All Other Ground

To the church in America: 

Where do you stand? What is your faith built upon? I’m asking about your foundation like the biblical parable of the wise and foolish builders. I’m talking about the old Sunday school choruses you taught me when I was little: “the rains came dawn and the floods came up.” Will the house of your faith stand firm or go smash? 

Because I wonder sometimes. When you call yourself an American Christian instead of a Christian American, it seems like your foundation is in your nationality and not your savior. It seems your flag is bigger than your cross. It seems like your patriotism is louder than your evangelism. It seems you’re more concerned with being a US citizen than a heavenly citizen. When you claim that any political candidate is going to save your religion while the other candidate will destroy your religion, you’re placing your hope in someone other than Jesus. You’re worshiping an idol in a fancy suit reading platitudes from a teleprompter over the Son of God who delivered the beatitudes in a garden. Your trust is in a fragile foundation. When I hear you talk about Antifa, the Black Live Matter movement, immigrant caravans, vaccinations, mask mandates, or the Hollywood elite, you sound scared. You sound like you don’t know God. You sound like you don’t understand how perfect love casts out fear. You sound like you forgot where your foundations should be built. 

Earlier today, I was reminded of another old song we used to sing in church. This was a hymn the whole congregation sang, not the simple melodies reserved for children. Perhaps, if the church meditated on these lyrics a little more, we could restore some sanity and civility to public discourse. Perhaps then we could present ourselves as a people of God and not a people of Trump. 

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” Nothing less than Jesus. My hope is not in Joe Biden. It is not in Donald Trump. My hope is in the Messiah, in Christ alone and nothing less. 
“I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus name” we cannot trust the sweetest frame, the sweetest campaign promise, or the slickest lies. Politics is the art of deceit and we would be fools to trust anyone with their name on a ballot. 
“When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.” Administrations change, laws and policies change, people change their minds, people fail, and people are filled with selfish ambition. But grace never changes. 
“In every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.” Or, as one poet put it, “While my warship is sinking I still believe in anchors, pulling fistfuls of rotten wood from my heart and I still believe in saviors.” In the chaos of America, I remain anchored to God. 
“When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.” I’m weary y’all. These times are hard. I’m so tired I feel it in my soul. The current state of Christianity saddens me. If I don’t have the church to encourage me, if I don’t have a government to motivate me, if I don’t have a community to heal me, then all I have is my God to guide me. 

So if I answer my own questions about the foundations of my faith, I can answer with the words from the hymnals of my childhood church, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” American ground is sinking sand. Pacific Northwestern ground is sinking sand. Republican ground is sinking sand. Democratic ground is sinking sand. Legalistic ground is sinking sand. Prosperous ground is sinking sand. I stand on holy ground. I stand on ground which does not oppress the orphan, the poor, and the immigrant. I stand on the ground of justice, mercy, and humility. 

Jesus told this parable to his followers. If you hear the word of God and apply it to your life, you’re like a wise contractor who anchored a foundation in stone. Through storms and disaster, the house on a rock remained strong. If you hear the word of God and chose to ignore it, you’re like the foolish contractor who built a house on stilts along the beach. During hurricane season, a tidal surge swept away the foundations built on sand and the house collapsed. 

Dear church, I see you going all in pursuing American idols. I see you lust after wealth and power. I see your closeted racism, your anger, and your fear. And I wonder. How shaky are your foundations? Have you built your house on presidential promises of conservative judges, civic pride, and xenophobia? I urge you, no … I beg you to rebuild your faith and return to surer footing. Stand again on Christ the solid rock.


Like a Plane in the sunset

Waiting on you has been like a pilot flying a plane into the sunset being the last human to see the beautiful sight before the world is cast into darkness. 

Waiting on you has been like a little kid at bedtime hoping to stay awake a little longer - just five more minutes daddy please. 

Waiting on you has been like ordering a meal at a popular restaurant, anticipation filled with aromas from the kitchen so strong you can taste the food before it even arrives. 

Waiting on you is like a baseball game and the home team has the bases loaded when the star player steps up to bat, as the first pitch is thrown you know it’s going to be a grand slam. 

Waiting on you has been like a comedian telling a a funny story and she takes a deep breath after delivering the punchline before the crowd erupts with laughter. 

Waiting on you has been like a hike in the woods on a spring day while the roar of a waterfall grows increasingly louder long before it’s visible through the trees. 

Waiting on you has been like a radio station playing your favorite song as you reach your destination so you let the engine idle until the song is over because you need to sing along with every note. 

Waiting on you has been like savoring every moment every rainy day, of every mile driven on a road trip, of every sloppy wet kiss given by a dog, of barbecue smoke, family movie nights, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, foggy mornings, and a comfortable bed at the end of a long day. 

No longer waiting on you has been a fulfillment of joy, anticipation and preparation subsided, to have you here and hold you in our arms knowing some day you will protest bedtime, tell jokes, climb mountains, and giggle after puppy kisses. 

 Until then, I’ll forever be a pilot flying my plane into your sunset.


The Theory of American Everything Part 4: A Personal Lesson

Here is my theory of American everything: we are a nation birthed in rebellion and given the freedom to do, say, and believe anything we want. It’s what makes us the best country in the world, and it makes us the worst ever. 

Why does this matter? Because I share a trait with the common conspiracy theorist: I want my world to make sense. 

In times of unsettling changes, through momentous events or devastating tragedies, in the wake of upheaval, some individuals experience feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. The bigger world seems senseless leading people to feel disconnected and powerless. Then they hear about a grand conspiracy. For reasonable people, the tale is nothing more than a ridiculous or outlandish fantasy with no plausible basis in reality. Yet it is different for the theorist; they cling to it as it makes them feel special. They’re armed with the satisfaction of being one of the select few who have access to a secret truth. Any evidence to disprove their theory is interpreted as proof of the conspiracy. Anyone who doesn’t believe is either a part of the conspiracy or just needs to do their own research. They feel superior because they know something you don't know. The sensation is intoxicating.  

A never before felt sense of belonging leads some people believe the Freemasons are secretly controlling the course of historical events, or think celebrities are members of the Illuminati after rapidly rising from obscurity to superstar popularity. People feel powerful for the first time in their lives believing the moon landing was a hoax or alien aircraft has been hidden in a hangar inside Area 51. 

When events happens with an intensity, magnitude, or suddenness to alter the course of a culture, people look for answers. When a popular president was assassinated during a public parade, theorists rejected the official conclusion of a lone gunman and concocted complex conspiracies of a second or third shooter. When terrorists flew planes into buildings, theorists couldn’t believe a fire was hot enough to weaken the World Trade Center into catastrophic structural failure, so they invented ideas of planted explosive charges and called it an inside job. After every school shooting, theorists ignore the eye witness accounts and live video, declare it a false flag operation, and believe the victims were paid crisis actors. Their theories are absurd and easily debunked, yet it gives them what they want - to make sense of senseless tragedy. They want an explanation for the unexplainable. They want order for the disordered. 

I want the same thing. I want my world to make sense. However, this current era of history is completely illogical. I don’t understand how the nation who collaborated to build the first transcontinental railroad is the same nation who dreamed up pizzagate. I don’t understand how the American mindset which inspired great speeches like the Gettysburg Address also motivated tweets like covfefe. I don’t understand how the voters who claim celebrities shouldn’t share their political opinions elected a celebrity to be president. I don’t understand anyone who can’t see the racism behind statements like “I hit them with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there. Let's see. KKK, we have KKK. I got them all." I don’t understand why police officers continue to act like executioners with impunity over and over again. I don’t understand why people are so offended by the phrase “black lives matter.” And I refuse to accept any of this as normal. 

I need clarity because I’m a moderate voter living in the middle of Trump country and need to learn how to show my neighbors grace when they view people like me with disdain. Because I have four inquisitive kids who ask a lot of questions and I need to answer them when they want to know why people act with so much greed and hatred. Because I have a two day old baby and I am filled with grief over the America she has been born into. Because the violence and division in this country is antithetical to the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness our founders conceived. Because I want to answer those questions which have no easy answers. 

Someday, history books will have to explain the Trump era. 2020 will be discussed in classrooms across America and students of the future will debate the effectiveness of our actions. When they ask why we did what we did, I hope their teachers explain it was because we were birthed in rebellion and given the freedom to believe the most ridiculous ideas imaginable. We were, as Lady Gaga would say, born this way.


The Theory of American Everything Part 3: A Philosophical Lesson

I am not an anthropologist but I am a student of pop culture. I am not a psychologist but I have studied how people think and behave. I don’t know everything there is to know about humanity but I know a lot. Rather, I know enough to make me dangerous. 

Humankind (generally speaking) is selfish. People are tribalistic by nature. We seek to protect our tribe and vie for status among it. Anyone outside our tribe is viewed as a threat and anyone who challenges our position is an enemy. Regardless of the relationships we have within our tribe, we all want to elevate ourselves in some fashion. There’s a basic human need to be accepted, and a secondary need to have people look at us with honor or respect. We just want to be special - often more special than those around us. This feeds our drive to succeed, be the best, climb corporate ladders, find popularity, accumulate wealth, and demonstrate power. 

Institutions are not perfect either. Governments, religions, businesses, families, schools. In theory, all of them are wonderful and service essential purposes. On paper it should work flawlessly. However, as soon as people get involved, it veers off course. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Those imperfections infect every structure and system involving a person. I’ve never seen a family or a corporation or a government exist without people. Therefore, all of them are inherently flawed by human existence. 

What does any of this have to do with the reason Americans are the way we are? Well … Everything.

Our founding fathers were human in every respect. They were selfish, arguing in favor or laws and systems that would benefit their home colony over others. They debated and haggled and bargained as best as they could. Despite their attempts to form a new nation, a collective of United States, they were also fiercely tribalistic looking to secure the prosperity of their tribes - their home-states. The people who founded the USA were also imperfect people. Several owned slaves and most held racist beliefs against both African and indigenous people. Yet despite their flaws and greed, they managed to compose and ratify our founding documents and declare independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. 

Our nation is secured in laws codified by revolutionary rebels. It is filled with brilliant ideas and (what seemed at the time) radical methods for governance. Yet as much as it continues to direct the decisions of judicial courts and legislative bodies of our nation, we must understand our constitution isn’t perfect. It is simultaneously wonderful and terrible. Beautiful and ugly. Rational and unreasonable. 

Even the people who authored it recognized this fact. They were aware of their own faults. They knew what they created was the best they could do with their circumstances and it would never be adequate forever and always. To remedy their shortcomings, they provided a method for future generations to fix their mistakes: constitutional amendments. It’s a process we’ve followed 27 times in the 232 years since the constitution was ratified. 

With more than two centuries of history between then and now, We haven’t cured what ails the American spirit. Rather, we have amplified it. Rebellion has grown to defiance. Selfishness has transformed into arrogance. And brokenness has fractured even deeper than the founding fathers could have imagined. 

They said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Modern America makes some subconscious revisions to this statement. 

Many people see these words as if it says our unalienable rights are life, liberty, and happiness. We somehow believe we have the right to be happy and any person or law impeding our happiness is unjust and must be opposed. Other people add a word to the sentence, believing it guarantees the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of my happiness as if the emotional state of any singular person is more worthy than the well being of another. Our personal beliefs undermine the preceding statement: that we’re all created equal. 

We interpret the first amendment through the same narcissistic filter. We want the ability to freely worship our God and follow our rituals while expecting the government to restrict the worship and rituals from other religions. We want the liberty to speak our minds and be offensive but get offended when other people speak their minds. Media confirming our biases are fair and balanced but media with opposing bias is agenda driven fake news. We want to invade other people’s space as long as they don’t invade ours. It’s patriotic to criticize opposing political parties yet it’s treasonous when anyone criticizes our political party. 

Born with a rebellious spirit, given the freedoms to do and say and believe anything we want, in our right to pursue happiness, amplified by our egotistical philosophies. This is why we are the way we are.

American megalomania is not all bad. The liberty to dream big ideas without restriction spawned some of the greatest innovations in history: the assembly line, telephones, light bulbs, air conditioning, microwaveable popcorn. It attracted brilliant minds like Nickola Tesla and Albert Einstein, who left their homelands to bring their research and tinkering to American shores. It gifted us the beauty of national parks, the convenience of interstate highways, the entertainment of televisions, and the comfort of Snuggies. 

Freedom of speech is a mixed blessing. Both Martin Luther King Jr and David Duke spread their ideas under the banner of liberty, both seeking to inspire for diametric ideals. America gave us both Sojourner Truth and Robert E Lee, Dr Seuss and Hugh Hefner, Rachel Held Evans and Tomi Lahren. All of these people preached different values, but through American philosophy, each of them are equally valid. 

Our beliefs are also untamed. We glom onto any tenets which pique our curiosity. We embrace the craziest ideas because no one can tell us it’s wrong. It’s how the spiritualism movement attracted nearly eight million believers at the end of the 19th century. It’s why snake oil salesmen thrived at the dawn of the twentieth century. It’s how charismatic individuals like Rajneesh and Charles Manson attracted followers who would commit acts of violence in their names. It is why Heaven’s Gate and the Branch Davidians lured devotees to their deaths. It made room for the Tea Party, the alt-right, and antifa. It fuels ghost hunters and Bigfoot enthusiasts. It is the reason behind modern revivals of anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, and QAnon. 

When you grant a population the freedom to believe whatever they want, they will. Often at the cost of their own lives. The power of belief frequently trumps ideas of safety and health, especially when there’s a tantalizing promise of wealth, sex, power, status, or belonging.