The Ugly Place We Are
I am unmoored. I no longer recognize the world in which I live. I am an alien, a foreigner, an outcast. I read the news and see where another black man has been unjustly killed by police. Those who seek power seem unfit, immoral, or at the very least unstatesmanlike. Christians across the world are murdered because they are Christians. Religious organizations and individuals are forced to give up their profession or violate their conscience according to the ruling of our highest courts. As if this weren’t enough, men sworn to serve are mowed down in the street like June’s first cutting of hay.
At the same time, the cacophony grows and patience dwindles while people react but do not think. Our cultural motto is “I feel, therefore I am.” Our emotions drive us, but not to compassion for all life, but instead toward the satisfaction of our individualistic whims to the detriment of all society. As the pigs who lived in farmer Jones’ house, everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.
We chant about individual rights on one hand and yet we quickly deny those same rights on the other. Our culture believes it is tenable for citizens to have absolute freedom of belief as long as their disagreeable expression of that belief is hidden from public view. The only exception occurs when individual expression lies far outside cultural norms at which point one is lauded as a brave hero, a trailblazer, a person to be emulated.
In the meantime, prosperity preachers shout peace from the rooftops. As in the days of Jeremiah they declare “Peace, peace!” when there is no peace. They peddle gold-plated wares in place of precious metals but their philosophy turns the soul green with a little use.
And we, those fallen and flailing yet believing saints of God, sit head-in-hands as we watch the world quake around us, opening fissures that will swallow unsuspecting souls in pain, disillusionment, and death.
I believe in a God of love, beauty, peace, and radical forgiveness. I believe he desires our good, that he has come to set us free, and that his people – while we are yet aliens and sojourners in the world – are agents of reconciliation, bringers of peace, patient endurers of hardship, and radical advocates for the poor and disenfranchised. As I survey the landscape of American popular culture, however, my vision falters because I do not see many of us.
Instead, I see those who bear our name more eager to ingratiate themselves with would-be power than to speak with a clear voice as a prophet of our age. I can sense the grief of God when he declared to the prophet, “There is none righteous. No not one.”
The world rages on. We want to believe that time and history have increased our humanity and deny the truth that there really is nothing new under the sun.
Talking heads discuss the violence and they assert that most people are generally good — they don’t shoot black men without cause and they don’t kill exposed police officers from a place of safety. It sounds good and it feels better to believe that most of us are good, but those of us who have committed ourselves to the Way know better. We know the truth and it’s far more chilling than the TV personalities want us to believe.
The question is not really about our goodness at all. We are all fallen, unrighteous. If we read the word and believe what it says we clearly see that all our talk of good disintegrates to mere degrees of bad. What if we all looked at ourselves and acknowledged the darkness within? What if we understand, that given the right circumstances, or chemical imbalances, or woundedness we could be just like those we so malign? What if we all saw ourselves first as a people incapable of true good without divine intervention?
When we acknowledge that nothing good is in us — and real goodness only flows through us by His gracious gift — we are not so enamored with our suffering, our protection, our perspective, our ideas. We understand suffering as a human condition varied only by circumstance. As we surrender our good-ness, our right-ness apart from God, we learn empathy and humility and the power to listen. When one group expresses outrage at injustice, we affirm their indignation without need for self-defense. We sit with them in their grief.
We avoid the false dichotomy that believes to acknowledge a wrong committed against one automatically pits us against another.
Above all we remember that the only good man suffered at the hands of evil ones for our sake and he calls us to do the same. We remember he taught that no greater love exists than for one of us to give up their life for a friend. We remember the love-infused truth he spoke to the outcast whom he welcomed and empowered as he said, “Go and sin no more.”