What will it take for you to recover from 2020?
So much has been written about 2020, that I hesitate to write again, but I want to learn the lesson of that year, and I want to heal. Don't you?
As I have written before, the biggest cost of 2020 for me personally was the relationships. It has to do with words that were said by people I call my "spiritual family" -- and not so much the specific words by specific people but the collective emotion behind it all. It felt and feels like something very deep in the heart of my Chrisitan brothers and sisters in Conservative America doesn't fit with something very deep in me. It came out as anti-urban sentiment, the clinging to dubious conspiracies while claiming to value truth, the lack of historic understanding and willful ignorance of basic social science data around race, the lack of basic empathy, the constant "straw man" arguments, and the "I know better than health professionals" attitude. Many of my "spiritual family" supported Trump not despite his rhetoric but because of it. When I asked, very few distanced themselves from his rhetoric. Most identified with his anger at "the establishment." It seems that he spoke well to their frustration about a country that increasingly doesn't belong to them anymore and their fears about the transition to a non-White, secular state.
If you are feeling attacked or mischaracterized right now, send me a comment or email. This post is about moving forward in an authentic way, not harping on old hurts. No doubt, I have caused hurt as well, and some of you might feel that I am a dangerous "woke" activist intent on "taking down America." I will say that I have come to believe that there is similar hurt and alienation felt on both sides of 2020's social media wars. I understand that I have both been hurt and have hurt others. They watched in horror and panic at the BLM-related violence just as I watched with a knot in my gut at the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
So, what is the path to more healing both for myself and for my brothers and sisters?
Here are some steps I want to take. Perhaps you can add to this list.
1. We have to recognize the emotion involved. Both sides like to think of themselves as the ones who want the truth, who base their perceptions on evidence, and who just believe the facts, but isn't it true that humans tend to live out of both passion and data? Are we not better described as beings of love and hurt rather than logic and analysis? Don't we all get triggered at things and just want to "go off" occasionally? This point could be a book in itself, but can we just agree that we are all people of emotion, and we may as well admit it. We find facts to support what we feel. Emotions are not even a bad thing even though my German-Swiss heritage seems to think so. When Jesus was asked to summarize all of God's expectations for us as humans, he used a highly emotive word, love. All the law and the prophets hang on a single rule of life, to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Can we love without any emotion? If we are to live the life God intended, we can't be scared of emotion. "They" are driven by emotion, I am driven by emotion, we all are driven by emotion, so let's admit that and pray that we can be driven by the pure, redeemed, passionate emotions of the fruit of the Spirit. Love is the summary of it all.
"The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (I John 4:8, NASB)
2. I have to choose to love. It might be a bit old-fashioned, but the classic MLK quote is still true.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
3. I have to return to the things that don't change. Politics change, health changes, race-relations change, friends change. God doesn't change. If I am ok having nothing but God, then I am ok. It is when I cling to changeable things like a country or a culture or a political idealogy or a denomination or even freedom or justice, that's when I get sidetracked. 2020 revealed that a lot of us care about an awful lot more than we care about loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
4. We have to recognize the role of self-interest. None of us is a neutral judge in these culture wars. Whether we are talking about race or health mandates or unemployment benefits, we all have skin in the game. In 2020, it felt like we had a lot of skin in the game. We have to acknowledge that.
Some final reflections:
I am not as comfortable with dark emotions as I claim to be. I know 2020 had us all feeling intense things. I like intense things. It is one of the reasons I keep taking pictures of graffiti and sharing them with you. Nothing speaks like random, uncommissioned, unprotected art that is just flung out there for the world to see.
But I am not comfortable with emotions in the church, especially angry emotions.
God is more comfortable with these emotions than I am. Listen to what he says about his chosen people:
“Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts. Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born; I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst." (Hosea 2:2-3)
God expresses his anger and hurt in the most graphic of terms. It's hard to read, -- certainly not quote on Sunday morning. But listen to this text taken from later in the very same poem in the book of Hosea.
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor[b] a door of hope. There she will respond[c] as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Lord, "you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.[d]’ (Hosea 2:14-16)
God regularly uses imagery that is the most intense humanly possible. Intense rage, unbelievable gentleness. Is anything more tender and intimate than a couple relaxing in the hot tub on their wedding night? That is the way he describes the consummation of his redemptive work -- the climactic moment of human civilization when the curse is broken once and for all, and God is fully reunited with his creation. After 6,000+ years of struggle and drama, the story of world history ends with a white gown and a feast. That tender emotional moment was the picture he had in mind when he chose to be the one naked, bloody, gasping in the desert sun while nails tore through his muscles and veins. The anger expressed in the book of Hosea when he wanted to slay his lying cheating bride with thirst, that same anger he chose to take out on himself on the cross.
God is not placid. He is wild and emotional, with extremes that seem to exceed both our highest hopes and deepest dread.
I am not comfortable with these highs and lows, but Jesus was.
So when I see yet another cynical meme portraying my people as twisted, intellectual elites or mindless looting savages, I might get a little angry, but that's ok. Anger is ok. Your anger is real. My anger is real. God's anger is real.
There is healing still.