Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

On politics, religion, and presidential elections (subtitle: fill in the blank; sub-subtitle: WWJD?[1])

The American socio-political climate is as sizzling and sweltering as a South Carolina spring morning when long before noon the temperature and humidity climb to the high-80s (or higher!). The unrest, characteristic of the 2016 presidential campaign (which was, I think, in part, a bitter fruit of the rising, roiling ideological conservative-liberal tensions of the prior decade), pestilentially persists. Those who voted for _______,[2] some of whom rather would have voted for _______,[3] with the election of Donald Trump, are _______, _______, and _______ .[4]

In the light of this heat, here, in the South, I hear political speech with religious undertones (or is it religious speech with political overtones?). To wit (with each successive declarative or interrogative statement, from whatever side of the political spectrum, uttered with increasing certainty and stridency):

“Jesus would have voted for _______.”

“Jesus told me to vote for _______.”

“How in God’s name could you vote for _______?”

“How can you call yourself a Christian and vote for _______?”

I am a Christian. I love and follow Jesus. I strive, praying the strength of the Holy Spirit, to obey his one commandment: to love unconditionally.[5] Daily, I try. Daily, I fail. Daily, I pray the Spirit’s presence and guidance to try again.

Given my existential and spiritual orientation, at first, I was taken aback by what I deem unabashed and unbridled hypercritical politico-religio language.[6] Then, catching myself (or, rather, the Spirit catching me) falling prey to judging others, I stepped back from the precipice of that pit so to look and to listen with the eyes and ears of love. What or rather who I see and hear are my sisters and brothers, some of whose expressions correspond with mine and some not. Yet my agreement or disagreement does not, must not affect my ability and willingness to tolerate, even more, to accept, and still more, to honor their thoughts and feelings, their wants and needs, their hopes and fears that are the ground, the heart from which spring their words. And in that tolerance, acceptance, verily, reverence for their God-given human dignity, I can “lay down my life” – my preferences and prejudices – for their sake.

 

Footnotes:

[1] What would Jesus do?

[2] Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump

[3] In the case of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or, in the case of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsay Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobbly Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, or Scott Walker or, with the choice of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, did not vote.

[4] happy, hopeful, and compliant or sorrowful, fearful, and defiant

[5] Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.34-35) and “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.12-13).

[6] During my many years of living and laboring in and around Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, where the lingua franca is über-partisan, self-authenticating, other-vilifying speech, I do not recall hearing anything like this.

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6 thoughts on “Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

  1. Dear Paul,

    You, following Jesus’s commandment, set yourself (and by implication all Christians) a very hard (I would venture to say most of us regard it as nigh onto impossible) task. I’m not saying I disagree with you (or with Jesus!), but if we view our political convictions as arising to a greater or lesser degree from our faith convictions, the political convictions of some of our brothers and sisters appear to us to arise from something other than any faith convictions some of us would recognize as such. So either we conclude that political convictions don’t actually arise much from faith convictions for any of us, or we agree to some other proposition that allows that faith convictions are rightly severable from political convictions, at least for some of us.

    I guess the point is not about convictions of any sort, but about the fact that convictions are necessarily held by human beings, who are, according to Jesus at any rate, to be viewed as objects of love, respect, understanding, and forgiveness. Do I have that right? I find myself at seventy still struggling, but at least in some new ways, with the same old questions I have had all my life. How do people who claim to believe what they believe hold the political convictions they hold? How do they reconcile faith and politics as they do and sleep at night?

    I am struggling to begin to see through eyes that reject the duality that seems to be most western humans’ favored way of seeing just about everything. I am trying to put into my vision and into my practice what Richard Rohr calls the “non-dual way” of seeing and interacting with the world, which he proposes is what distinguished Jesus’ teachings from the ordinary human way. As you know, it is blessedly, cursedly hard to do, and the dual way of thinking is so ingrained and so universally modeled it is nearly impossible to get away from.

    You are one of the few people I know who never wavers from proclaiming it is what you are trying to do day after day, moment after moment. I am so grateful to you for holding the standard out there in everything you do and in everything you speak and write, so far as I can tell. There are some of us who are trying to limp along with you in the effort, but who are falling so short of the mark every time we take a breath that sometimes we just forget and quit trying. I know you place yourself right there with us, and I know we all fall short, but it’s wonderful that there are some very faithful people who keep talking the talk as they really do try to walk the walk, and even as they’re getting themselves up after the umpteenth tumble of the day, they’re still talking the talk and still brushing themselves off and lifting the next foot for the next step as they speak.

    What I’m trying to say is that I find so much encouragement for my effort in what I read from you and the way I know you are leading your life. You help to keep me honest and striving at what I keep telling myself I WANT to do, when my own stubbornness fights me every step of the way.

    With my humble gratitude and much love,

    Karen

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    • Karen, bless you for your kindness unto me, BUT it is I who honors your for your faithfulness in the daily (hourly, moment by moment) struggle to discern the truth of God as best we can perceive it and, in coming to know it, striving to do it.

      And, yes, I believe you have it right. People have and hold convictions, some of which are political, the root of which they can and may ascribe to religious foundations. AND whether I can accept and agree that such convictions are rational or right, yes, those who have and hold those views are worthy – by virtue of their God-given dignity of and in creation – of respect.

      Moreover, though I have come to like and respect my point of view, my thought processes, my way of perceiving and contemplating reality, I also have and hold a healthy and humble (I pray) respect for my alway-erring point of view. Therefore, as convinced as I can be of my convictions, I seek to stand ready – not so much to be proven wrong (though that is true for me) – to make space for other views, assuming that those standpoints (however distinct and differing from mine) contain elements of truth with a capital T.

      Is this a comfortable position? No. Easier it would be to stand my ground and step away and apart from all those who differ. However, I have come to believe that to do so would be to absent myself from the possibility of revelation – whether worldly or divine – of some greater, bigger, wider grasp of truth.

      Much love, Karen, always,
      Paul

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      • Thank you, Paul, for taking my thoughts and questions further, to the idea of “absent(ing) myself from the possibility of revelation…or some greater, bigger, wider grasp of truth.” What a very wise and helpful way to look at it. If I could regard every human being and every human interaction I encounter as a possibility of revelation of further truth that both I and the world need to understand, what a difference that would make in my own life and, I have to believe, in the world at large. That’s a new element I will incorporate as an additional aspect to Rohr’s “third way” of seeing. It puts practical meat on some of the bones that are still quite starkly bare for me.

        I prize your generosity in sharing your daily journey, Paul. It always helps me to be reminded that you (and I know many others as well) are striving to transform the world by transforming your own living. It helps keep me going to try to do the same.

        With much love,

        Karen

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Paul for this post!! Sizzling is the perfect word to describe the election and the current climate!! If these last two weeks was a reality tv show it would be unrealistic, yet here we are very much in reality!!! I too work daily to continue to embrace those who differ from me in thought and beliefs but as you know it’s not easy!!! I’ll have to reflect a little more before I can “fill in the blanks” but I’m most grateful to have something else to focus on today.

    Much love!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is not…it is never easy to embrace those who are different or, as I’m wont to say, “the other” (perhaps even and especially the internal “other”; that is, those elements and aspects of our own personalities and character with which we wrestle!). Nevertheless, I do believe it is the Christian calling. Perhaps nothing proves the truth of that as much as the difficult involved; for there is little as tough and demanding, I believe, as following the One who, in the words of the song, “marching into hell for a heavenly cause”, kept faith with his destiny that summoned him to die.

      As for filling in the blanks, now, on second thought, I consider that – discerning where individuals may be in terms of their views and choices regarding the election and current presidential administration – the starting point of acknowledging where folk are, and then moving on; not stopping and staying there as if that alone determines the possibility of connection or association with or even appreciation of another.

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  3. Thanks again, Karen. Regarding personal growth, change, and transformation, as I reflect on my life, I have come rather late to this consciousness of my need, yea, even, at times, my desire to open myself and to leave myself open to others, verily, “the others” – all those markedly different than I. In a word, I find myself daily on the hunt, the search, the quest for deeper insight into the mystery, generally, that is human life and living and, more specifically, my life and living (for, as the Apostle saith, “now we look in a mirror dimly”). As so much of me is unknown to me, enveloped in my unconscious, I seek to remain alert to what I might learn via my encounters with others and in the concrete circumstances of my daily – all so that I continue to grow until that moment when my life in his world is done.

    Love and peace, always and in all ways,
    Paul

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