safe, great, first – things jesus never promised
(Originally published February 15, 2017)
Part 2: GREAT
This work is a response to the three most repetitive outcries I see on Facebook from men and women who voted for the current regime, all while claiming the Bible as the basis for their belief and behaviour.
See me. I claim the Bible too, but there aren’t enough resources and smarts in the world to reconcile the message I know and love with the one being used against it.
Is one more right, and the other more wrong?
Must we pit ourselves against each other to get to the bottom of it?
I don’t have the answer to that question, but in this current climate of American and Christian culture it has become necessary for me, as an American and a Christian, to say again what it is I am for. I can’t let others speak for me.
“I can’t keep quiet.” ~Milck
“He’s going to make America great [again]!”, they cry.
And maybe you can see me in your mind’s eye scouring through and through all four gospel books. I’m looking for scriptures where greatness was a promise to the kingdom Christ came to bring, where greatness was the good news being declared from Dead Sea to Galilee.
<insert transition here>
May the reader understand that greatness was never a promise Yeshua made to the people, unless and only if greatness was acquired as a consequence of deliberate “weakness”.
Is that what you mean, Christian, when you say he’s going to make us great? That we’re going to set our collective sails due weak?
Is that what you mean, Christian, when you say he’s going to make us great? That he is going to lead our nation down the path of going low and going under and spreading ourselves small and throwing out wide amounts of self and service?
I don’t think that’s what he means.
And I don’t think you think that’s what he means either. If I had to hazard a guess, I believe you’re hoping he will make our country great again, as in: a certain version of Christian again. Among other things, maybe that means prayer back in schools, abortion bans and some sort of government-led moral guardianship of society.
But let’s separate the church from the state for a second. (Better yet, let’s keep them separate altogether before we gut ourselves entirely.)
If you’re a Christian you believe that Christ consciousness is universal and ultimate reality, furthermore you believe that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of universal and ultimate reality revealed in space and age.
Ok, you’ve convinced me to say it again: if you’re a Christian you believe the Divine self-discarded on the doorstep of time for the express purpose of saving the world from its own machinations and to give humans something to see if ever they had a wonder about what Love looked like; how they should wear and walk in it.
Remember the gospel stories of your faith, Christian.
Remember the God who made himself nothing, the God who took on the very nature of a servant for the duration of his life on earth and humbled his body to the point of death on a cross.
Stable-to-grave is supposed to be the whole Spine of your spiritual belief.
When measured against the Spine, the conviction of America being a Christian country is an outright lie.
Look at our people’s history and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll see how we followed our own ideology and agenda and at the expense of Christ we pardoned ourselves with the faith our Founding Fathers.
Ask me how I know we’ve done (and are still doing) this. In other words, what period of Christian greatness are you hoping we’ll return to en masse?
Is it the greatness of Christopher Columbus when he, in the name of Christ, initiated the work “to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy” the Arawak Natives, leading to their eventual and complete genocide?
Is it the greatness of John Winthrop, governor to the Pilgrims, when he used scripture to justify taking Indian land because they had not “subdued” it, and therefore only had a “natural right” to it, but not a “civil right?”
Is it the greatness of the antebellum white preacher who would stand in his pulpit and quote Bible verses in order to condone the ongoing rape, torture, mutilation and enslavement of black bodies?
Is it the greatness of a time when women knew their place in the home and children knew how to be seen and not heard?
Is it the greatness of:
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.*
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!*
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.*
We are not a Christian nation because Christian means “little Christ”, which means following a life and teachings identified by reckless, sacrificial, [complete] circumferential love.
We are not a Christian nation because equally (and sometimes especially) we have rejected going low and being unknown, serving and selflessness; suffering our own bodies for the sake of supporting and bearing the burden of our brothers and sisters.
We are not a Christian nation because we voted into office someone who is only Christian enough by our misguided standards, but in reality dismisses the Divine directives we profess as our own:
“And this shall be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” ~Luke 2:12
Not: “And this shall be a sign for you: you will find a strong-armed king with a long-sweeping sword sitting on a gilded throne. He shall be cloaked in velvet and garnished with precious gems; he shall be the greatest king in the land and his loyal, war-ready regiments will be most extensive and excellent. He shall establish a kingdom to conquer all opposing kingdoms. He shall keep you safe and make you great and put you first, especially if you toeline with his empire. Especially if you’re evangelical, bible-believing, born-again, white.”
“Fight for personal power, murder and torture while claiming my name, become the richest in the land, build a wall, lord your greatness over all neighboring nations,” said Jesus. Never.
The Gospel doesn’t need fixing, but we continually disbelieve when we don’t like what we’re hearing, we [re]arrange the Bible–chapter and verse–and [re]create God into bigger versions of ourselves–only with a megaphone.
We use scripture to sever our own Spine.
We use God against God, then justify the doing so in a million little duplicitous ways before Sunday.
If we use God to justify our beliefs and actions in any direction (Safe! Great! First! “Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!”) that doesn’t align with stable-to-grave, then we’re going the whole wrong way.
But we have done this, and by the doing so we have stripped ourselves of our own meaning; picked our own bones clean of meat.
Christian doesn’t necessarily mean doing the work of the [new] kingdom and that distinction makes every bit the big difference.
Christian, if you must continue your crusade for political power or in your attempts to “take America back for God” or in elevating yourself as the moral chaperone of civilization (only a blameless body gets a pass to do that, by the way), please don’t do it in the name of Christ.
Alternatively, if you can lose this preoccupation with making sure our nation was Christian from the beginning, is continually made Christian, and stays Christian at all cost, we save ourselves all that energy to do the real work of building the kingdom of heaven on earth; of building the kingdom that came to us on it’s knees and washed the dirt from our feet and asks us to go. Do likewise. “Live my body for me.”
If we’re going to make America great, we need to stop trying to make America great and instead squeeze ourselves clean with outrageous loving, we need to split our fish and break our bread and get on our knees to wash our neighbor’s feet.
“We can make America what America must become”, said James Baldwin.
We are still the land that has never been, and we are also the land that could be, but it won’t be through more efforts of the same old. Same old.
We have to do the exact opposite of what we’ve done before and find a fresh way forward. And maybe, in the end, it will be a show of “weakness”, not a show of moral superiority or political power, that will make us great.
Maybe, in the end, we’ll be healed of the wrong we’ve done and:
Out of the wrack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!*
*Excerpts from “Let America Be America Again”, a poem by Langston Hughes 1902–1967
(Read Part 1 HERE)