fortune. The rejection of the Owner’s son happens every time we fail to understand that all our gifts come from God and when we refuse to share with the least of our brothers and sisters, we are refusing God. It is the least among us that the Kingdom is built on. Face it, we are all tenants on this earth at the grace of God.
In Matthew’s version, he likens the Kingdom of God to a King who gave a wedding feast. When the feast was ready, he dispatched his servants to invite the guests to share in his celebration but they wouldn’t come. He dispatched other servants and implored them to tell his guests that the banquet was indeed ready, the fatted calves were prepared for the feast. Some ignored the invitation, others went on to their businesses or farms. Still, others took the servants and killed them. The King was enraged and destroyed the murderers and their city. He declared the feast was ready but that those who were invited were no longer worthy to come. He told his servants to invite anyone they could find. The hall was filled with the good and the bad. And yet when he saw someone who was not dressed in a wedding garment and and was silent when questioned about it, the servants were instructed to throw him out. Jesus ended this story with “Many are invited, but few are chosen”
In this story, it is important that we realize embracing the Kingdom of God is not only being invited into God’s grace, it is actually showing up for the celebration…in God’s time. It is so easy to become so involved in our daily comings and goings that we have no time for God. That is just unacceptable. God’s time is just that…God’s time. We are here at His pleasure, not ours. We need to be ready, in the appropriate garb, at all times. So what does that actually mean?
When Jesus says “give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is Gods,” I think he is making a clear distinction of what belongs to a worldly view and what belongs to a Godly one. These stories help illustrate what belongs to God. In the first, it is clear that God is the owner of the vineyard…and we are only tenants. When God asks us for our talents, we don’t have the right to say no. He rejects the idea that the tenants have no obligation to give back. The selfishness, insolence and ultimate disrespect by the murder of his son is their undoing. In the second story, when we are called to celebrate at the wedding feast, at his appointed time, he is so put off by the disregard of his invitation that he effectively dis-invites them by burning the city and he opens his doors to anyone who would come, yet still expecting wedding attire…our best selves put forward. I used to be more confused by this parable…how could the invitees act so horribly? I understand it better now. Jesus is the bridegroom, we are already joined to God, by his grace. We should know that every moment of every day we should be celebrating with God. You don’t accept God’s invitation and continue to live on your own time, and on your own terms.Too many people think that being on the right team is all that is what is expected of us, that there is no demand on how we live and carry on in the world, that we can do what we will in the meantime. That is so much bullshit. We come when we are called, every day and in every way.
What belongs to God is sharing the fruits of our labor, and putting all else aside to celebrate the Kingdom when we are called. I can’t help but believe that those who dwell in the muck of this election, by perpetuating the vitriol and pointing the finger of judgement are behaving just like the protagonists of these two parables. Behavior I never thought possible from those who claim to be Christians. I am so tired of it, and I know many of you are too. Giving to Caesar is nothing more that the price of living in a human created construct. Giving to God is a declaration and expression of what is expected of us when we accept God’s invitation and all the gifts He has shared with us. So lets embrace each other as God’s people and celebrate all we have been gifted with and put our best selves forward as if we were celebrating at a great wedding feast everyday…and worry less about Caesar.
There reaches a point when I just have to turn off, or I will take a header down the rabbit hole. Whether it is social media, the TV, or random conversations. I can’t stand the blind polarization…and it is blind, because I spent all of yesterday just checking out the many links, and total SHIT put out there to see if everyone is as off base as I thought they were. Don’t hate me because I fact checked. Don’t hate me because I am shoving all of the hateful, paranoid, holier than thou, I’m more American than you, or I’m in tune with the real truth rhetoric back in your face. And I am calling out EVERYBODY. You know the one thing that will destroy our country?…your own self interest. You hate Trump, because he’s a racist, thin skinned, narcissistic hack. (More than anything I do believe he is an unfiltered opportunist). You hate Hillary because she is a liar and a woman (I checked, I can’t say she is anymore a liar than those who are doing such a good job at convincing you she is a liar…I was one of the few people who actually watched all 11 hours of the eighth Benghazi hearing) and she is a career politician that is ruining Bernie’s chance to bring down Wall-street (who you believe she secretly supports), You hate Bernie because he’s a socialist and wants to give everything away for free and is ruining Hillary’s chance to be the first woman president. So, instead of perpetuating all the bullshit, and don’t send me a bunch of links that support your “stance” or call me blind-fully ignorant (which I am soooo not), or a typical liberal (which I am soooo not), or one of those Intellectuals who think they know more than the average person (which I sooooo am), let’s stop seeing just what we want to see and try our damnedest to try and be more objective. So let me put my big brain to work and try to appeal to the real you that usually exists until someone starts talking about politics. We are all passionate about the future of our country. It just shouldn’t be so polarized and so desperately mean. To support one candidate doesn’t mean we have to vilify another.
Let’s look at it from another angle. Trump seems to attract people who are tired of politicians, they are enthused by his “I say what I want” and want to feel proud of a country that honors hard work and patriotism, and I think are really afraid. Hillary has been a career politician, but one who has constantly worked for women, children, and stands for many women as an example of breaking the glass ceiling. Bernie gave a voice to young people, who just want a chance to reach their dreams without debilitating student debt. He also called out the money makers who have been bailed out and yet suffered few consequences for the devastation they caused. Regardless of who you vote for, cause we all have issues that matter more to ourselves than others, comes the responsibility to speak about them in a way that honors what America stands for. There can be civil disobedience and peaceful revolution, there can be respect even with clear disagreement. There can be tough debates without name calling and character assassinations, that focus on issues. We, the people, can define the tone of this election. So next time you feel compelled to lambaste someone, or share an unchecked link that focuses more on smear than issue, conspiracy over truth, watch the baby bird video I posted first. How can you hate after that?
Of purity and principle…I’ve included the definitions of both words below because I, for one, believe that definitions matter. Too often words are used without the necessary respect for what, in purity and in principle, they actually mean causing confusion and misunderstanding. I hate that. In my commitment to clarity I will try my best to stay in tune. So, take a moment and become acquainted with pure and principle.
Full Definition of pure
1a(1): unmixed with any other matter <pure gold>(2): free from dust, dirt, or taint <pure spring water>(3):spotless, stainlessb: free from harshness or roughness and being in tune —used of a musical tone cof a vowel: characterized by no appreciable alteration of articulation during utterance
2a: being thus and no other :sheer, unmitigated<pure folly>b(1):abstract, theoretical<pure research>(2):a priori<pure mechanics>c: not directed toward exposition of reality or solution of practical problems <pure literature>d: being nonobjective and to be appraised on formal and technical qualities only <pure form>
3a(1): free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes (2): containing nothing that does not properly belong b: free from moral fault or guilt c: marked by chastity :continentd(1): of pure blood and unmixed ancestry (2): homozygous in and breeding true for one or more characters e: ritually clean
4: having exactly the talents or skills needed for a particular role <a pure shooter in basketball>
Full Definition of principle
1a: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b(1): a rule or code of conduct (2): habitual devotion to right principles<a man of principle>c: the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device
2: a primary source :origin3a: an underlying faculty or endowment<such principles of human nature as greed and curiosity>b: an ingredient (as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality
In particular, I want to focus on 3a (1) of pure: free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes. And from 1a of principle: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption. OK, now let’s look at the four principles of our American Constitution:
All people are created equal,
All people are endowed with basic rights that cannot be taken away,
The power the government has to make decisions and protect the rights of people comes from the people, and
When the government does not protect the rights of the people, the people have the right to change or remove the government.
In order to keep these principles pure, that is free from what vitiates, weakens or pollutes them, we have to master and appreciate them in order. Any politician who would work against these fundamental principles, cannot in the purest, most principled sense of the definition represent the people effectively. You don’t pick someone for office to defeat someone else. You pick someone who is best suited for the job.
Section 4 of the definition of pure states:having exactly the talents or skills needed for a particular role. Anyone running for office, in order to defend our most sacred principles, must embrace and defend ALL of the citizenry. If a primary goal is not to unify and work with the entire populace, then they don’t have the requisite talent for the job. Campaigns should be based on the habitual devotion to right principles, those laid out in our constitution, the hows of which should be defined by now…and are not.
America, we are a diverse and free people. We will never all think alike or agree. A two party system is one way to balance that diversity. But I wonder, though, how many people are actually acquainted with the principles that define these parties. Both have some noble ideals, and it is those ideals that need to remain pure, especially from the standpoint of a campaign. Because if the behavior of those running for office, run contrary to the purity of those principles, then no one wins.
It’s about time we hold ourselves to a higher standard. We need problem solvers, visionaries, peace makers and dreamers. We need someone who inspires us to face difficulty without fear, because we know we are not alone in this. We all need to trust that anyone charged to be our commander in chief knows that we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The sacred trust that they hold in purest principle is that they must be devoted, in service to us.
I have to say, this one is a tough one to write. It’s tough because I am, at heart, an eternal optimist. Maybe its the way my brain is wired, or faith, or experience, or insight…or delusion, or any combination of therein. My life has not been easy or tragedy free. All I know, deep in my gut, my core is that all will be well and all manner of things will be well. So it is hard to admit, given how I’m wired…why I’ve struggled with pessimism lately.
Pessimism, you weigh heavy on the world like a thick blanket, and rightly so I suppose, given the circumstances, be it depression, disease, violence, poverty, isolation, ignorance or evil, it can be overwhelming. I have to remind myself daily, no hourly, and sometimes minute by minute that being an optimist doesn’t reject those bad things in the world, it simply means that you decide not to be defined or defeated by them. Life is, at times, hard and depressing because that is its nature. Hardship often presents the greatest lessons and growth, the most poignant evolution. And while my rational mind scoffs at this obvious conclusion, my emotional, more intuitive side stamps its foot at the difficulty and discomfort of it all. It’s at this point of the book when I want to skip over the hard and scary parts and jump to the conclusion and see how it all ends.
I know my life and movement is tethered to the many, that my single commitment to optimism is doomed if others can’t be swayed to jump on the hope train. The reason is that my faith demands that I be part of a larger body and help make it work. I am not alone, and yet I feel alone a lot of the time. There is unrest and anger that inhibits the function of the larger body I am part of. There is fear there too, paralyzing fear. Fear that is covered up by institutional mandates and paranoia that on the surface state that they are there for our own protection, but really serve no other purpose but to cut out those parts of the body that are felt to be less honorable. Remember what Paul said:
those parts of the body we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety. Whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
Being an optimist does require embracing at the most fundamental level that the dynamic gifts of each person on this planet are essential to keeping the body of Christ functional in transforming our world to make it better. So to all you pessimists out there, if you can’t embrace the dynamic gifts of those you hold to be less honorable, then you doom us all. Your pessimism halts the function of the body. It makes it weak and susceptible to the very evils that were vanquished by the death, and resurrection of Christ.
I am vague on who the less honorable are, because they are different for every individual. You may hold gay people as less honorable, or transgender people, or straight people, poor people, or rich people, or powerful people, or famous people, or beautiful people,or the sick, the dying, the imprisoned. It doesn’t really matter who. What really matters is that you, pessimist, with your inability to see that each person is essential in God’s eye, limit the power and function of the most powerful body in existence. A body that has the superpowers of Grace and love, and a gospel of instructions on how to make the body move. It would be easy for me to tell you to get lost, find another body to be part of, but then I would be no better than you. My anger would keep me from recognizing your value, your part to play. So let me say this: my optimism trumps your pessimism. I do know the ending to this story, and I win. So win with me, say over and over again that all things shall be well and all manner of things shall be well, and soon your eyes will be open to the world I wake up to every day. As dark as the world may seem, know that the battle is won. When God is with us (and I mean all of us) who can be against us?
Being an optimist begins with you, it means embracing this truth: you are an essential ingredient in maintaining, sustaining and transforming our human evolution. It means that you have impact and worth regardless of any feedback. You act, because you know on even the smallest level that you can move the world forward. Let it bring a smile to your face, a confidence that you have never had before. No one, not even the most pessimistic hater can ever take that away. Let me honor you, celebrate you and share your joy. And if you can’t, know that I will suffer with you, and pray for your transformation.