Does it ever strike you square in the face like it does me?
The Jesus that I use as my model for living is offering a view of life that runs against the grain of my culture.
Jesus offers a version of reality that is different from our normal view. It values all people, as children of God. He says not to retaliate to those who wrong you, with the incredible image of offering the other cheek if one has been slapped in the face. Non-violence is his mantra. Valuing the poor, rather than the productive. What business school did he go to? Jesus offers an alternative version of how to see the world. In this sense, he is subversive.
That notion is offensive to many, maybe even you. A lot of preachers hawk a Jesus who blesses your prosperity and success. In their minds, Jesus is a Tony Robbins on steroids, framed in stained glass. So when someone like Martin Luther King or Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests a more radical Jesus, it catches you by surprise. It did in his day of teaching about the preeminent Kingdom of God to folks who has domesticated their religion into manageable rules and regs. They didn’t like it much. We still don’t.
Jesus can surprise you, even shock you…if you pay attention. The price is simply too high for most. We prefer comfort as opposed to cost. That was true in the church I grew up in, South of God, where the Christian flag flew side-by-side with the American stars and stripes. We thought America “has” Jesus on its side.
I grew up American, or as some in the South mouth the word, “Merican”.
I was taught that America has a special place in the world, favored by God, blessed by God. And my sense is, most Americans still believe that with their hearts, minds, and souls.
It’s similar to a child growing up, thinking he/she is the apple of his parent’s eye, the favorite, the Favored One. It’s a seductive illusion.
I remember my friend, Pat Conroy’s book, Prince of Tides, in which the mother, Miss Lila, secretly and strategically tells each of her children that he/she is her favorite, but warns them to keep this a secret “don’t tell your brother or sister”. I remember smiling when I read that character stroke made by Pat, thinking he must know something of that perverse love. I sure do.
“I have no favorites” I would hear my mother say, convinced that she was telling the God’s honest truth. My grandmother, a confirmed Scot who called a spade a bloody hoe, made no such pretense. She would let you know who was her favorite, no questions. Not that she didn’t love others, just not as much. That’s just the way it is. Deal with it.
We humans tend to project those parental images onto the Divine, the one we, in this country, call God. For some of us, that means God is imaged as a benevolent, if distant, presence in the sky. For others, the image is more of a giant eye in the sky, who has a passion for catching us making a mistake. As I have been a student of this projection process, it’s been a fascinating study of how people project this childhood image from their experience of parental figures, or in reaction, how they “wish to God” their parents could have been.
As a country, our story, our narrative, our scam, is that we are special. Special in the eyes of God. American exceptionalism is the fancy term for it. We claim that God had a “thing” for Israel and the Hebrew people, recorded in the Old Testament. In fact, out of that specialness spawned the Son of God, Jesus, tied in genetically to the root of David. Somehow, we appropriated that title, just like we did this land…..we stole it. We sort of liked the notion that God specially favored us. That would “work” as we needed to justify some rather exploitive tactics in our becoming.
Let me quickly say, I bought it, lock, stock, and gun barrel, the American myth: We are chosen.
In fact, underneath our native repulsion of the idea of a global identity is that we fear losing our specialness. Merica!
I love the idea of America. A place where people are free from domination of a divinely appointed king or queen, free from an authoritarian tyrant. The Land of the Free, that’s how the song and the myth go.
But not for all people. We were birthed with the stain of slavery as our disfiguring birth mark. And we are still living with it, even though we seem to want to cover it up with a cosmetic patriotic dust. Let’s just not talk about it, keep it hidden, a family secret, don’t you know.
I love the idea of America, a place where we practice a democracy where everyone has a vote, a say-so in our direction, in choosing our leaders. Of course, we know that was withheld from women until the 19th Amendment, in 1920, only one hundred years ago. And it was denied with slavery and extended by Jim Crow laws to people of color. There was a blatant attempt to depress the vote in the South of black folks, justifying with the old saw, “we know better how to take care of them”. The same lie was told to ourselves about slavery and the plantation, and damnably, it is still mouthed in more subtle phraseology these days.
What was once blatant is now being carefully engineered by legislators, politicians, and folks manipulating the system. Today, it is called gerrymandering by which we attempt to “protect” majority of votes by rearranging the voting districts. Both parties have used this means, with one being much more shrewd than the other. But today, it has reached the pinnacle of sophistication and cleverness, led by majorities in the state legislative assemblies.
And even worse is the attempt in the states to make it harder to vote, limiting early voting opportunities, or limiting extended voting hours that make it difficult for working people to vote. Most scary is the outright attempt to be able to alter the voting officials so that entire results that don’t satisfy can be thrown out.
The former president tried to do this with the Secretary of State here in Georgia. It’s on TAPE. No hearsay. “Find me 11,780 votes!”. Fortunately, this time, we had a person of integrity who would not be swayed by pressure. Fortunate for him, he taped the conversation as the aforementioned cheat denied the initial allegation. But there was the TAPE. Evidence of attempted fraud by a person desirous of wanting to cheat the real voters of Georgia.
I love America, the land I love with its amazing mountains, plains, and coastline.. I am particularly partial to our national parks that preserve a semblance of the wild frontier which is our heritage. And I am proud of what we aspire to be. We have a wonderous mix of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, coming together as a past of a whole.
But my love is contingent on the justice and law that has evolved to be extended to ALL people, a dream in our Founders’ eyes. It has been a slow turning to make the rights promised available to ALL, even women, even people of color. And it is dependent on the mercy that we have extended to immigrants who come here seeking refuge from a wide variety of oppression in varying venues.
That is the American Spirit that I celebrate, a Spirit that once again is threatened by those claiming a supremacy over others not like themselves. Intuiting a change, an increase, in demographics of non-whites, confirmed by the census, folks realize, in the old “small town” reactionary way, “something must be done”. Afraid of losing an “advantage”, they seek to rig a free election by limiting who can vote and how they can limit access to the right to vote.
This is clearly counter to the American Spirit. Not counter to some of our historical aberrations of justice that we had to overcome by the work of such heroes as John Lewis who engaged in “good trouble”. We must guard against a regression in liberty that hides in hampering access, and the old Southern hack of nullification. Rather, we must work hard to register, and turn out voters in record numbers in response to this misguided effort of control and repression. I’m counting on the anger that such blatant suppression will inspire. This suppression is a short-sighted strategy that will backfire in the long run.
Good trouble won on a bridge years ago in Alabama. And it will win the day again. Count on it.