For Such a Time as This
“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” —Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
I do not believe it requires much further explanation when I say that our nation is now in a perilous state. The right and left disagree about what the danger is, but we all agree the danger is real.
I also believe it will not take much convincing to tell you that this disagreement—an understatement if there ever was one—is a very large and persistent part of the danger we are in.
That we cannot agree on even the most basic facts of reality means that we have literally lost the ability to communicate with each other. And that does not bode well for the hope of reconciliation. Can you even imagine what reconciliation would look like right now? I’ll confess it presently strains the limits of my imagination.
It is the room in the house where the fire is the most high.
It is important not to forget, however, that this is not the only place where the danger lies. The fire distracts us while the thieves plunder the house.
And while I feel the sting of America’s division as something akin to a child watching her parents argue so much that she wishes they would finally just divorce, that is nothing compared to the others among us who are suffering horrors that I will only ever be able to view from a distance.
I know this is one of the things we disagree on. But it shouldn’t be. It is real and verifiable. You can see it. The only way not to see it is to deliberately look away.
We can rationalize it and justify it and deflect away from it; we can argue endlessly about the cause of it, but we cannot deny that some of us are suffering more than others. Some of us are more hungry, are receiving less dignity, respect, and justice. Some of us are dying at the hands of unqualified or bigoted police officers. Some of us debate whether it is appropriate to talk about those deaths at sports games.
Am I wrong here? Are there facts that dispute what I just said? I know it makes you uncomfortable. It should. I can sense into the future that I am already making some of you angry. That’s okay. Bear with me. I am about to make it worse.
Because if we are honest with ourselves, I believe we have to admit that religion and spirituality, at least in the way that many of us understand it, have done nothing to help us. In fact, in some cases it has made things far worse.
You might assume I am only talking about Christianity here, but I am not. It was intentional on my part to say “spirituality” over “religion.” Those of us over in the Oprah-branded-all-positive-all-the-time-spirit-and-light-world-religion-buffet are also well overdue for some critical examination.
I hold nothing against self-improvement, self-empowerment, or self-enlightenment. These things my life’s work. Both as a writer, and far more importantly, as a human. But we must be mindful as to why we are seeking these things and to what end.
What are you transforming into? For what purpose?
We must be wary of a spirituality that blinds us to reality. That attempts to untether us to this world and all of us in it who are intrinsically connected together.
We must be wary of a spirituality that is only concerned with the self and its own comfort. Be wary of that which encourages complacency. Be wary of the quick fix. Be wary of anything that promises you change without sacrifice. You cannot be transformed and the same person at the same time.
We are far too asleep to notice either the fire or the thieves.
We must also be wary of that which is not spirituality but merely tribalism masquerading as such.
Chances are in the last few weeks you or someone you know has cited Romans 13 or has somehow otherwise argued that the law is the law and it must be followed. You or someone you know has also likely said something to the effect that we should not be caught up or distracted by politics, but instead should rather just focus on preaching Jesus. Most of us know this is not a new thing to say.
The same arguments were made in support of slavery. They were made against the poor who went on strike for the 40 hour work week and a livable wage. They were made during the civil rights era in defense of Jim Crow and segregation.
But these arguments were forgotten when schools were forced to integrate. When prayer was was removed from public schools and evolution taught in the classrooms. These arguments are not made when considering abortion or laws against discrimination.
Evangelicals are clearly prepared to resist laws that they feel to be unjust. It just seems, from at least my perspective, that the only laws they deem unjust are the ones that negatively affect them.
If I am wrong here, I am eager to be corrected. But as of now, these are the patterns I see. And I frankly find it unappealing. I have to join with James Baldwin in saying, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”
The thieves buy our silence by promising not to steal from us, only them.
Times are dark.
It is a very real and present danger we are in.
What a beautiful opportunity.
It is only in times of terror that we can become brave.
It is only in destruction can we build something stronger.
It is my firm belief that true spirituality is essential to these efforts. It is the fire that guides us. The hope at the core of our perseverance.
Let me be clear in how I am defining such a thing.
I say “spirituality” for the lack of a better word. It’s like how we say “sunset” even though we know that it is the Earth revolving around the sun. From our perspective, we have the perceptual experience of a setting sun. It feels real to us. And thus, “sunset” provides a useful phrase for us to describe a mutually shared experience. It is useful even though the experience itself is “not real.”
I suspect that I just made things more confusing by saying that. I will dedicate next week’s essay to unpacking that further. I only feel it is important to mention now so that my dear Atheist family does not feel excluded from that which I believe is beneficial. In short, I don’t think you have to believe in God to have a deep and rich spiritual life.
God may exist or might not. But either way, we are capable to perceive certain metaphorical “sunsets” that are incredibly nourishing and transformative even if they prove to be “not real.”
If there is a spiritual tradition that is capital T True, than we can expect these “divine” or “spiritual” moments to be more frequent, more rich, more deep, more rewarding, more life changing, etc. But we are all capable of these moments. It is simply a matter of being open to them.
And that is how I define spirituality (at least for our purposes now). This is what I believe is the essential antidote to our times. We need an openness. We need a transforming. We need the ability to see through the surface to discover what matters. And once we see what matters, we need the ability to let everything else go.
I don’t know what it looks like. I can’t tell you how to get there. But I have tasted it and I want more.
I believe there is a way that we become so consumed by love that it flows out of us like a wellspring, that it infects everything we touch and brightens everything we do. I believe this love, once experienced, will burn away that which is polluted and broken and scarred in us and leave us refined and tempered and ready to be of service to the still dying world around us.
I believe in a spirituality that changes the way we walk. That changes how we see everyone around us. I believe this spirituality calls for us to lose our self and then find it in the face of every person we encounter.
I believe in a spirituality that is not concerned with what I do as much as it is with changing who I am.
I believe in a love that is so powerful and infinite that it cannot be concerned with borders or skin color or how a person identifies. I believe in a spirituality that views politics and morality as seperate things and that the former should always be led by the latter.
I believe in a spirituality that ennobles, that elevates, that heals, that transcends, that restores.
I believe that love is not civil if civil means silence. I believe love confronts and stands up and stands in between. Love protects. Love defends. I believe that Love is useless if not expressed. And I believe that the expression of love in society is called justice.
As I’ve said, I don’t know at all what this looks like, or even if it looks the same for everyone. I can’t tell you how to live or what to do.
All I can tell you is that I am going to where love is. I am leaving the rest behind.
It is my hope is that choosing kindness, love, empathy, integrity, honesty, and honest self examination will get me closer to whatever it is that is the source of love. It is my hope that doing so will help me be better to the ones around me.
It is my hope that I am not the only one.