I thought that the current state of affairs in the United States might make it easier, not more difficult, to write a column this week.
I have been thinking back on my training and the things I thought I knew.
During my college years, I thought I was sure of many things, because we lived in a bubble back then. There were recessions and Watergate, but life at the academy went along relatively unaffected by outside forces.
I believed that I would get whatever I prayed for, and to some extent, that was true. It was not until I left the protective environs of that little campus that the harsher realities of the real world began, ever so slowly, to impinge upon my world.
I learned rather quickly that security can be fleeting and one does not often get what one prays for. How did I miss that truth before that time? And so I embarked on a different journey than the one for which I had planned.
I stopped looking for answers all the time and, instead, became more proficient at asking questions. I did not expect answers, but sometimes I found them in the most unexpected places.
I learned that love can be a term that is difficult to define, and that for many, it is a conditional term. I will love you if you meet my criteria or ascribe to my personal set of beliefs and values.
During my senior year of divinity school I met a professor whose quiet demeanor initially hid his radical Christian faith, his real and tested Christian faith.
In addition to taking a course from him that transformed my way of thinking about Christianity and culture, I was part of a group he led on a study tour to the squatters’ settlements outside of Mexico City.
Later, we met a “radical” Catholic bishop of Cuernavaca, who, when we were departing asked, simply, “Pray for us.”
A new way of looking at the world was dawning on me, and it was a vision that I was not at all sure I wanted to follow. The bishop dedicated himself to the cause of the indigenous and poor citizens of his diocese, and had an image of the rough hands of a farmer emblazoned on the underside of the altar canopy.
That appeared threatening to the government authorities at the time. His life had been threatened regularly.
My life seemed so simple, in comparison. Throughout my career, that bishop and that professor have continued to influence my thinking and actions.
So, that is why I sit here today and know that, though their words and actions remain with me, they are not the stuff that a majority of those who profess American Christianity want to hear.
We prefer comfort, so we have no trouble envisioning a God and a Christ who support the beliefs we already have. Americans are deeply divided, and no matter the outcome of the coming election, those divisions show no evidence of dissipating anytime soon.
A huge part of this is our mindset to see things in terms of winning or losing.
We prefer to nurse grudges and consider those who disagree with us as “other.” This dichotomy extends across the religious and political spectrum.
Populating the Supreme Court is not about appointing an unbiased legal body; it is about erecting a framework that can reverse the laws made by Congress.
Again, that bias can cut both ways. I get the impression from some that the welfare of children yet to be born are considered superior to those who already are here. And exposing the deep racial and cultural divides in our country is messy, so let’s talk about the “good old days” and getting back to American values.
Perhaps the only thing I can say for sure is this: any talk of American values must never be confused with Judeo-Christian values.
American values have come to be understood in terms of winners and losers. Judeo-Christian values are concerned with reforming our thinking to understand that winners and losers, by our definition, are, to God, beloved.
Be gentle with yourselves this week so you can be gentle with others.