For several months I managed to avoid the Republican debates with their requisite mud-slinging, posturing, and outright lying. Why expose myself to it? A little more umbrage with your coffee, Madam? No thank you, I'll just have a little cream.
What came over me this morning? I was reading a NY Times article about the upcoming primaries and the next thing I knew, a video stream hijacked my laptop. Seeing all those ads, stump speeches and debates juxtaposed in a fragmented postmodern collage jolted me out of denial. Before I could disconnect the video to continue my pleasantly detached reading, I found myself mesmerized by Donald Trump. Yes, really.
It was like seeing a multi-car traffic pile-up on a freeway---you can't look away. He was talking about killing Muslims with bullets laced with pigs' blood--point being that we have to stop being candy-assed about defending ourselves against bad guys. I get it. If you think you're entitled to everything you have and more, you'd better be prepared to defend it by any means necessary. To hell with niceties!
I sat for nearly two hours trying to understand the psychology of voters, as clips played from various campaigns. There was Sarah Palin endorsing Trump because he is
"Right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion, and our Constitution,"
whatever our constitution, our guns, our God and "our" religion have to do with each other. "Can I get a 'Hallelujah?" she asked, pointing out that Trump was from the private sector--as if being a billionaire real estate magnate from the private sector was somehow akin to being a messenger or prophet sent by God. Are we meant to infer Trump has messianic qualities?
One clip featured a pastor mounting his Harley with gun in holster saying he wanted a president whose convictions were informed and led by "Our Lord Jesus Christ." I wondered what Lord Jesus Christ he was referring to--surely not the one who was taken from the garden of Gethsemane to be hung on a cross. Did he think Jesus was crucified because he didn't have a gun? That it would have gone better if he'd had an AK47 under his robes?
There seems to be an imaginary Jesus being invoked by the religious right, a magic avenger who will defend white American rights and keep out the brown-skinned boogey men who want to get through our borders and take it all away--Jesus of the status quo. Except that is not Jesus. Jesus was not about preserving the status quo, not for one blessed second. Not the Jesus in the Gospels who was crucified, not the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount, not the one who pissed off all the powers that be.
Jesus defended nothing, least of all his life; that's how he got dead. He flat-out refused to defend himself against Satan, the Sadducees, the Pharisees and finally the Romans. They kept trying to trip him up, yes, even the zealots, but he kept sidestepping their power games. Power wasn't his deal. Survival wasn't his priority. He was serving God and neighbor--all neighbors--and pointing the way to the Realm of God! Ted and Sarah should go back to Sunday school and reread the Parable of the Good Samaritan if they missed that memo.
Things were in big flux two thousand years ago, much as they are today. Some people were calling for revolution while others were fighting to hold onto what they had, also like today. Jesus refused both paths, which is also how he got dead. He preached that there was no hanging onto anything worth hanging onto. "Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it." He proved it when he refused to save himself.
That is the central polarizing factor in today's world, too. We are going through what might be called epochal transformation. Do we try to hold onto what we have, or do we ride the crest of this wave into a new world? Holding on is instinctive when something or someone tries to wrest what we thought was our very heritage from our grip. We want safety. We want certainty.
Alas, there is no certainty. The Ayatollahs and Donald Trumps of the world cannot stem the tides of change with their decrees. We will not return to an idealized past, however attractive it may seem to some. It is delusional to think we can build walls or make laws against the changes we have wrought. We can only do our best to deal with the results: Women have economic and reproductive choices we did not have even fifty years ago, altering gender relations maps that sustained society for thousands of years; we are not going back into domestic servitude. Gay people will continue to insist on their visibility, asserting their rights to live and love as they choose. Climate change is real. Arable land is eroding in Africa. Wars from our misguided attempts to remake the Middle East have destabilized the entire region. As life becomes untenable in their homes, people will migrate elsewhere seeking a chance for their families' survival in faraway places. As Islamic fundamentalism meets global capitalism, jihadist cells and actions in North Africa and elsewhere will proliferate. International travel is becoming the norm among educated classes, giving rise to multi-cultural perspectives. We are no longer only Americans, French, Germans, or Lebanese. We are part of a worldwide transformation of human identity.
All these changes make up a tidal wave heading toward an unimaginable shore, destined to crash and transform everything we knew as our world--all we have assumed to be right and normal for at least the past 500 years and maybe longer. If you are trying to hold tightly to the past, "to keep your life," as Jesus said, you likely will be swallowed up or crushed. But there is another possibility. Rhys Fisher has termed this possibility "agile existence." I imagine being a piece of sea-foam atop the wave or a surfer in control of my balance on the board, though not of the wave. I let go to tumble and free-fall. There are no guarantees. In the end no one survives this life. I am losing my life in order to find it, and for the moment at least, I am enjoying the ride.
A few weeks ago I traveled to interview some students at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. These young people's self-definitions and perspectives went beyond national, racial and religious identities because their roots were not were not in any one place. I saw the best of what might be possible in a new world: spiritually and socially committed women and men who have clear vision and are navigating huge changes without attachment. They grasp the reality of climate change and the gravity of its impacts. They talk frankly about population filters due to loss of arable land, migrations, floods, corruption, jihadist movements and war. They are plugged into technology. They speculate about 3D printers and artificial intelligence, yet they seem fearless. All are working in some way to shift the center of the world's gravity toward renewal and regeneration. They embrace life lightly, not trying to hold onto their lives, beliefs, or identities, but riding the wave. They possess faith beyond identity, rooted in the process of transformation itself.
It is this shared faith that gives me courage against the gun-clinging tough guys seeking to hold onto their privilege or to avenge some injury, just as the Romans, the zealots and the Pharisees tried to do in Jesus's time. Jesus refused them and kept the balance of human freedom by his refusal. Thus, two thousand years ago a new possibility for human beings was born which we can follow today if we choose it.
This election may not yield the gentle outcome and humane transition I hope for, though I will continue to work for that. Either way we can be sure Christ will not return in a tank carrying an automatic weapon. We are in a sea change. It cannot be held off by force or wishful thinking. Therein lies the opportunity for regeneration. Those who try to keep their lives will lose them whilst those who let go will find something new. The first will be last and the last will be first, and in one way or another, the meek will inherit the earth.