A Tale of Two Kingdoms, or, Why a Conservative Christian Cried on Election Day

I rubbed tiredness from my eyes as they tapped red and blue-smattered digital maps and now and then cued the dramatic music for the next incoming projection.  A yellow checkmark shone beside the beaming candidate’s triumphal face, claiming another state, another trove of electoral votes.  There was disbelief, conjecture, and momentum towards an outcome radically different than expected.

When it ended I slipped into bed beside my sleeping husband, waking him.

“Trump won.”

“What?  You’re joking.  No way.”

“Yep.  Hillary conceded.  He’s going to be our President.”

“Wow.”

Then we lay in silence.

Tears came readily, for me, a pro-life Christian conservative.  Yes, when the power seemed to fall in my peoples’ laps.  The tears weren’t for Hillary, though I did feel sad for her own grief, having worked so hard.  I did not want her as my President, but I felt for her loss and frustration.  I grieved for the people whose hearts felt hope because of her support for the marginalized; I grieved for their fear.  You don’t have to agree to feel.  You can look into the eyes of those with whom you experience profound disagreement and feel compassion for their hurt, their disappointed hopes, their suffering.

No, I didn’t grieve for Clinton; I grieved for the Church.

History has taught me to grieve this; I cannot ignore it.  The government may or may not be improved with Christian morality legislated; this is complex and hard to quantify especially because Christian morality itself is interpreted so differently among Christians! Is it Christian to execute criminals?  Is it Christian to initiate war?  Is it Christian to tell non-Christians whom they can form a civil union with?  And clearly there are certain things that an effectively self-sustaining government must be ready to do that a good Christian could never do; we are constrained by the laws of another Kingdom which are incompatible with any earthly one.  How does a country operate in global relations if its beliefs include loving your enemy, blessing those who hurt you, turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor as you love yourself, not thinking only of your own interests, denying yourself, overcoming evil with good, welcoming the sojourners (immigrants and refugees), honoring them and caring for their needs without qualification?  History shows us that those who have attempted a Christian theocracy have either split their lives into two parts (public life and private life), or they have ignored the merciful and radically-loving commandments and used the Christian name to incite fervor and unity into their subjects.  Both distort Christianity.  When the Church and power hold hands, the Church loses, it loses its very heart and medicine.

Christianity is the path, the way, the hospital where our sin sickness is diagnosed and healed.  It is where we encounter Him, Christ, our very life.  Trying to make people behave like Christians through legislation ignores how each of us really experiences transformational change.  I would argue that we are changed by love, by humility, by joy, by good examples, by beauty, by heroes, by music, by art, by godly grandmothers’ prayers and the lives they led before us, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit’s work within us; not from top-down laws that govern our bodies but not our hearts.

Of course I want abortion to end, but I also don’t fool myself into thinking that true change will come if it’s made illegal.  Theft, perjury, child abuse, and rape are all illegal too, and yet how prevalent they continue to be.  Of course I don’t want to suffer persecution for holding on to God’s sexual ethics, but God never promised me a cost-free faith.  God does not say, “Make sure you don’t have to suffer for Me”; he calls me to suffer well for His sake, enduring.  We are to be the conscience of the nation, not the constable.

Which kingdom are we invested in seeing triumph?  And, importantly, at what cost?

“It has become more evident to me that we are to be given a great popular national Church, whose nature cannot be reconciled with Christianity, and that we must prepare our minds for the entirely new paths which we shall then have to follow.  The question is really:  Christianity or Germanism?  And the sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day the better.”  -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor who was executed by the Nazis

When I see that 80% of evangelicals rallied behind a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, and that they’d let him because he’s a “star”, and who laughed at his own failed attempt to seduce a married woman, and who mocked both prisoners of war and a reporter with a disability, I am sickened (especially when I remember how they eviscerated Bill Clinton for his moral failures).  I am also disturbed by Christians who found the life of the unborn an insubstantial reason to not support Clinton.  I’m disturbed that they could so easily brush aside some very real concerns about her integrity.  I have heard all the justifications about voting for a platform rather than a person, about how God uses sinful people for His purposes, and so on, but what the world sees is far different.  They see that our bar is extremely low for the person we want in power and hypocritically high for those we don’t want in power.  Character matters until it doesn’t.

How did I want this election to go?  My hopes weren’t pinned there.  My hopes were that Christians would vote for those who both represented what they cared about AND were capable and experienced people of sound character and integrity, even if they lost.  That they would be kind and warm to those who disagreed with them.  That they wouldn’t vote if there was no one they felt in clear conscience that they could affirm.  That they wouldn’t choose a lesser evil, but would rather choose good always, even if it meant abstaining from voting.  That in all things, that they were more invested in God’s kingdom work than in the power plays of Washington.  I wanted the Church to be the Church, a distinct and beautiful thing that reaches not for power but for the downtrodden and broken, embracing them.

Last night at our local English as a Second Language program I sat down and played a board game with two young Muslim girls, their hijabs framing their playful, beautiful faces.  Their mother was in class, learning the language of her new home.  We laughed together.  I was so glad they’re here, and I hoped that their bright joy wouldn’t be stomped on by the hate and fear of my fellow Americans.  I stopped by the home of one of our Indian students, enjoying their delicious food and warm hospitality, laughing together, hugging them both as I left, saying “May God bless you, Mamagi (Mother, with respect).  May God bless you, Papagi (Father, with respect).”  These experiences were a balm on my raw heart.  Here was the kingdom work that I could be a part of, each connection a vote for love and compassion.burden

 

 

Advertisements

Reading Together, a Novel Priority

It seems that anything is possible over coffee in a quiet cafe.

Even studying a biography 600+ pages long by three mothers whose combined progeny number fourteen.  Fourteen souls to care for, wash for, cook for, run about for, and yet, three mothers laid aside a portion of time, of energy, of brain, to read and discuss together.

When you’re in the thick of it, in the swirl of parenting young children, a coffee with adults is luxurious.  Add to it conversations of depth, on history, theology, politics, and it becomes downright heavenly.

We are reading Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who plotted to assassinate Hitler, eventually dying in a concentration camp.  There is so much to respond to, so much to think over, and it’s a true gift to do so with friends.

Most of my day is spent in cooking, feeding, and cleaning up from cooking and feeding, peppered with laundry and reversing the chaos of toys wrought by my toddlers.  I find myself ever so grateful to add the discipline of study and reflection into my duties; it has become a priority, and this is due to the ladies who have banded together with me.  We are happily obliged to one another to keep up, keep going forward; make reading an important task, which clearly, it is.

408196_10151676557058352_643068089_n

Adjusting Focus

untitled (7 of 32) untitled (8 of 32)It was another average Friday night with friends; sitting around a table with a board game spread out, sushi rolls long-disappeared, chips and salsa, and a rousing debate about the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.  If this isn’t part of your life, I daresay I pity you; nothing goes with sushi like discussions about theology.  As long as both are worth chewing on.

We even got out the Greek Lexicon.  Deep waters, my friends.

Happily, it wasn’t a debate pivoted upon proving a point, but rather about seeking truth.  Together.

As we discussed and researched the historicity of the claim, the Biblical and extrabiblical support or lack thereof for it, the implications of it, etc, we were eating and I was breastfeeding and any number of our combined eleven children were popping in and out of the room.  “When did the doctrine first appear in writing?”  (Baby grunts and poops, husband and wife banter about who will change the diaper)  “What did the early church fathers say about this?”  (Child needs help finding pajamas)  “Were Jesus’s brothers Joseph’s sons from a previous marriage?”  (Munching of chips)

The focus whiplashed from the micro to the macro and everywhere in between, and that is precisely right and quite good.  Have you heard it said with a note of disdain that we shouldn’t worry about fine points of doctrine, but rather we should focus on Jesus and loving others?  As if the macro precluded the micro?  That both couldn’t be important?  I’ve heard it a lot, especially in the evangelical world.  But maybe it’s possible, and important, to care about all of it?  To find both orthodoxy and orthopraxy of equal weight and worth?  I read it somewhere, how Christians these days are always trying to give truth a crew cut, to get down to the “essentials of the faith”, as if Christ Himself weren’t as complex as they come.

I’m studying Byzantium at present, at day’s end when quiet enfolds our home, and I burrow into some soft corner of couch or bed with my book and what remains of my cognitive functions.  What caught my attention is how much the Byzantines cared about theology, even the finest, most micro points of it.  And not just the clergy, but the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, so to speak.  The micro mingled with the macro in the market.

I’ve been told that I think too deep about things, as if it were a miserable condition that hopefully I could be cured of.  But isn’t God infinitely deep?  Aren’t His mysteries just so?  Isn’t it quite right that we yell down a well to test the depth?  Don’t we shine small lights into vast caverns to see what we might see, even knowing that we don’t see more than a fraction of the grandeur?  If we photograph a landscape with a wide-angle lens, a broad sweep of the Grand Canyon for instance, don’t we also find a world of beauty in the wildflower clinging to the rocks at our feet?  Can’t we adjust our focus and find in all of it a glory to behold?

Yes, I daresay, we can!

We can care about the Filioque AND the homeless man begging over by Kmart.  We can debate the implications of the Council of Chalcedon AND attend to the spit-up streaming down our respective shirts.  We can share Jesus’s love in simple ways and simple words AND analyze the early church’s beliefs about His mother.  One focus doesn’t kick the other out of the room; together they bring the whole room into view.

untitled (19 of 32) untitled (20 of 32)

 

Terrorism There and Here

I carried my sleeping baby upstairs, his warm cheek resting on my shoulder.  My heart was pierced by very sad news.  I looked at his crib, but instead carried him into our bed, tucking him close and warm against me.  I needed him near.

“A friend just got a text message from her brother asking her to shower him and his parish in prayer. He is part of a mission and ISIS has taken over the town they are in today. He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus. He said so far not one child has. And so far all have consequently been killed. But not the parents. The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own. They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families – even if it means their own deaths. He is very afraid, has no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have seen their children martyred. Yet he says he knows God has called him for some reason to be his voice and hands at this place at this time. Even so, he is begging prayers for his courage to live out his vocation in such dire circumstances. And like the children accept martyrdom if he is called to do so.”

Friends of friends, casting a net wide for prayer support yesterday.  I prayed, but it felt more like a groan, the words seemed so achingly small; all that came was “Lord, have mercy” and snatches of coherent petitions.  What do I pray for you, bereaved parents who’ve seen your children murdered in front of you?

“This came this morning… Just a few minutes ago I received the following text message on my phone from —- ——– who leads —————–. We then spoke briefly on the phone and I assured him that we would share this urgent prayer need with all of our contacts.

‘We lost the city of Queragosh (Qaraqosh). It fell to ISIS and they are beheading children systematically. This is the city we have been smuggling food too. ISIS has pushed back Peshmerga (Kurdish forces) and is within 10 minutes of where our —— team is working. Thousands more fled into the city of Erbil last night. The UN evacuated it’s staff in Erbil. Our team is unmoved and will stay. Prayer cover needed!'”

Dustin and I entwined our arms over sleeping Henrik, praying together for the people being targeted by ISIS, Christians and other faith minorities.  For those working in the regions affected.  Henrik slept on and I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of world he would know in his days.

I prayed too for the terrorists.  It is no small thing to be a murderer of children; how deep the darkness in the soul to be able to do such!  I prayed for eyes opened and hearts of stone turned to flesh.  Though their crimes break my heart, I am also heartbroken for them; they will always be haunted by their violent deeds, and if ever they entertain the idea of disillusionment with their ideology, there will be those small faces before them, there will be that blood, and all of that horror.  There is plenty of motive to keep their hearts hard and their souls darkened.  The light reveals too much.

The news this morning revealed images of bombed sites in Syria.  There are always little children on the periphery, isn’t there?  Surveying these piles of cinderblock rubble?  It is always jarring for me to see them on the edges of aftermath.  I see you, little ones, and I pray for you; this isn’t the world as it should be.

Why is it that children are so often sacrificed on the altars of men?  From ancient times, when babies were burnt to death in sacrifice to Baal, to the Egyptians commanding that all the Hebrew boy babies be killed upon birth, we have seen the most vulnerable among us brutally killed by the most powerful.  WHY?

WHY???

WHY???

But isn’t the worst of it that it happens today, right here, in our modern, first world, United States of America?  In clean, sterile clinics with smiling “nurses” and assuring “doctors”?  (I put them in quotes because they violate their hippocratic oath to “do no harm”).  Children are decapitated, dismembered, here, on our proud and self-righteous soil, thousands, EVERY DAY.  Maybe not for a religious ideology, but often for a far weaker and more anemic one; convenience.  And so our indignation resounds hollow, doesn’t it?  Are we for life, or aren’t we?

People call the ISIS fighters monsters and call the abortionists compassionate.  When will we open our eyes and let the light reveal the horrors on our own soil?  The deliberate and cruel extermination of life most tender?  When will we see?

I pray for the ISIS fighters and the abortionists, and the mothers laying back and spreading their legs for their children to be killed, that eyes would fly open, that hearts would be illumined, and that the tide of blood, the blood of the innocents, would be halted.  Because one man’s, or woman’s, agenda should NEVER mean the death of a child.

 

A Heritage of Holiness

We all stood in a lopsided circle-of-sorts and belted out “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”, also known as the Mennonite anthem, or by it’s number in the old hymnbook, #606.  It’s the sort of hymn that soars and climbs and doesn’t trace back upon itself.  It’s the sort where the parts shine, the deep bases rumble the floor and the sopranos caress the rafters, and the altos and the tenors fill and expand the space between with silken harmonies.  And this family knows how to sing.

It was the bi-annual Weaver family get-together weekend, my husband’s mother’s side of the family.  And here’s just where the peculiar begins…they are all ardent followers of Christ.  All of them.  Not just nominal Christmas and Easter Christians, not Christian-because-my-parents-baptized-me Christians, but people who love, serve, and have a day-to-day relationship with the living God.  A whole family of them.

What a rarity.

When the roaring hymn ended, someone spoke into that trembling goose-bumpish silence, “Thank you Lester and Helen.”  They would be Dustin’s grandparents, singularly beautiful people who birthed the seven children who birthed the rest of those standing shoulder-to-shoulder in that lodge’s great room.

heritage

heritage3

I am no family historian, but I do know some things about Lester and Helen.  Lester was one of the first Mennonite pastors to minister in a black congregation.  Many tried to dissuade him.  It just wasn’t done.  Pastors weren’t paid in those days, so he worked full-time and ministered in the evenings and weekends, and it’s said that Helen never complained or begrudged the workload.  They were humble, devoted, and lived sacrificially.  Clearly their children saw that faith wasn’t an outward form to act, but an inward reality to nurture.

These were people who cared about the right things.  I remember feeling sorry for them when I’d see pictures of their home later in life, a single-wide trailer.  For some reason I had this deep, ugly prejudice that people who lived in trailers had somehow failed at life.  I don’t like to admit that, but there it is.  But who could but smile when they looked not at the trailer, but at the gorgeous flowers Lester had planted all around it, and him there in the photo smiling proudly?

When they died, there wasn’t much to give to their children, because they’d given themselves away all their lives.  They lived open-handedly and gratefully.  They were rich in love and generous with it.

We stood in that circle, the descendants and the married-ins, and acknowledged the weight of lives lived well.  How far the ripples go out from holy lives lived in our presence or our memories.

It begs the question:  what will be the heritage we leave for our children, and our children’s children?  What will they see that we valued most?  What will they glean about God by our relationships with Him and others?  Do we live sacrificially?  Do we live humbly?  Are we getting the right things right?

Have our hearts been captured by other loves; work, financial gain, busyness, entertainment, comfort, food?  What do we hold tightly to, what is in our hands clenched tight, the things we won’t give up in order to live open-handedly towards God and our neighbors?  If God invited us to serve him in a third world country, what would we be afraid of losing?  Our home?  Our independence?  Our savings?  Our safety?  Our comfortable couch, familiar snacks, and cable tv?

These are weak loves.

And strong idols.

If we at all desire to leave for our children a heritage of faith, we would do well to consider how those who’ve impacted our lives most lived.  Sacrificially, humbly, and holy.

Fashion and Flesh

Granted, I had style on the brain.  I don’t often, but I was right in the middle of reading “The Lost Art of Dress:  The Women Who Once Made America Stylish” by Linda Przybyszewski (which I beg you to spare me from pronouncing out loud).  To then immerse myself in the visual shock that is the varying degree of near nudity at a U.S. beach, why, that is a recipe for some strong opinions.

The book, ah I adored it.  The history of the Dress Doctors, ladies who guided American ladies from the late 1800’s through the early 1960’s into thrifty, dignified, elegant, and beautiful sewing and assembling of their wardrobes.  They guided women into lovely suits that made men take them seriously in the new areas of employment that were grudgingly being opened up to them.  They showed farm wives how to sew attractive house dresses from cotton seed sacks.  This was no shallow endeavor orbiting around the whims of haute couture.  They gave patterns not just for clothing, but for beauty, modesty, dignity, and frugality.

Linda gathered up all the lost wisdom that the sixties booted out in the name of liberation, such as:  how to age gracefully and beautifully through choices in colors and fabrics that flatter the aging body, what cuts and colors are best for which complexions, how to use a few basic garments to make a wide variety of attractive ensembles, how drawing attention to the face, via a scarf or another accessory is far more effective at engaging people than putting the interest down at your feet via cute footwear, that a balance must be struck between revealment and concealment; too much revealing at once negating the effect hoped for, etc.

To go from this engaging read to the parade of bikini-clad bodies from toddlers to elderly women caused a bit of cognitive whiplash.  One elderly lady in particular struck me.  She had a rather nice shape, one could tell that she had cared for her body and that it still served her well.  But she wore a bikini, which revealed between the patches of fabric the undulating waves of wrinkles and spilling skin across her belly, sagging down to half cover the bottoms.  The whole of her beauty was stunted by the sight of that unruly swath of skin.  The Dress Doctors would have been shocked that she would display herself this way, not because of their own sensitivities, but in reaction to how the woman had violated her own dignity.  While part of me cheers her for not caring and wearing what she wanted, another part said that she had lost by her liberty.

The Dress Doctors would encourage us to emphasize our best features and minimize our flaws.  Beautiful eyes but pudgy arms?  Wear a color that draws out the color of the eyes and wear a little bolero jacket over sleeveless outfits.  As I gazed out over the beachgoers today it was painfully clear that these hints are needed more than ever.  The fashion houses here fail us.  The magazine covers too.  Here we need the wisdom that used to be common knowledge, the advice that would lead us gracefully through life’s bodily stages in dignity and beauty, rather than a mono-style of endless youth.

So, read the book, will you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  And me?  I am downright inspired.

 

Time Traveler

Image

It was when I looked out the wavy glass window of Edgar Allen Poe’s home in Philadelphia, in the room where his wife was slowly dying while he spilled out his words in dark tales, as if he could leak all the black out through ink.  The walls were laid bare down to the original plaster, layers of other tenant’s lives stripped away, almost as a plea to peel back time and let us see Edgar at the window with us, an alternatively despairing or maniacally happy man, to ask him questions and see how his words look on his face rather than guess at their conveyance on paper.

It was as I surreptitiously reached out for the doorknobs, the stair rail, the old places where other hands touched and pushed and leaned.

Once in a high school science class we were made to line up and hold hands.  Then the first person would reach out and touch an electric current in a device.  It zinged through our joined hands, the last person receiving the full brunt of the jolt.  I touch those doorknobs, I want to know how they felt in George Washington’s hand, in Poe’s hand, in my hand.  I want to know them through their spaces; I want a jolt of recognition.

It’s as I wait for the tour guides to lead the group through to the next room that I steal a moment of silence in that old space, to hear how the silence sounds there.  What is this longing all about?

ImageFarm kitchen in Colonial Williamsburg. 

Image

Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg.

Image

Image

Palace kitchen, Colonial Williamsburg.

Image

The Braun-Menendez Mansion in Punta Arenas, Chile.  Alone in an exquisite room with all original pieces, looking here into the bureau mirror where the mistress of the home would have seen her own face reflected back.

Is it just intense curiosity?  A passion for history?  Latent anthropological interest?  One further hazard of an overactive imagination?

It is, I know, why I gobble up period movies like a fiend.  The “willing suspension of disbelief”, that’s how our drama teacher put it, what you need to be led into story on a stage or when watching a movie or even when reading a heart-pounding thriller (which is funny, isn’t it, that words on a page can make us all agitated?).  It allows me to time travel in a way.  I especially adore how the new “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed; the camera “looks” around the room as it pans, showing smudges on the walls, crumbs on the table, and all the glory of everyday life in an era I can only touch through doorknobs and imagination.

The attendant in the hall cleared her voice.  I know she was wondering what I was doing in that lovely room, alone with a hefty camera.  People normally come in, see the room, read the placard and move on.  If she’d have asked, could I have really told her, that no, I wasn’t stealing the baubles or peeking in a drawer, that no, I was time traveling?

Image