Of Two Swords and Two Evils: Trump, Clinton, and Chesterton’s Nightmares

bc_ch1_2__15813-1392762861-1280-1280The breeze off the Bosporus calmed my nineteen year old nerves.  I was having tea in a garden at the residences of a historic Ottoman mosque with the Turkish son of an imam and an American pot-smoking sorority member, my female travel companion for the day.  As all three of us talked about life, beliefs, and interests, I came to realize that I had far more in common with this devout and polite young Muslim man than I had with my fellow female American college student.

In one breath she told stories of breaking international drug-smuggling laws while studying in Paris, in the next she declared her intention to become a lawyer to fight for “justice”.  I still have no idea what that word meant to her, especially given her decided relativism on just about every topic of ethics we encountered.  Hers was a sadly vapid and transitory worldview, one that was almost impossible to engage directly for its sheer lack of discernible foundation.

The son of the Imam, on the other hand, believed in universal absolutes and moral law.  He asked questions about matters eternal and how they related to this present world, genuinely interested in hearing my perspective while defending his own.  We engaged on the perceptions about our faiths versus the actual teachings we claimed as truth, and discussed the vapid and rootless dangers found in secularism.  As we spoke, my fellow American was fairly bored, apathetic, and disinterested.

He was a young student who kindly opened his home and life to two foreigners with the solitary goal to exchange thoughts and ideas.  He did so in a way that respected our dignity and sheltered us from the ugly behavior that runs rampant in the tourist quarters of his city.  We did not need to minimize the critical theological differences between our creeds in order to recognize in each other a kinship.  Ours was a kinship forged in an earnest search for truth and righteousness.

You see, that young man sought after truth, knowledge of God, and the root dignity of man, with more passion than most people I have encountered in my life so far – in or out of the American church.  I still pray to this day that he is an Emeth, be it either on this earth or before the thrown of God.

How certain are you about who is on your side?  As we approach a major election in this country I often hear the imagery of teams used to suggest a clear discernible line between who or what is defensible and who or what it not.  Those on the “other side” are evil, while those deemed to be on our own political side – no matter how flawed – are seen as fundamentally good, perhaps just misguided.  The people most like us are surely the ones who are for us.  Those who are the most different are met with suspicion and often fear.

But what if our sense of teams is wrong?  What if we’ve chosen to join a movement that actually undermines everything that we claim to hold most dear?  What if we aren’t looking clearly enough for the dangers of our own teams and our own battles?  Then what are we to do?

For those who feel caught between two evils, for those who wish to speak against lies but find precious few willing to join them, for those wondering how to stand for truth and justice in a depraved and cynical world, this is for you.

In 1910 G.K. Chesterton penned an allegorical tale, The Ball and the Cross, about two Scotsman dueling for truth in the streets of London and throughout the British countryside.  Evan MacIan, a devout Catholic, and James Turnbull, a devout atheist, both take up swords with the intention to fight the other to the death in defense of their core beliefs.  Labeled madmen by their fellow countrymen, the two embark on a fanciful journey of engagement that leads to some surprising conclusions, including the formation of an indelible companionship based on their common defense of eternal truth.

Toward the end of the novel both MacIan and Turnbull are met with dreams that promise to show the fulfillment of what each is fighting for only to reveal two different, yet similarly rooted, evils.  Each are led away in flying boats by men with no names to the frontline of two dystopian visions for the future of London.  In these depictions of evils we find a reflection of our own times, and our own temptations.  To see them, to understand them, and – finally – to forsake them both for the embrace of Christ: this is our calling.

We long to be drafted for a fight.  In the opening sequence of both dreams, Chesterton’s dueling Scotsmen are met with appeals to come and join the real fights their hearts have longed for.  As the mysterious man first tells MacIan, “you have remained here long enough, and your sword is wanted elsewhere.”  There is something in these lines that speaks to those of us who desire to be wanted, needed, and appreciated.

It beckons to those of us who are dissatisfied with the life we are living or who deeply desire to be a part of a greater cause.  The men with no names in both dreams know of this temptation and desire, for they know the hearts of their would-be warriors.  The call to come fight in their battles is how they lure each truth-fighter into their midst.

Sometimes I think we are drawn to politics because of all it seems to promise.  The power, yes, but also a sense of importance or mission that maybe we don’t feel in our day to day work.  Think of the common political rhetoric we hear and how elevated the language has become, how grandiose the goals are for a better tomorrow.

Politicians promise to fix our problems, ease our fears, and provide hope and purpose for our lives.  When a political candidate asks for your support, for you to join their team and fight for their visions of a certain kind of country, it can be compelling in ways that we are rarely moved.  We all want our lives to mean something greater than ourselves.

And for many, the temptation is strong to believe that how we vote, who we support, or what policies we advance, presents just such a battle to wage that will reward us with the dignity and honor our hearts desire.  We may not have swords of steel, but many of us are called upon by the political causes of our day to rise up with the swords of our mouths, our intellect, our social influence, our pens, and our votes.

When we choose to become a surrogate for a certain politician, when we decide that we will support them for one reason or another, we can often find ourselves enlisted in a battle where our sword is wanted and our life appears to have new purpose and fulfillment.  Perhaps at first we are reluctant or disillusioned, but once suited in the armor of these wars our instinct and heart’s desire for mission leads us to fight on their behalf.

The truth is that it feels good to have a tangible cause to claim as our own.  To have a visible enemy and a measurable path for declaring victory.  We desire to be on the winning side and to feel all that comes with hard fought success.  We long to be drafted for a fight.

And yet…

Without God, security forged in the name of law and order leads only to tyranny.  Donald Trump has declared himself the law and order candidate, and his claim is that this mission will keep us safe and secure as a nation.  But he is not the first to use these terms or proffer these ideas.

In MacIan’s dream, the man driving the flying ship told Evan, “I must not say who I am until the end of the world; but I may say what I am.  I am the law.”  This figure, who claims to represent the law, notably as we shall discover, a law without God, reveals what a world under his dominion would be like.

Claiming that “The king has returned”, he takes MacIan up through the stars.  Foreshadowing the state of the nation, the man who is the law notes of the heavens:

“There is an answer to all the folly talked about equality.  Some stars are big and some are small; some stand still and some cycle round them as they stand.  They can be orderly, but they cannot be equal.

“They are all very beautiful,” said Evan, as if in doubt.

“They are all beautiful,” answered the other, “because each is in his place and owns his superior.  And now England will be as beautiful as the heavens, because our kings have come back to us.”

In this world there is no equality, merely order. Perhaps, at first blush, this doesn’t sound so bad.  Isn’t it supposed to be that way, after all?  The man who is the law claims that the world he is creating with the return of the king is one that reclaims “…all that was ever lost by insolence and overwhelmed in rebellion.”  It is a world with pageantry, cathedrals of armed guards, and stoic greatness.

When the sole object is the law, the borders of one nation can be managed with ease.  As they draw closer to London in their journey, MacIan asks if the war is still raging.  The response of his would be captain is telling and somber:

“It rages like the pit itself beyond the sea wither I am taking you,” answered the other.  “But in England the king enjoys his own again.  The people are once more taught and ruled as is best; they are happy knights, happy squires, happy servants, happy serfs, if you will; but free at last of that load of vexation and lonely vanity which was called being a citizen.”

“Is England, indeed, so secure?” asked Evan.

England won her security in this dream, but at what cost?  At the cost of an enduring chaos and war for the rest of the world, a world completely left behind when the goal of establishing the might of the ancient kings and kingdom was made paramount.  At the cost of their own dignity as citizens.  At the cost of a hard earned freedom, all relinquished in order to become secure from the battles of the outside and the fears from within.

The picture offered of this secure world is one of ordered domestic tranquility with a unsettling undertone:

“As they were sailing down Ludgate Hill, Evan saw that the state of the streets fully answered his companion’s claim about the reintroduction of order.  All the old black-coated bustle with its cockney vivacity and vulgarity had disappeared.  Groups of laborers, quietly but picturesquely clad, were passing up and down in sufficiently large numbers; but it required but a few mounted men to keep the streets in order.  The mounted men were not common policemen, but knights with spur and plume whose smooth and splendid armor glittered like diamond rather than steel.

Only in one place – at the corner of Bouverie Street- did there appear to be a moment’s confusion, and that was due to hurry and rather than resistance.  But one old grumbling man did not get out of the way quick enough, and the man on horseback struck him, not severely, across the shoulders with the flat of his sword.

“The soldier had no business to do that,” said MacIan sharply.  “The old man was moving as quick as he could.”

“We attach great importance to discipline in the streets,” said the man in white, with a slight smile.

“Discipline is not so important as justice,” said MacIan.

At first, you might think, ‘how splendid!’  The criminals, the beggars, the unruly crowds all cleared away for the sake of order, safety, prosperity, and efficiency.  And yet there is a darkness that lingers.  A darkness that silently queries as to the fate of the drunkards, the poor, and the foreigners.  A darkness that wonders at the nature of the people’s hearts and souls working under this state of discipline.  As the man who is the law enlightens:

“The people must be taught to obey; they must learn their own ignorance.  And I am not sure,” he continued, turning his back on Evan and looking out of the prow of the ship into the darkness, “I am not sure that I agree with your little maxim about justice.  Discipline for the whole society is surely more important than justice to an individual.”

Where respect for the individual dignity of all men is traded for law and order, where discipline is bought with the currency of fear, there can be no true justice.  The man in white, who is the law, continues:

“In our armies up in heaven we learn to put a wholesome fear into subordinates.”…

“Besides,” continued he, in the prow, “you must allow for a certain high spirited haughtiness in the superior type…Just as the sight of sin offends God,” said the unknown, “so does the sight of ugliness offend Apollo.  The beautiful and the princely must, of necessity, be impatient with the squalid…”

And here is revealed another truth of the law without God.  The value of people is determined not by their character or innate dignity, but by their physical and material worth.  The spiritual value of each life ceases to matter, at least not with dignity or reference to a greater dominion than the one created on earth.

Thus we see the creation of two laws and two standards, one for the leaders and the beautiful elite and one for the common people.  What began as resurgence for the supposed good of the people to reestablish the greatness of their nation ends in a horrific vision of inequality and elitism enabled by a rule of fear.

Faced with claims and actions of this nature, the defender of truth, a lover of Christ, will speak out.

“Why you great fool!” cried MacIan, rising to the top of his tremendous stature, “did you think I would have doubted only for that rap of a sword?  I know that noble orders have bad knights, that good knights have bad tempers, that the Church has rough priests and coarse cardinals; I have known it ever since I was born.  You fool! You had only to say, ‘Yes it is rather a shame,’ and I would have forgotten the affair.  But I saw on your mouth the twitch of your infernal sophistry; I knew that something was wrong with you and your cathedrals.  Something is wrong, everything is wrong.  You are not an angel.  This is not a church.  It is not the rightful king who has come home.”

The law, instituted by a return of an earthly king and peddled by the as yet unknown man, is false.  The horror of this dystopian world represents more than the failings of a single person or leader.  It represents the wholesale surrender of justice, freedom, and individual dignity, all in the name of security and a restoration of mythical greatness. It represents the death of the soul, a callousness that demeans and destroys the inner life and worth of men for the sake of external order.  Without God, security forged in the name of law and order leads only to tyranny.

Without God, revolution for the sake of humanity leads only to death.  Hillary Clinton has declared that we are stronger together.  But what if someone is unable or unwilling to move in the direction of what is deemed fair or best for all?  What if some lives are an inconvenience to the whole?

James Turnbull, like his dueling partner, was met by a man with no name who came with news that Turnbull had been waiting his whole life to hear.  After declaring, “I want you”, the unknown man wearing a red scarf clarified:

“I want exactly what you want,” said the newcomer with a new gravity. “I want the Revolution.”

Turnbull found himself conflicted, for he started to worry about the fate of his new friend.  Yet he was ultimately persuaded to leave him behind for it would interfere with the mission “to destroy the Pope and all the kings.”  In contrast to the world of surreal order revealed to MacIan, this was a world of chaos.  As the unknown man explained:

“The heavens are full of revolution – the real sort of revolution.  All the high things sinking low and all the big things looking small.  All the people who think they are aspiring find they are falling head foremost.  And all the people who think they are condescending find they are climbing up a precipice.  That is the intoxication of space.  That is the only joy of eternity – doubt.”

In this world of revolution, God is the ultimate enemy to be overthrown.  As the unknown man says, “I mean nothing in God’s name.”  Traveling over the city of London, he explains to Turnbull just what is taking place below:

“We arrive at a happy moment,” said the man steering the ship.  “The insurgents are bombarding the city, and a cannonball has just hit the cross.  Many of the insurgents are simple people, and they naturally regard it as a happy omen.”

With the cross and all it stands for demolished, the glory of mankind is meant to rise.   Such rising is not without great cost, however.  The unknown man clarifies that he has brought Turnbull to London “to take part in the last war of the world.”

“The last war!” repeated Turnbull, even in his dazed state a little touchy about such a dogma; “how do you know it will be the last?”

The man laid himself back in his reposeful attitude, and said:

“It is the last war, because if it does not cure the world forever, it will destroy it.”

Seeking to cure all the ills of the world, it seems, is a dangerous task.  A task destined to either great success or complete failure.  Wars of totality, wars of annihilation, wars aimed to supplant the dominion of God that claim His work of completion and perfection as their own, can only end in this way.

James, looking to understand the uprising at hand and the nature of the fight, seeks clarification from his guide:

Turnbull wrinkled his forehead.  “Are all the poor people with the Revolution?” he asked.

The other shrugged his shoulders.  “All the instructed and class-conscience part of them without exception,” he replied.  “There were certainly a few districts; in fact we are passing over them just now – ”

Turnbull looked down and saw that the polished car was literally lit up from underneath by the far-flung fires from below.  Underneath whole squares of solid districts were in flames, like prairies or forests on fire.

“Dr. Hertz has convinced everybody,” said Turnbull’s cicerone in a smooth voice, “that nothing can be done with the real slums.  His celebrated maxim has been quite adopted.  I mean the three celebrated sentences: “No man should be unemployed.  Employ the employables.  Destroy the unemployables.”

The reign of Science and “equality” had come.  Without God, without an anchor or a compass other than the collective good of mankind, hell on earth had arrived.  If the world is to be perfect, if progress is to be final, some lives must be sacrificed for the good of the whole.

There was silence, and then Turnbull said in a rather strained voice: “And do I understand that this good work is going on under here?”

“Going on splendidly,” replied his companion in the heartiest voice.  “You see, these people were much too tired and weak even to join the social war.  They were a definite hindrance to it.”

“And so you are simply burning them out?”

“It does seem absurdly simple,” said the man, with a beaming smile, “when one thinks of all the worry and talk about helping a hopeless slave population, when the future obviously was only crying to be rid of them.  There are happy babes unborn ready to burst the doors when these drivelers are swept away.”

Perhaps the revolution began with the intent to help these very people, but as they started progressing toward a godless, rootless, social justice an irreverence for the weakest life set in.  Turnbull began to object:

“These people have rights.”

“Rights!” repeated the unknown in a tone quite indescribable.  Then he added with a more open sneer: “Perhaps they also have souls.”

“They have lives!” said Turnbull, sternly; “that is quite enough for me.  I understood you to say that you thought life sacred.”

“Yes, indeed!” cried his mentor with a sort of idealistic animation.  “Yes, indeed! Life is sacred – but lives are not sacred.  We are improving life by removing lives.  Can you, as a freethinker, find any fault in that?”

What a poignant and direct condemnation of the philosophy behind the pro-abortion movement.  Then again, what poignant and direct condemnation of any philosophy that degrades, devalues, or destroys the life of any individual for the sake of the whole.

Think of the fear of disability in the young and the subsequent advocacy to end life before it has begun on the sheer basis that their life might be hard, diseased, or imperfect.  Think of the one-child policy and all the human pain that has caused. Think of those who advocate that we must limit human life for the sake of the planet.  Think of the glorification of euthanasia as a way to ease the pain of an individual and the collective burden such pain presents the wider community.  Where individuals are not loved unto life, death shall reign.

The dialogue continues, after Turnbull replies that he can, indeed, find fault with that argument:

“Yet you applaud tyrannicide,” said the stranger with rationalistic gaiety.  “How inconsistent!  It really comes to this: You approve of taking away life from those to whom it is a triumph and a pleasure.  But you will not take away life from those to whom it is a burden or a toil.”

Turnbull rose to his feet in the car with considerable deliberation, but his face seemed oddly pale.  The other went on with enthusiasm.

“Life, yes, Life indeed is sacred!” he cried; “but new lives for old! Good lives for bad! On that very place where now there sprawls one drunken wastrel of a pavement artist more or less wishing he were dead – on that very spot there shall in the future be living pictures; there shall be golden girls and boys leaping in the sun.”

Such is the vision of a social revolution without God.  It starts with seeking justice for the oppressed.  Kill the kings!  Kill the bankers! Kill the powerful! Kill the rich!  But then the mission quickly becomes about maximizing the best life for the most number of people.  Kill the weak.  Kill the unwanted.  Kill the inconvenient.  Kill the unproductive.  Kill the uncooperative.

Their sacrifice is needed for the good of the whole, is it not?  Surely equality for most is worth the destruction of a few.  Such is the logic of the godless revolution. Such was the horror of the godless authoritarian regimes of the 20th Century.  It happened in our past, in some corners of the world it is happening in the present, and it can most certainly happen again in our future.

Where only certain lives are valued, no one can be truly loved or loving.  To honor all life means to honor the innate dignity of each human being as creations with a Creator.  Without God, revolution for the sake of humanity leads only to death.

The goodness of God always respects and loves the dignity, sanctity, and equality of every individual life.  The dystopian visions offered by Chesterton over 100 years ago remain remarkably relevant, for these are the extremes of a world without truth and without God.  I have a feeling that to some of you one outcome likely seems worse than the other, but such an assessment would fundamentally miss the point.  Both are evil.

Both revoke the sovereignty of God for futures where men seek to take His authority as their own.  One offers the vision of a pretender, a human savior who alone can fix all that ills us.  The other offers the vision of a revolt, the overthrow of God and His standards of life for the supposed good of the whole. Both turn the State and its rulers into gods, creating an idolatrous worship of man and government in the place of Christ.

Our current candidates for president and the ideals they represent may fall along different places on this spectrum of danger and death.  It is up for interpretation just how close to each nightmarish future the current candidates comes in their policy prescriptions and personas as supposed balms to our fears and unmet desires.

You may see a little of each dream in both candidates, or perhaps you see this election in stricter ideological terms.  Regardless, neither candidate espouses a vision of life and authority that aligns with the love and truth of God.  The goodness of God always respects and loves the dignity, sanctity, and equality of every individual life.

All evil leads to the same place.  The notion of the “lesser” evil is typically a false concept.  Either your options represent true evil, and therefore are all equally bad, or they really aren’t evil to begin with.

I fear we have deluded ourselves into buying into a great lie of civil religion, a lie often claimed to have God on its side.  This lie tell us that our desired policy preferences are all moral goods, and therefore those of the other side are inherently evil or immoral.

What if both sides to a policy solution are legitimate moral goods, for their ends are morally desirable?  What if they are just different ideas on how to walk out similar principles?  Or what if they are just preferences?  What if both sides to a policy solution are merely secular in nature, for the stated goal carries little to no moral significance?

I genuinely believe in the economic efficacy and importance of free trade, but are those who are against it fundamentally evil?  Some people believe the government has an obligation to take care of those struggling at the margins of society while others see this as the work of private organizations.  Perhaps we disagree about how best to achieve the goal, but do we not both agree that those who are in pain or poverty need to be helped?  Why create enemies where there are none?

We live, for now, in a democratic republic.  We compromise and work with people who have different ideas of how to achieve similar ends.  Just because we disagree about how to solve problems does not mean we must also disagree that there are specific problems most Americans want to address.  Compromising on issues like healthcare, immigration policy, taxes, or criminal justice reform does not automatically make you an enemy of truth or a hypocrite in representing your fundamental values.

In contrast, because it seems every deviance from our chosen party affiliation is labeled an apostasy to not just the political good but also the moral good, we have obscured the true evils that dwell among us and ask for our allegiance.  Sure, we can usually identify the dangers present in our political opposition.  But when we, say, list praise for abortion alongside the embrace of food stamps, a dovish foreign policy, or a particular tax rate, all as evil things worthy of equal condemnation, we weaken our voice and testimony on the issues that truly matter.

Moreover, when we obsess over the particular evils of the “other side”, we risk blinding ourselves to the evil that dwells within our own causes and among our fellow compatriots.

An exclusive and authoritarian nationalism, the flagrant abuse of power, an unashamed display of greed and success at all costs, a desire to torture or even kill innocents for our own security, a callousness to the suffering or failure of others, a disregard for personal virtue in political leadership, the superiority of one culture, ethnicity, or person over another, all these evils must be guarded against no matter the bearer.

Likewise, a socialist mindset that values the collective “good” above the individual, that labels some life as less important than others because of the pain, inconvenience, or financial drain they represent, a belief that truth is relative and therefore lies are permissible, a denial of a common morality or the existence of a creator, these are all evils that cannot be endorsed or advanced.

In the contrast offered by Chesterton’s dreams there are no lesser evils.  Both dreams are equally unrighteous and worthy of condemnation.  Both dreams were designed to warn each truth fighter of the dangers in their own thoughts and to bring them closer to the true king and the true battle, a battle won through surrender of self.  Both dreams served to bring each man closer together, to remind them of the goodness they shared, and to instruct them about the evil they needed to reject.

Lack of equality, justice, and freedom for individuals as found in the fight for “the law” is not rendered right or good because crime and vulgarity is banished from the streets (although perhaps not in the rulers themselves) and authority and order reigns supreme.

Lack of protection for the sanctity of all life – no matter how inconvenient, ugly, or painful – as found in the fight for the “revolution” is not made acceptable just because institutional abuses of power are finally upended or avenged.

Don’t fool yourself.  All evil leads to the same place.

In the end, we always have a choice.  Contrary to the popular lies spreading throughout our contemporary discourse, when brought face to face with representatives of evil we have a choice to say no. We have a choice to do the unexpected.  We have a choice to take the narrow path and the hard way.

Chesterton understood this point well.  When told that he had no choice but to see the returned king, presumably in submission, Evan MacIan refused:

“Do you desire death?”

“No,” said Evan, quite composedly, “I desire a miracle.”

“From whom do you ask it? To whom do you appeal?” said his companion sternly.  “You have betrayed the king, renounced the cross on the cathedral, and insulted an archangel.”

“I appeal to God,” said Evan, and sprang up and stood upon the edge of the swaying ship.

The being in the prow turned slowly round; he looked at Evan with eyes which were like two suns, and put his hand to his mouth just too late to hide an awful smile.

“And how do you know,” he said, “how do you know that I am not God?”

MacIan screamed, “Ah!” he cried.  “Now I know who you really are.  You are not God  You are not one of God’s angels.  But you were once.” The being’s hand dropped from his mouth and Evan dropped out of the car.

Likewise, Turnbull has a similar moment of revelation where he, too, decides to jump out of the flying ship taking him to the frontline of a battle that was not his to fight.  Both came face to face with the epitome of evil and rebellion.  Both visions, both worlds – of law and of revolution – came from the same fallen angel.  Once the source of their evils was revealed, the two truth duelers knew how to respond.

But what are we to do?  This is the resonating question that remains unresolved by much of our national discourse at present.  Drawn from Chesterton, I have a few tentative suggestions of how best to proceed:

Step 1: Find your Turnbull 

Chances are that you are not alone in the passions now cultivated in your heart as you confront these societal questions of goodness, evil, dignity, and truth.  Perhaps your life is full of Turnbulls, of fellow travelers seeking after truth with the same earnest questioning and resistance to popular movements and ideas that hold others captive.  Or perhaps you need to go out and find at least one other person with whom you can engage.

One of the Turnbulls in my past was the imam’s son.  Be they fellow Christians, or those seeking from starting places outside of divine revelation, find your friends and dialogue with one another.  Band together.  Sharpen each other.  Help each other.  Bless, minister, and engage.  In a world gone mad, these friends of truth are a great gift from above.

Step 2:   Don’t be deceived

It would have been so easy for MacIan and Turnbull to say yes to the fights they were recruited to join.  These were, after all, earthly manifestations of the battles their hearts had dreamed of and yearned for.  These were great narratives wrought in an attempt to address all they felt was wrong with the world.  How desperately our hearts want to be given a mission and told that we have an important role to play.

It is empowering to believe that we can be a part of something great, be it the ordering of the world in the name of security or the last battle of the world in the name of the common good.  But we err when we let our desire to fight overlook the root evil that lies behind those who would beckon our swords.

Ask yourself, who is calling you and for what purpose?  Keep your eyes open in this treacherous world and resist the cunning spirit who would use your best intentions to enlist your services for a cause that is neither just, nor holy, nor righteous, nor true.

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.  –  Galatians 6:7-9

Step 3: Jump out of your ship

We live in a world that often assigns us to certain kinds of boats.  Our race, our citizenship, our families, our denomination, our favored sports team, our political affiliation.  We can choose different labels at times, but no matter where we find ourselves it is easy to go along with a human narrative or cause because it is the rallying call of the ships that we sail within.  Sometimes these boats are harmless, for they provide our sense of community or identity.  But sometimes they seek to take us to places that are contrary to the calling of the Lord.

When we find that our boats of birth or choice seek to sail upon winds counter to the glory of God, to take us to the frontline of battles we are not called to fight, then we must be like MacIan and Turnbull.  We must call out to God for help, pray for a miracle, and jump out of the supposed safety of these berths into the protective arms of our Savior.

In a world that treasures labels and tribes of all kinds, this can be a frightening prospect.  Perhaps you have always been a Republican or a Democrat and to not vote as such (or for at least one of the two) seems like a direct challenge to your identity or your very calling in this world.  How desperately we want to believe that our causes and boats are right and true!  But this is where we must recall that our true identity is found in Christ, not in any label or power or battle the world can offer.  Dare to jump, dare to leave all labels and vessels behind but one: Christ follower.

It’s time to reevaluate what the work of God in this world is meant to look like.  It’s time to question our preconceived notions of what God is asking of us as a people.  I cannot tell you what that future will look like, but I can promise that as we forsake the boats of this earth, we will be met with the power of God, not man, that shall rise us up on wings like eagles to carry us and – we pray – our Turnbulls, to our true eternal home.

Step 4: Put down your sword and kneel

In the final pages of Chesterton’s saga, in the midst of a great battle against those who wish to silence the cause of truth, MacIan, Turnbull, and the friends they made during their crusade encounter another man without a name – the one who was labeled by the authorities as both the most dangerous and the most insane.  Yet this man turned out to be the true King, the true answer to all the world’s ills.

Both MacIan and Turnbull find their swords cast aside as they and their companions fall to their knees before his Holy presence.  Having resisted the temptations of evil battles and evil leaders, they found the true battle and the true leader their hearts longed for.

It is through surrender to Christ, through death in Him, that we will conquer the ills of the world.  It is in rejecting calls to join in these worldly fights as the false gods they really are that we will be fulfilled and our heart’s desire shall be met.

Come before the Lord in prayer, worship, and holiness.  Stay true to Him regardless of the cost, regardless of what others call you, regardless of the temporal consequences some are quick to proffer in admonishment.  Fear not the ways of man.  Rather, take heart in the ways of God.

No eternal fate of a community or country or soul is won or lost in a single worldly election.  No fate of a country or a court, no earthly fight, is worth selling your soul or compromising your values and your Spirit-breathed conscience.

God is in control and He is sovereign.  He always has been and He always will be.  We know the end of the story.  Let’s choose to serve the One who has already overcome and work for the advancement of His kingdom, which is not of this world.

O God of earth and altar, Bow down and hear our cry, Our earthly rulers falter, Our people drift and die; The walls of gold entomb us, The swords of scorn divide, Take not thy thunder from us, But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, From lies of tongue and pen, From all the easy speeches, That comfort cruel men, From sale and profanation, Of honour and the sword, From sleep and from damnation, Deliver us, good Lord.

Tie in a living tether The prince and priest and thrall, Bind all our lives together, Smite us and save us all; In ire and exultation, Aflame with faith, and free, Lift up a living nation, A single sword to thee.

~ A Hymn: O God of Earth and Altar, 

We must refuse to call something “good” that is not in any way representative of God’s goodness.  We must reject any temptation to believe that because we, or our favorite church leader for that matter, is a part of one of these fights that certainly renders the battle worthwhile.

Unless God is present, and He is not present in the evils set before us, no amount of our perceived personal light or the supposed goodness in one facet of a candidate’s platforms, will be enough to overcome their own wretched ends.  Our swords, once commissioned for a battle of darkness, will be used only for the advancement of the evil we choose to represent.

We can remain mindful that each person of faith, each person actively seeking truth, may walk out the four prescriptions above in slightly different ways when it comes to the upcoming election.  Not voting.  Supporting third parties or write-in candidates, of many different types and varieties.  Voting for a leading candidate with a humble and silent grief.  But the most important feature for us to embrace is the refusal to take up requests to fight on behalf of the fallen angels of law or revolution, on behalf of these angels of death.

In the context of our times and our communities, those who engage one another for the sake of truth, those who choose not to be deceived by the popular movements of our times, those who will jump out of the safe categories and labels offered by our culture to instead lay down their swords at the feet of Christ, could well be deemed lunatics.  We may be cursed, or mocked, or criticized.  But such is the calling of Christ.

We cannot afford to loose our witness to this madness.  And yes, the truly mad are those committed to the lies proffered by the philosophies of tyranny and death, found on both the political left and right.  We must disregard attempts to make those who resist or stand apart look like the ones who just don’t understand or who aren’t doing their share to save the country or save the world.

Take courage friends! Our identity is not found in our political allegiance, nor is it found in the fate or morality of our country.  We have a Creator in Whose image we are made.  We have a Savior in Whom we can find refuge.  Look to Him.  Look for Him.  And leap into His arms in times of trouble, believing in the miracle of His salvation and the power of His dominion.

The good news is that God has already conquered and Christ has already won.  His Bride will rise resplendent and His Body shall one day be made whole.  We can follow Him into the fire knowing that He will protect us from the flames.  In the end we always have a choice.

 

* Image credit to Ben Hatke

Borders We Need: Brexit, Boundaries, and Love

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My son recently started saying “me” and “I” with great frequency.  He shouts “Help me” when he falls down, “I want” when he desires a specific activity, or  points to something he’s playing with or eating saying “me, me,” as in mine.  I love it.  He is learning how to develop and express his needs, wants, and preferences.  He is finding himself, he is learning about where I end and he begins, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Recent studies on childhood development suggest that children aren’t cognitively ready to understand the concept of sharing until they are at least three or four.  That doesn’t mean they can’t act kindly toward other children at younger ages, it just means they don’t understand what it means to share themselves and their belongings. To the child soul these enforced episodes of “sharing” are confusing invasions on their fragile and developing personhood.  Yet most of us parents follow our children around, managing their social interactions and begging them to share anyway.  Typically, these futile interactions with toddlers just end in tears for all.

Children can’t share until they first learn to possess.  They can’t fully give until they first understand what it means to receive, and then to own.  Before they can grow into their social skills, they must first grow into an understanding of their individuality.  Learning to say “me” is crucial for valuing “you.”  A key part of developing as people is understanding where we end and others begin.

It is in finding out what it means to be me and not my mother, my father, my siblings, or other family members and friends, that we equip ourselves with the ability to become healthy individuals and learn how to interact with the world.  Relationships, even in their most foundational and early states, need borders.

For those who still believe in the need for defined boundaries – personal and national – in our increasingly borderless world, who recognize that sometimes “no” is said with deep love, this one is for you.

We need borders in order to know and love ourselves.  Self-autonomy is a foundational component of healthy living.  In order to love ourselves we must rule ourselves.  In order to rule ourselves, and protect ourselves from abuse, we must define ourselves.  We need to know what is ours and what is not.  We need to own all that is unique and personal about our body, soul, and mind. As we grow into this knowing, we grow into an appreciation for who we are and who we were created to be, as well as an acceptance of who and what we are not.

We cannot love that which we cannot define or differentiate.  If I don’t know where my body ends and yours begins, how can I properly take care of myself without trying to involve you in the process? If I don’t know what my opinions are in contrast to your opinions, how can I think for myself?  If I cannot express or choose my own likes or wants but rather let you choose them for me, how can I become autonomous?  If I can’t distinguish my rights and responsibilities from yours, how can I adequately protect myself from being used or from seeking to use and abuse others?

Boundaries are a foundational component of personhood, just as borders are an existential necessity of statehood.  In contemplating the current debate regarding the electoral success of Brexit, the British campaign to leave the EU, I was struck by these similarities.

C.S. Lewis writes in powerful terms about the proper love for country and the many ways this type of love can be distorted in Chapter 2 of The Four Loves.  He begins by describing a love of home, a Need-love or natural love, which can develop for the place where you were born or for the many places where you choose to live over the course of your life.  It is a love of the familiar and a love for the unique ways that your home conjours up that special feeling of comfort and belonging.  The foods, the customs, the peculiar ways life is lived, and how it is governed, all of these features uniquely shape the lives of those who dwell therein.

To define these facets of our home(s) and to cherish them is to love them for their own sake. He notes:

Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves.

If foreigners were to invade and rule our home country and try to impose their customs on our way of life, Lewis continues, we would rightly call for a defense.   Likewise, it is not evil to defend yourself against those who would seek to control you – as an autonomous adult – in how to speak, dress, eat, think, and feel.  To merely love your home, your country, for all of the unique qualities and charming familiarities, to be willing to defend your home when threatened because of that love, is not evil.

Of course, love of country can be used for evil, just as love of self can turn demonic and cause innumerable pain.  But to purely love that which is distinct and familiar, to love that which differentiates our homes or ourselves from others, is natural and necessary.

If you cannot define aspects of a country that make it unique, if you cannot say where that country ends and another begins, then how can you love it?  What are you loving, protecting, or identifying with if not specific attributes, perspectives, or customs found within a distinct border?  People need to know where they begin and others end.  They need to appreciate those features that are uniquely theirs, and so, too, do countries.  We need borders in order to know and love ourselves.

We need to define ourselves in order to love others. A significant part of being able to extend beyond ourselves in love for another person is to first know who and what we are.  Without that knowledge we easily become codependent or domineering in our relationships.  After I understand what it means to be “me,” as my son is so crucially discovering at the age of two,  I can understand and appreciate what it means for you to be you.  This is the foundation of empathy.

Lewis aptly observes how this principle works with love for country:

How can I love my home without coming to realise that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realised that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs–why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different.

Properly balanced loves – both for who we are and for who or what we identify with – help us appreciate how others are different.  The common bond between all people is not that we share the same ideas or foods or preferences, but that we all possess the ability to have our own ideas, like our own foods, and live out our own preferences.  We share in our ability to love the particular, the specific, the defined, and the uniquely ours.

The problem comes when we want everyone else to think and act just as we do.  Or when we believe that all people should live in the same way and share our same customs, priorities, and values.  Our contemporary society is perilously edging closer to creating a world where borders, be they personal or communal, are no longer recognized or respected.  It is not enough to be left alone to live as we choose in our own homes, or in our own countries, for this is considered an offense or an affront to “humanity.”  But more on that later.

Because we are losing an understanding of borders we are losing an appreciation for differences – ironic in a world that supposedly loves “diversity.”  We cannot understand, appreciate, or defend the differences of other people if we lose the language and freedom that allows us to understand, appreciate, and define ourselves as distinct entities.

There is no need to be threatened by the fact that others choose or value something different than us.  Rather, through the experience of defining our own loves we can come to understand how someone else might appreciate foreign things or come to differing conclusions.  We need to define ourselves in order to love others.

Superiority is self-hatred, not self-love.  True evils result from the debasement of our loves.  One such evil particularly prone to surface in our abuses of how we love our ourselves and our countries is that of a superiority to those who are different.  It is a distortion of our proper loves to see ourselves as greater than others.

Keep in mind the admonition in 1 Corinthians that all members of the body are to be valued and cherished no matter the roles they provide.  That is the image of love we are to follow.  When such love is malformed, replaced by human rankings and castes, and taken to the extremes, it can lead to racism, improper dominion, and dehumanization.

Lewis addresses this type of superiority as “not a sentiment but a belief.” When love of country goes wrong it is no longer is capable of loving the other, and therefore ceases to properly love, or truthfully understand, itself.  He recounts:

I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, “But, sir, aren’t we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?” He replied with total gravity–he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar–“Yes, but in England it’s true.” To be sure, this conviction had not made my friend (God rest his soul) a villain; only an extremely lovable old ass. It can however produce asses that kick and bite. On the lunatic fringe it may shade off into that popular Racialism which Christianity and science equally forbid.

Lewis also notes how this type of superiority is tied to our understanding of history.  It is all well and good to derive a certain appreciation for the fables and strengths of our unique pasts. Yet it is downright unloving to believe that any country, just like any person, is lacking the presence of ugly betrayals, persecutions, and failures as facts in their own history.  The mere presence of failure or darkness is no reason to stop loving our countries or our persons.  But acknowledgment of our past mistakes act as a cautionary restriction to temper our appreciation for ourselves and help us view other people or nations with compassion.

As regards Brexit, so far as a person in the UK loves their country for its unique otherness, they have done nothing wrong or evil to assert that autonomy.  Many are suggesting they wish to define and control the borders and governance of their own nation.  Ownership of our personal lives, property, or country – and a desire to protect what we own if trespassed in some way – is not wrong.  It is a natural part of life.

The potential evil is found in those forces who wish for the British to leave the EU because they believe themselves somehow inherently superior to other nations, or to people who come to their country from other parts of the world.  To leave lacking an appreciation for those who wish to remain, to leave lacking respect for those who live differently, is where the danger lies.

No doubt that within the British electorate there are those who sought to define their nation’s boundaries on the premise of hatred and superiority.  But there are also those who merely wished to ensure the right for all British people, regardless of ethnicity or personal history, to choose how to rule and define themselves going into the future.

A question for the British citizenry as they work towards meting out the consequences of the vote to Leave is this: just how many of their own possess hatred for others vs healthy love for country?  As I expect they shall discover, not all people who love their county and wish to possess, rule, and protect it are racist xenophobic bigots.

Knowing yourself, and standing up for the right to control that self is not wrong.  Misunderstanding yourself and your history, believing that you can justly control and lord over others beyond your borders, or to hurt and belittle those who are different within, is the true problem.  Where this evil exists, it ought to be noted and condemned.  You cannot love your country if you hate all other countries, just as you cannot love yourself if you hate all other people.  Superiority is self-hatred, not self-love.

Redefining borders, when lost or forgotten, is painful but necessary.  It is not uncommon in the course of our relationships to realize that we need to realign how we interact with others.  Typically this need arises for our own protection.  Sometimes we need to say no because we too often say yes.  Sometimes we need to say no because what is asked of us invades our personhood or our rightly ordered places of autonomy.  Often these “no’s” come after realizing that somewhere along the way we failed to sufficiently understand, define, and advocate for our own limits.

We need to correct relationships that overstep proper borders in order to preserve our own sense of self.  Such redefinitions can be difficult and often are not without some type of relational cost.  Yet the assertion of our boundaries, and the ability to properly rule ourselves, is typically required for our ability to survive and thrive into the future.  Redefinitions of borders are necessary in order to continue loving ourselves, and thereby necessary for enlarging our ability to love others.

In the context of love of country, Brexit provides an example of how a nation might need to reassert their borders, and their control thereof, to ensure survival as a distinct state.  Again, where that redefinition of borders is motivated by a hatred of others it is wrong.  But where it is founded in a healthy love of self it is understandable and legitimate.

One of the great blessings in choosing ownership and love of self is the ability to control how we use and manage our borders.  Merely asserting autonomy is not a decision to shut-out all people or to advocate isolation from the world.  In fact, rightly ordered personal autonomy can help us extend more grace and love to others.

We can love even as we seek to protect ourselves from those who would misuse or abuse us and our borders.  Just because people who transgress our boundaries or who disrespect our natural rights to self-governance are put at a new distance, does not that mean we have to close ourselves off to all relationships.

Those who respect our attempts to redefine our borders as we grow into our autonomy over the years are our dearest friends and allies.  Those who find offense at our choice to live, think, feel, believe, and govern differently are probably not of the sort we should hold nearest and dearest, or allow unlimited access to our lives or countries, in the first place.  The choice to protect ourselves from invasions, even of a bureaucratic nature, is natural and reasonable.

The British people now have a collective opportunity and responsibility to rise to the challenge of redefinition of borders.  This task is not just for those who voted Leave, but also for those who voted Remain.  There is room for a multitude of ways to walk out the process of leaving the EU behind and reasserting the independence of the United Kingdom (or the individual statehood of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland).

These choices are much like those presented to the character played by Julia Roberts in the film Runaway Bride.  Chronically co-dependant in her relationships, she needed an opportunity to step back and choose for herself something as small as the way she liked to eat eggs, for she had always ordered whatever her string of fiancee’s liked as her own.  In the end she decided she didn’t actually like eggs, not in any form.  This is exactly the kind of process we all go through when we need to step back, individually or collectively, and redefine ourselves and our boundaries.

The task when undergoing efforts to reclaim our borders is to stay grounded in a healthy love for identity of self and to see this self-love as a means to respect and understand others.  This task does not preclude the hardships that come during seasons where we must define and assert our borders.  There will always be prices paid and sacrifices made when reasserting ourselves as other and unique.  But the costs are well worth the price of staying whole and distinct, be it in our personhood or our chosen statehood.  Redefining borders, when lost or forgotten, is painful but necessary.

Without borders we lose our identity and thereby our purpose.  In spite of all these truths, there is a prevailing trend in our society to suggest that borders themselves are the cause of conflict.  Confident and unique identity, be it personal or national, is perceived as a threat to harmony and peace.  Because our loves are often distorted and abused in practice, all loves for the particular are held in suspicion.  It is thought better to leave boundaries aside all together, or to not stand up for them when threatened, for that is surely the best path to peace, harmony, and relationships.

It is argued that we must all come to believe, act, govern, and live the same way, for this is the inevitable and desirable end of mankind on earth.  Those who resist progress toward an enlightened multicultural cosmopolitan borderless society are bigoted, backwards, or even considered aggressive for merely thinking or choosing differently than their neighbors.

Perhaps the precedent for this type of thinking began in our contemporary society with traditionalists forcibly trying to keep a status quo of the past.  But now aggression with no respect for borders belongs to the intolerant tolerance found within our progressive globalism.

Lewis deals with this concept as well, noting that without borders countries and people are left with a “false transcendence,” one where the only recourse left for mankind is in “presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light”:

If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds–wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine–I become insufferable…If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.

If we cannot love and define our country as unique and separate, we risk putting our actions out of order.  Wars are no longer just about protecting boundaries and homes, they are about defending universals.  Relationships cease to be about respecting and interacting with individuals, they are about the idea of the abstract category each person represents to us and all that we wish to derive from those roles (Family, Spouse, Friend, etc.).

This is the type of oppressive thinking which leads us into perpetual warfare and conflict. There will always be an “enemy” somewhere not living as we think they ought (i.e. not like us) or not upholding the values we deem to be best.  Here we find no room for compromise, negotiation, or a retreat within our own borders, for borders are no longer respected.  The only victory recognized by the borderless is one of complete subjugation where all differences deemed unacceptable or threatening within a person or a country are wiped clean.

Whether it is relational warfare or the actual use of military might, wars and conquests based on these attempts to subdue in the name of eternals are the epitome of death and destruction.  They leave us unhinged, disconnected from purpose, detached from unique loves, and free to attack at will.  The justification for our ruler’s choices, or for the way we treat others, gets confused with the will and role of God.

It is not our place to tell another autonomous individual how they must feel, think, believe, or act (although we may certainly enforce a consequence when those actions break laws or disrespect established boundaries).  We cannot force a certain type of lifestyle, set of preferences, or acts of personhood on another at will, even when it is perceived to be for their own benefit.

Likewise, the power afforded to a state, or a union of states, is not meant to force others to be made in their own image.  Such is not the purpose of any government or form of governance.  Unless, of course, it be the divine governance of God, and even He allows room for choice in pursuit of his purposes and the reflection of his image.  Choice to exist apart from Him is a critical component of the highest love, the love He offers to His creation.

Natural love, as Lewis defines love of country, is separate from our higher callings to affection, eros, and the most beautiful of all, charity.  Although Need-love is not the same sentiment as that which we encounter in most of our personal relationships or in our relationship with God, commitments to things like our home and our country act as models to help train or prepare us for accepting and growing into the higher spiritual loves of this life.

We shouldn’t worship or idolize our countries, but we can love them.  As part of that properly ordered love we need to define what they are and what they are not.  We need borders in order to know and love ourselves.

While we continually grow into our true selves, we can change how we use and manage our borders.  Self-awareness and appreciation creates a foundation for relationship and a respect for those whose countries or attributes differ from our own.  We need to define ourselves in order to love others.

In loving others we must protect ourselves from any deceitful notion that we are secretly better than those who live, think, or act differently than us.  Superiority is self-hatred, not self-love.

When we discover that we are in a relationship that has confused the boundary of what is mine and what is yours then it is time to reassert who we are.  Sometimes we must say no, and sometimes we must say goodbye.  Redefining borders, when lost or forgotten, is painful but necessary.

If we try to live without boundaries we lose guidance on how to respect and interact with others.  Lacking self-definition, we risk turning into the very tyrants we fear from abuses of patriotic and self-love.  Without borders we loose our identity and thereby our purpose.

There are so many ways we can choose to manage our edges and our internals, for good or ill.  But in order to give, in order to relate, in order to love, we must be able to define, own, and protect.  These are the borders we need.

 

For further reading on the importance of borders as a foundation for love, I suggest Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Free to Hurt: Guns, Refugees, and Choice

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Sometimes my 2 year old son hits his 1 year old sister.  Sometimes she retaliates (or anticipates) and hits him back.

In raising toddlers only a year apart there are moments when I seriously wish they just did what you asked the first time and never again repeated undesirable actions.  Hitting is particularly painful to deal with as a parent because who wants to see their child hurt another, let alone their own sibling? So in those moments I think that if I could only wave a magic wand and say, “no more hitting!” our problems would be solved. The lesson would be learned for good and we’d never have to revisit the consequences, pain, or difficulty of addressing their negative behavior.  Who wouldn’t want that, right?

Sometimes my 2 year old son jumps up from his playtime and gives his sister a big hug.  Sometimes she responds (or initiates) by giving him a big open mouth kiss.

In these moments of beautiful love I am reminded of the power of choice.  When my toddlers choose to show one another affection in such spontaneous, unprompted ways I realize how these moments are special precisely because they had a choice.  Yes, sometimes they hit and that is painful and ugly and hard.  But sometimes they hug.  They hug because they actively chose love over envy and anger.  The magic wand solution is no solution at all, for it takes away their power of choice and thereby the meaning of their love.

This love, even their child love, has a fullness of meaning because each time they express their love they choose it from among a whole range of emotions and responses.  If we enforced rules that trained them they could only ever hug, if hugs were mandatory or mere rituals, if hugs were magically enforced, then their actions wouldn’t express the same thing.  When my son could hit, but instead chooses hugs, that is love.

For those of you unsure of how to speak out on the social controversies of the moment, who want to strike a balance between naivety and fear, between the horror of violence without justice and the high price of ensuring safety, this one is for you.

Choice does not negate justice.  There seems to be confusion in our social and political discussions about the nature of justice.  For, it is argued, if someone can choose to do an act of evil then there is no justice in this world.  The problem is that this understanding of justice fully misunderstands the inherent connection between choice and evil. It is only because we have freedom, and we can choose to use our freedoms for good or ill, that justice even has a purpose to serve.  If we are only given one option then we create a society devoid of justice.  Choice necessitates justice.

In the case of guns and gun control I often hear people argue that the problem with our violent society is that guns are available to the general public in the first place.  If there were no guns, they claim, there would be no more tragic and needless deaths.  If only we took away the choice of how to use guns, and where and how and when to buy them, a great evil in our country would be wiped away.

I am hardly an advocate for the efficacy or need for guns in all of our homes or personal lives. For the record, it is highly unlikely I would ever seek out membership to the NRA or own a gun myself.  Still, I wonder if our knee jerk attempts to address the particular expressions of evil in which guns are involved, typically after they occur, fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the problem before us.

Our problem as a society is not that we have access to guns.  Our problem is that we have access to evil.  Our problem is that we don’t value ourselves or others with the innate dignity that was gifted to us by our Creator.  We disrespect and devalue human life every day.  We do this with our words, with our actions, and through the media we consume.  And while we can most definitely do something to address the ways our culture discards and objectifies human life, and while we can opt to limit or take away legal access to guns, we will never be able to limit the potential in every heart to access and act upon evil.

This is why we have courts on earth, and this is why God sits on a judgment seat in heaven.  We all have a choice on how to use our lives.  Some people use their choices for good, but oh so many of us use our choices for ill.  When someone chooses evil over good it is painful and heartbreaking to watch or partake in.  Often, seeing others choose great evil is hard to understand.  But that is why justice exists.

Will the justice of the law or the justice of God satisfy or heal the pain and sorrow caused by evil in this world? No.  That is the role of Jesus: the sacrifice, forgiveness, and atonement offered though His life, death, and resurrection.  Yet the justice afforded to us both on earth and in heaven grants us a pathway to address the true problem, the problem of evil, and how some people use their freedoms to choose to do evil things.

We overstep the purpose of justice when we believe that we can somehow prevent or erradicate evil by limiting our access to choice and taking away our freedoms. That is not attainable nor is it wise.  To do so ignores fundamental truths about human nature.

Gun control or no gun control, evil will exist, people will hurt and kill others, and life will continue to be filled with the cost of sin.  I’m not saying there isn’t place to debate public policy changes in how we handle guns in our country.  But I am saying that no matter  where we stand on this issue, we ought to respect that gun ownership, like so many other rights and responsibilities, comes with a choice to use it for evil or to use it for good.

Seems to me that when a mother uses a gun to shoot and ward off home intruders we collectively cheer.  Or when a private citizen protects an innocent life using their concealed carry gun in public we label them a hero.   In our efforts to limit the potential for evil, we may also prevent or limit good.  Justice is personified holding a scale for a reason.

We needn’t fear our choices, for with the choice to do evil comes the choice to do good.  Because we can choose both good or bad, we can punish evil.  Choice is the very bedrock of the justice that we all look for when faced with tragic displays of evil in this world.  Choice does not negate justice.

Lack of choice does not ensure safety. When we take away the ability for ourselves or others to choose, we take away the potential for good.  Liberty, the founding principle of our nation, demands the opportunity for certain abuses and dangers to exist alongside the opportunity for goodness or righteousness.

Take away a choice in the name of safety and you are often left only with coercion, not goodness.  Coercive societies are joyless societies.  Coercive societies lack imagination, creativity, and individuality.  We may find that the cost of any “guaranteed” safety we create when we overly limit our choices and options is far too high.

Think about the current debate regarding refugees and immigrants from Muslim nations.  In the name of safety many argue that we need to cut off access to our country for millions  of people around the world.  Is there perhaps a chance than some small percentage – likely less than 1 percent – of those seeking entrance to this country intend to use this privilege for harm? Yes.  But think of all that would be sacrificed in the name of protecting us against this hypothetical threat.

Think of all the good that could be done in helping hundreds of thousands of families in need of a home.  Of showing the world the courage and openness that America was once known for through our welcoming arms and our willingness to accept the huddled masses.  Think of the certain good that would come from embodying the powerful imagery of a city on a hill, shining light for those from far and wide in need of refuge and a hope for a new life.

Think of how many of those seeking entrance here might, for the first time in their lives, be gifted the opportunity to live in a land where freedom of religion is real and the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in public.  In fact, not only might it be the first time they will have the opportunity to hear about the truth of Jesus, but it could offer them the first opportunity to consider following Him without fear of reprisal or violence at the hands of their own government.

Is it at times unsettling to know that potential terrorists might be dwelling in this country and seeking access to weapons? Yes.  But it is also unsettling to realize that in the name of protecting ourselves from this potential threat we would empower the government to decide, without recourse to justice through due process, who is and is not safe, who is and is not a threat, who does and does not have rights. Is it not also unsettling that we would ban a whole group of people from entry to our nation because of the faith or the place of their birth, regardless of the content of their character? For me, most certainly yes.

We can extend these powers to the government, we can limit ourselves and our society until our border is in lockdown and every building has a metal detector.  But no matter the laws passed or the precedent set we will never eradicate the evil that inspires terrorism or that leads mankind to kill.

However, we can choose to do good in the face of evil.  We can choose openness to protecting our choices and expanding our opportunities to heal and bless.  We can choose to hug and not hit, even if we were hit first.  That is how evil is vanquished in this world.

Evil wins each time we cower, we fear, and we stop living.  Evil wins when, in the name of safety, we close our arms and no longer extend them for the hurting and the broken.  Evil wins when we stop ministering to others or hide the words of the gospel for fear of rejection or misunderstanding.  Evil wins when we elect to take away our freedoms, not when we choose to defend or expand them.

Until the day of Christ’s return there will always be evil on this earth.  That is not a surprise, it is a promise.  Take away choice and not only does evil win, but it will find new paths for expression.  Increase the potential for light, increase the opportunities for good, and choose courage instead of fear.  That is how evil will be overcome, and oh how it shall be overcome one day!

We can be certain that so long as we are here on earth there will be sin and evil and pain.  Yet we are also certain that in the end goodness and beauty will win, that God shall render the ultimate justice, and that only His love shall remain.  Good shall conquer evil, that is a promise too.  Because we have this promise we have nothing to fear.

More choice means more paths for goodness to shine and justice to be rendered, not less.  We are safer when we more free, not the other way around.  Lack of choice does not ensure safety.

We are free to hurt so that we are free to love.  We should be neither surprised by nor scared of the existence of evil in this world.  When confronted by the existence of evil we are called to choose love.  We can promote free choice as a society to act for evil or for good because we have recourse to justice, both human and divine.  Choice does not negate justice.

Take away our choices or our options on how to live and we merely limit the potential for goodness to shine in this very dark world.  Lack of choice does not ensure safety.  If we severely limit ourselves as a nation, or as individuals, we will devalue any good we try to offer or create.  The power of love is found in the power of choice.  Forced love is no love at all.  We are free to hurt so that we are free to love.

 

How We Mourn: Grieving in a World of Division, Gossip, and Calls for Action

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Late last Fall I was watching Gretchen Carlson’s show on FoxNews one afternoon (a choice by default due to nap times) when a segment came on about the tragic murder of Amanda Blackburn and her unborn child.  I had heard about the case through a mutual friend on Facebook and prayed for her and the Blackburn family while she was in the hospital fighting for her life.  Naturally, I was interested in what they would say.  Carlson, a Woman of Faith guest speaker who is very open about her Christian faith, interviewed a fellow FoxNews legal analyst about the investigation.

The two, completely unprompted by any shred of known evidence, proceeded to besmirch the name of Davey Blackburn, Amanda’s husband and pastor of a local Indiana church.  They called into question the nature of his testimony as shared in a few national interviews.  They then suggested that his ability to publicly profess a calm hope in the midst of heartbreak was suspicious.

In fact, Carlson, who noted her Christianity in the segment as a sign of her understanding, went on to say that she couldn’t fathom how Davey could honestly have such peace in the face of overwhelming tragedy.  She suggested that his words of hope and perceived lack of emotion called into question the truth of his statements.  In the minds of these “Experts” this was reason enough to suspect him of involvement in his own wife’s murder.

Never mind that the police had already issued a statement publicly ruling him out of suspicion, never mind that less than a week after this segment aired the real killers were taken into custody and confessed.  To them, Davey Blackburn was a suspect of pure evil because his story was too good to believe.  Moreover, they had the audacity to suggest that we, as the general public, ought to think so too.

He was “analyzed” because the lies they wove and the gossip they created in this segment was more sensational and thereby more newsworthy than the goodness of God in response to evil articulated by Davey Blackburn. They didn’t care about truth or about the hope and peace offered by this courageous and faithful man.  They cared about themselves and their ratings.  With that recognition, I was done.  The TV went off and I never tuned into FoxNews again.

For those of you struggling to understand how to respond in the face of tragedy, for those of you questioning how to express hope in the midst of our dismal public discourse, for those of you tired of politicization and gossip who just want room to grieve and pray, this one is for you.

All people matter.∗  On one hand I think I shouldn’t have to say this.  Of course all people matter.  But if we are honest about ourselves, and honest about our sub-culture of choice, that is rarely how we act or speak.  People matter when we like them, when we agree with them, and when we understand them.  People matter when we can sympathize with them or when we look up to them.  People often do not matter to us when they look different than us, when they believe different things than us, or when they do or say something we cannot understand or condone.

Yes, someone may choose to do a terrible thing and they – like us all – will have a price to pay for their evil deeds.  These costs and consequences come in many forms, both temporal and eternal.  But the existence of justice does not change the fact that even our enemies, even the criminals who shoot and maim and kill, are people who matter.

God loves them all.  His grief is not just for the victims.  God’s grief is also for the tragedy of the perpetrators.  He grieves that their life’s purpose turned so contrary to His plan for their story.  He grieves the many ways that we hurt and wound one another as creations made in His image. God does not hate any soul and neither should we.

We may hate the evil in the world, we may grieve for the destruction left in its wake, we may need to enforce a painful consequence against another, but we are not to hate anyone.  Just like God, we grieve for all who are involved in the man-made tragedies of this life, the innocent and guilty alike. All people matter.

Human dignity demands respect for truth.  In the era of 24-hour cable news and internet reporting there is little room for patience in how we interpret tragedies.  Given that most of our news outlets have dismissed reporting in favor of endless analysis, the tendency toward rumors, slander, and gossip (like the FoxNews story on Davey and Amanda Blackburn) runs rampant. It brings us all to low places in our thoughts and words.  I think gossip is one of the most undiscussed yet pervasively  destructive sins in our culture today.

Gossip is not only talking about others without their knowledge or using information about others and their circumstances for our personal gain, but it is about projecting motives or thoughts upon others in a way that transcends our personal knowledge of the situation.  Gossip is talking in an underhanded or unkind way about people we know or about total strangers, often with the intention to wound or suppress.

Because gossip distorts truth and has the potential to hurt and ruin lives, it undermines the innate dignity of humanity.  So much of the way we take in, receive, and relay information about news, be it personal or public, quickly devolves to this low level.

Therefore, when in doubt stay silent.  This is hard to do given the reactionary platform of social media that most of us carry in our pockets and purses everywhere we go. But the fact remains that we don’t need to have an opinion on everything, and we certainly don’t need to publicly express those opinions every time we encounter an opportunity to do so.

I know some charge that silence in the face of tragedy is a sign of disrespect or lack of engagement in the world’s atrocities.  But I suppose the question to ask is, what kind of silence is it? Sometimes the wisest course of action when met with tragedy, apart from prayer and offering condolence, is to remain quiet and leave room for those impacted to grieve. Truth takes time to be revealed in this messy world, and often special or personal knowledge is required for an event or a choice to be correctly understood.

We each encounter many situations in life where we will never know all the facts required in order to speak with authority and certainty about another person or their actions.  We should be cautious in our response to pain and controversy.  Because all people matter, the way we talk and think about them matters too.  Human dignity demands respect for truth.

No one is defined by how they die. It is easy in this world that glorifies the gruesome to view how someone dies as an integral part of their identity.  To do so belittles our personhood and ignores the truth Christians claim regarding the eternal nature of all human life.  Everything that comes before and everything that comes after death is what matters most.  Our deaths, and particularly their means, are mere footnotes to our entire glorious story.

I am not defined by either my most embarrassing failure or my most amazing triumph.  Our eternal beings are a totality of life in both this world and the next.  While it can be hard to remember this perspective, and it is certainly not our place to render the eternal judgement reserved only for God, I think we are each called to look to the entirety of a person’s existence, as best as we know and understand.

Were you kind or righteous on this earth? Did you know and give love? Or did you hurt and use and abuse?  What about after death?  How will you respond when you stand before Jesus and see Him face to face?  These are the questions that matter most.  The way that we leave this world is not the be all and end all of our existence.  No one is defined by how they die.

Hope is real.  It was shocking for me to hear Gretchen Carlson, a woman supposedly so matured in the faith, unable to recognize the peace and hope God gifts to us in in the face of evil when expressed so poignantly by Davey Blackburn.  I am sure he sobbed and cried out to God in private those days following his wife’s death.  He probably still cries when grieving for his tremendous loss.

But he also knows that the pain wasn’t pointless and it wasn’t the end.  He knows what all Christians are meant to claim.  For all the unanswered questions, for all the tragedies of life, and for all horrific acts of violence this world has to offer, we have a profound reason to find peace and healing in the forgiveness and salvation of Jesus Christ.

The awesome truth of Christianity is captured in the hope of a future where there will be no more mourning and no more pain as we worship before the throne of the Lord.  Hope and faith is comprised of our assertion that a future eternity with God is real and that this reality is more beautiful than any joy or delight found on this earth.  Once reunited with our Savior, the purpose of hope and faith are fulfilled and only love remains in its fullest and most complete form. There we shall dwell together shrouded in this love for all eternity.

Some evil is just too awful for us to comprehend a response or know what to say.  That’s why God gives us His words, even when those words come out as groans and silent yearnings in the Spirit.

I believe the Holy Spirit gave me words to remember Christina Grimmie, just as he gave Davey Blackburn the words to remember his wife, so that He could point all of us to the place from whence the shadows fall.  When God uses you for such a powerfully important task, be it person to person or on national TV, it is moving, humbling, and life changing.

Testifying of His goodness in the face of darkness is a miraculous way to embody the message of the Gospel.  It is a working out of the promises God expresses to all of us each time we spot a majestic rainbow after a storm.  Hope is real.

Grieving is enough.  Our culture likes to put emphasis on doing and achieving and not quite as much on simply being.  The temptation when faced with life’s tragedies, big or small, is to feel like we have to “do something” in order to give meaning to the pain.  While calls for action in the face of evil can lead to good things, like sending flowers or donating blood, they can also distract from the heart of the matter.

When the unspeakable occurs, where there is heartbreak and sorrow, there is often very little that can be done to make it better or help the pain disappear. I think this is where our discourse goes astray.  The minute we try to fix the heartbreak in order to give a tremendous loss some kind significance, we belittle the most important calling and response available to us: grief.

Grief doesn’t have to do, it can simply be.  Grief sits beside you while you cry, often in silence.  Grief gives space and time and opportunity to feel the pain.  Grief lets us each process what has occurred in our own ways and in our own time.  Grief walks forward while still acknowledging a loss.

I understand why so many look for answers in the form of social action or public debates, especially in a world that struggles to recognize as truth messages of hope spoken in the midst of grief.  And there may be room, in time, in certain circumstances, to seek action in some way to prevent further evil.  But the immediate aftermath of any tragedy is rarely a time to fix, rather it is a time to feel.

In reality, when faced with wounds created by a great evil, no amount of fixing will ever be full enough to infuse sense into the senseless.  We shouldn’t belittle the importance of grieving, even when that grief is silent, for the sake of some greater “cause.” The cause of remembrance, fellowship, and condolence is sufficient.

Because hope is real, we can grieve with hope.  To do so, in and of itself, is a powerful and consuming act.  Grieving with hope asks us to live within the tension of the already and the not yet.  We can affirm that hope is real and yet still find the losses of today difficult to bear.  Picking ourselves up in the face of tragedy to walk onwards with hearts full of sorrow, yet choosing to remain faithful still, is one of the most powerful forms of Christian witness gifted to man.

In order to give tragedy purpose in our life or the lives of others we don’t need to do any more than what each traumatic situation begs of us in order to bring about healing.  We mourn by acknowledging that all people matter and that human dignity demands respect for truth.  We heal by proclaiming that no one is defined by how they die and that hope is real.  Grieving is enough.

 

∗ This is not in any way, shape, or form a reference the #AllLivesMatter vs #BlackLivesMatter media “debate”.  It is a statement of fact regarding the foundational human dignity and worth of human life that undergirds our society.

The Persecuting Church: Conservative Evangelicals and the Support of Donald Trump

bible-and-flag-iiThe years proceeding the 2016 primary season have been fraught with contentious, and often troublesome, developments regarding the moral and religious direction of our country.  In all honesty, I was prepared for a persecuted church. What I was not prepared for was the advent of the persecuting church.

The rise of Donald Trump as the frontrunner for the GOP is not, in retrospect, a very surprising event.  As a people Americans love to be entertained, especially when we mix entertainment and politics.  As a people we worship the material things of life, and are all-too-eager to point to accumulated wealth as a marker of good character. Add to this the political inefficiency and decay of the last seven years, the leadership vacuum it has created, and high levels of dissatisfaction found across our nation and the stage was set.

When people are hurting, when people are fearful, when people feel impotent and unheard, they are primed for the rise of a demagogue. And a demagogue who is a former reality TV star, who also happens to be “very, very, rich” by his own boasting, seems tailor-made for such a time as this.

What is both shocking and saddening in recent months is the widespread acceptance and promotion of Donald Trump’s candidacy among evangelical voters. We all witnessed the embarrassing endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr. – son of the founder of the Moral Majority – who praised the Christ-like qualities of this vain and unrepentant owner of strip clubs and casinos.   I sat disappointed, yet not surprised, when Pat Robertson – the former leader of the Christian Coalition – all but kissed Donald Trump’s golden feet while hosting him at Regent University.  We now watch day after day as sundry Evangelical pastors and leaders throughout the country declare their support for Donald Trump’s supposed leadership strength.

I say “supposed” strength lest anyone forget that we serve a God whose ultimate act of strength was to become man and die a painful and disgraceful death on a cross.  That is the type of strength we ought to admire, one of humility and sacrifice, not the image of Nietzsche’s strong man who disparages, tramples and mocks anyone who stands in his way.

Donald Trump’s Christian supporters like to claim that we don’t vote for a pastor-in-chief, rather we vote for a commander-in-chief.  Leave aside the fact that many of these people are the same ones who four years ago were suspicious of Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon.  Or that in 2008 and every day since a large number of these church-goers have berated Barak Obama regarding his lack of Christian orthodoxy, his ties to Jeremiah Wright, or even suspicions that he is actually a Muslim.  Leave aside the immense hypocrisy of a people who claim to care about moral issues in politics such as abortion or the sanctity of marriage but who willingly disassociate themselves from any vision of political leadership that asks our president to lead us with wisdom in justice and truth.

What person of integrity, what person of faith, can honestly say that the qualities they look for in a commander-in-chief are any of the myriad of despicable character traits that Donald Trump exhibits every day in this campaign?

I think the true answer lies in one of Donald Trump’s biggest, most repeated claims: that he is a “winner.”  Evangelical Christians have been anything but winners of late, most especially those who associate with the remnants of the political movement created by the religious right of the 80’s and 90’s.  We’ve been losers in popular culture, losers in the legislature, losers in the economy, and losers in the Supreme Court.  So why not join with the one man who is telling you that you will be a winner?

He will win for our economy and solve your financial troubles.  He will win in foreign policy and crush the enemies you fear.  He will win so that all people will declare Merry Christmas come December irrespective of what they are actually celebrating.  He will win on the border and with immigration so big that you won’t have to learn Spanish or worry about people taking jobs that you don’t really want to do in the first place.  He will win for Christianity and make sure all those martyrs beheaded in the Middle East and those martyrs in Chickfila drive thrus across the nation are avenged and put back where they belong – on top.  It’s time for Christians to win again!

Never mind the cost of all this winning.  Never mind that Jesus taught us that his followers would not win in this world.  In fact, we ought to expect to be loathed by this world.  Never mind who gets trampled upon as long as we win so huge we can’t even believe it.  Illegal immigrants and their legal children, all Muslims regardless of character, women who don’t want to be objectified, liberals, homosexuals, journalists, critics: none of these people matter as real people upon whom we ought to show compassion and treat with respect so long as we can win.

In supporting Donald Trump, American Christians say to the world that they mostly just care to win; it does not matter who gets hurt or damaged along the way.  In supporting Donald Trump, Christians say that they will use their privilege and their voice to threaten, intimidate, and bully anyone who is different, anyone who disagrees.  In supporting Donald Trump, Christians say that they will persecute those who persecute them. 

Jesus said we ought to bless those who persecute us.  Donald Trump says we ought to condemn, sue, disparage, and beat down those who persecute us.  Here is a cold, hard truth: in the ethic of Donald Trump, Jesus Christ was a dope and loser who was so stupid and lacking in support that he ended up penniless and dead in a cave instead of being a winner like The Donald.   

The danger of evangelicals who support all the nonsense that comes pouring forth from this man’s mouth transcends typical political discussion.  This is not a question of Republican vs. Democrat on issues of policy or ideology.  This is a question of basic human dignity.

You can’t dissociate yourself from the vile filth that fills Trump’s Twitter feed in a constant stream of insults and ignorance in order to justify support of him.  A vote for Donald Trump IS a vote for his tarnished character, a vote for the inculcation of untruths, and a vote for his methods of appealing to the most despicable parts of our nature.

Some Trump supporters like to point out that no one is perfect, no not one.  But do you honestly think that means we should go out there and find someone who actively promotes all the worst that our base humanity has to offer and vote for that guy?

Are all politicians flawed?  Yes.  Are some politicians very flawed, if not corrupt and criminal? Most definitely.  Yet the logic does not follow that we ought to support for president a fiend who would prey on the fears and disappointments of our hearts to win our vote, just as his casinos prey on the lusts of our bodies to win our money.

In staring down the potential future of the persecuted American church I have moments of fear but am mostly filled with peace.  The testimony of millions of saints who have gone before us and faced the worst horrors the world could devise yet still stood for Christ with grace and dignity warms my heart and gives me hope that we could do the same should our time come.

It is this new future we taste of today, a future of a church so obsessed with success, so desiring to win at any cost, and so willing to trample others in the process, that I now fear.  I am ready to face persecution for the cause of Christ.  But I will not stand idly by as our brothers and sisters choose a path that leads us to persecute our enemies, both real and imagined, in the name of Christ.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I take great comfort in the knowledge that it does not ultimately lie in the hands of con artists, liars, and despots.

This is not the first time, nor sadly is it likely to be the last, that Christians will fall victim to the whims of those in power who wish to exploit our weaknesses for their personal gain.  But this season is deeply convicting for those who, like me, see the dangers without more clearly than the dangers within.

It reveals to us in the most humbling of ways that God uses a multiplicity of means to refine his church.  Most importantly, these political developments act as a clarion call for our ever-present need to do exactly what was spoken over millions of Christians earlier this month on Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Happily Ever Always

Why aren’t we able to create or sustain heartfelt images of goodness?

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Everything I have ever learned about writing or story-telling, either in classes or through the media of our age, emphasizes that there is no plot worth telling without a crisis, a climax, or a great trial.  The characters of depth – the roles which actors clamor over and are in turn praised most consistently for portraying – are the ones who are dark, twisted, and complex.  Genius, we are taught, is displayed through intricate articulations of the hardships, disappointments, and perverse things of this life.  In short, you cannot have a good story without having a great evil.

Goodness is most often thought of and therefore portrayed as flat, dull, and even insincere.  The tales which tell of good things or redemption typically hold off to depict these values until the very end and we are left with the iconic, and perhaps now ironic, “happily ever after” which no one actually dares to maintain for anything longer than a fleeting moment.  The evil may be vanquished and overcome in the final minute or on the last page, but I would wager that most of these yarns were only able to show the good in contrast to a more complete vision of the bad.  A triumph can mark an end but it rarely, if ever in our stories, becomes a genuine beginning.

It is natural for our anecdotes and legends to mirror the experiences of our lives and the sad truth is that evil, sin, and injustice are an undeniable part of our existence.  It is therefore little wonder we glance askew at happy tales, thinking that these must either be shallow in message or that they couldn’t possibly be the whole or real story.  This reality, we assume, must involve hypocrisy, tragedy, and the truth of our depravity laid out naked and bare.  Even through our occasional sappy tears at “feel good” plots we undercut the happy endings of our times, ever aware of the foibles of humanity.  The climactic marriage scenes, you think, could easily follow into divorce; the sports triumphs may lead to tales of drug abuse, injuries, and public disgrace; the redeemed man will more likely than not lapse back into the problems and addictions of his past.

But what of redemption that lasts?  How can we claim that salvation is transformational and the ultimate fulfillment of our existence if we cannot even sustain images, characters, and tales of goodness without dabbling in evil to keep things interesting or “real”? I am not an advocate of smoothing over the difficulties of this world or the truth of our own flaws and sinful natures, but it certainly seems that we should consider more intentionally how to restore a proper sense of the the good in the sagas we write and tell.

If we all acknowledge that the need to depict evil in our stories stems from our daily reality, then why is it that we attribute such imaginative mastery to those who craft these dark characters and plots?  The hard thing is not to tell of what we already know but to tell of that which we do not know, or rather, of what we can only see in part.  It is a much higher calling to depict the good – with the penetrating and rich qualities this ought to entail – than to merely replicate the bad which we are constantly mired in.

Evil, even in its most startling forms, requires little creativity or inspiration to conjure up.  We find it every time we read the news, step outside our front door, or examine our own hearts.  Perhaps this is why we see so few examples of genuine goodness in our art, because “the good” is what demands true talent, imagination, and hours of reflection to fashion and bring into being.

I don’t necessarily advocate the perspective of artists like Thomas Kinkade who seek to depict life as they think it would have been without the introduction of original sin into the order of creation.  Neither do I think it possible to achieve complete perfection or holiness in this age, either in our lives or our creative endeavors.  But what I do promote, and what I earnestly desire a new generation of artists and writers to undertake, is a concerted effort to depict what life can and will be like through the active and complete redemption of this world. These efforts will be incomplete, perhaps some will even be false or misguided, but why else have we been gifted with the power of the baptized imagination if not to envision something beautiful and whole amidst the destruction and brokenness of our present reality?

I am daily convinced that our redeemed imaginations are to be used as a means of communicating hope to this world.  God’s goodness as a rich and constantly unfolding actuality, not merely as a foil for the more compelling evil or as a line tagged on to the end of a story, is what we all hunger for.  May we ponder anew how to be vessels that introduce this true good into the world through the stories we tell, the characters we devise, and the images we create.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.

~ Psalm 27:13-14

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

~ Romans 12:21

This essay was originally posted April 8, 2011 on my tumblr blog.