A Reflection from this last election cycle...
Why does the news bother me so much?
Why does it make me sick to my stomach to hear
the back and forth,
give and take,
of attacks and fear mongering?
How could anyone in their right mind vote for him/her?
It’s the lesser of two evils…
Any vote for “so and so” is a vote against the other “so and so” etc.
November 9th will come… I keep telling myself, like a mantra
Lord have mercy, may November 9th come with peace
We live in a world of binaries and polarities. There’s nothing essentially wrong with this, the differences hidden within our languages help us navigate the world around us. All language does is help us navigate this mysterious and majestic globe we call home. We need binaries to survive. As children we need these differences to show us wrong from right, up from down, darkness from light, etc. The problem, I fear, is when we forget to grow beyond these essential functions to deeper and truer understandings.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I had some friends stay a few nights with us. They were in town for a concert and we looked forward to catching up. In the evening, I took one of our dogs out for a walk and shortly thereafter rushed back in the house exclaiming, “Come on, come on! Stop what you all are doing and come quickly!”
We all rushed outside and after a brief pause I said, “There it is, can you feel it? Fall is finally here!” It was the first evening it had been “cold” for months, and in the heat of Memphis I thought it would never come. My wife smiled and said, “And don’t forget to look up, too, the stars are beautiful here at night!” We all just stood around for a minute gazing into the night sky, shivering ever so slightly.
It was a wonderful moment, and the language, the binaries helped us understand and name our experience in those moments. Cold, hot. Up, down. Day, night. All these polarities helped us laugh and enjoy the moment.
But they’re also not the whole truth.
The stars are always there, but the country sky makes them more visible, because there’s less light pollution, and there happened to be no clouds. But regardless of what city you live in, the stars are always there, always above the atmosphere we call sky. They’re still there even in the day when the light of our star the sun makes it impossible to see and appreciate their beauty. What we call day and and what we call night are useful fictions. The same goes for “fall finally” coming. It had officially been fall for days, but only that evening was it beginning to feel that way.
Words…language…helpful for understanding and naming our experiences, but in essence they are place holders for deeper realities. Useful fictions.
The same concept carries over into how we relate to other people. Labels like child and adult are helpful, sure, but they can never carry the deeper truth. A loving mother looks at her grown adult son of forty-
I bring this up because in this world of binaries, there is always a deeper truth. Right now in my life that deeper truth, that deeper unity and wholeness is what I long for, and the binaries are starting to weigh my mind down. And they appear to be weighing our country down. Like adults who are all still children in someone’s eyes, this election cycle is revealing (not causing) how little we ever really grow up, how we still cling to our binaries, our useful fictions.
The deeper truth, the deeper truth I believe the gospel points toward, is that there is no “us and them.” There is no divide between the sacred and secular. These are useful fictions that help us for a time, but enslave us if we do not let them go.
We are all one.
We are all one tragic and exquisite family called humanity. Or as the author of Galatians puts it: “In Christ there is no slave or free, no Jew or gentile, no male or female.” In the first century, those are the most essential binaries you could think of! In this new reality, this new way of seeing the world, in the Kingdom of God, there is no Jew or gentile. There is no exclusive “in group” over here, defined by a “them” over there. Religious and social barriers are small, useful fictions compared to the whole of humanity. The same goes with slave and free, rich and poor, the 99 and the 1 percent. No male or female? Really? That’s the most basic binary humans have been aware of since the dawn of consciousness! But in Christ, in this new view of the world we have here, even those most simple biological differences do not change that we are both humans, both beloved, and essentially one. Diverse, beautifully complex in our expressions, but still underneath, or above the binaries…
We are one.
I think that’s why this election is so painful right now. Why the division in my own denomination’s approach to human sexuality grieves me so. Because the useful fictions, the binaries that are helpful at first, have become the only thing we can see or talk about. Thomas Merton, my conversation partner this year, talks about this prophetically in his book “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.” He says that when we cling to these useful fictions, claiming they are the only truth, they become lies…“The mother of all other lies is the lie we persist in telling ourselves about ourselves.” These labels we cling to hinder us from seeing our own deeper truth. And once we are convinced we have the truth, everyone else must be wrong, or evil, or the enemy.
The deeper truth lies within us, yet we cling to the lie of separateness, of our own truth over and above all others (the favor of which is of course returned). This lie brings violence and hatred into ourselves. Merton goes on to say
“From this division hatred and violence arise. We hate others because we cannot stand the disorder, the intolerable division in ourselves. We are violent to others because we are already divided by the inner violence of our infidelity to our own truth. Hatred projects this division outside ourselves into society.” (85)
We are one.
And that’s the only way forward. To see in Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton our own humanity. Our own struggle. There is no us and them, we are one. This election season has clearly shown how deep the lie of division has really gone in our society. Merton hopes that we can hold the tension in ourselves. To know ourselves and our own propensity to cling to lies and useful fictions. And through that self awareness, through that honesty with our own depths, we can see the so called “other” as our own self.
A part of our family.
A part of the one whole unity on this little planet that is always surrounded by infinite stars, always shining, whether we see that unity or not.