The last two weeks have been an intense time for me. The last few days have been an intense time for my country.
The last two weeks have been intense because I was in an intensive class for seminary; it lived up to its name. The class was about entrepreneurial ministry, part of a pilot program my seminary is offering, and it was excellent. The cohort was great. I left Richmond, Indiana feeling tired but full.
The last few days have been intense for the country because of forces much deeper and more deviant than a couple weeks of a marathon graduate school course. We have witnessed the surfacing of dark and dangerous ideologies, possessing our fellow citizens as they waved flags, yelled slogans, and ultimately murdered an innocent human being. These ideological forces manifested in a place called Charlottesville, Virginia.
The class finished on Friday and the weekend was spent participating in the Entrepreneurial Leadership Gathering, also hosted by the seminary. In the middle of a presentation, I began to lose interest and did what everyone does when they have a millisecond of boredom…I checked my phone. It was then that I saw the news–news of unrest, disorder, and violence. Gathering a few basic facts, I scrolled down to see what my social network had to say about the unfolding events. I noticed a few things pretty quickly:
- A pattern developed in my news feed: my left-wing friends were demanding that my right-wing friends condemn the overt racism and violence while my right-wing friends were…condemning the overt racism and violence. I think communication broke down somewhere.
- I was told that if I am a moderate or a traditional liberal, I am contributing to the systemic violence. If I’m a conservative, the only solution is condescending correction using a long list of sociological jargon or public shaming. Additionally, if I am white and not doing what progressives tell me to do, there is no moral distinction between a murderous neo-Nazi and me…or my grandma for that matter.
- Cat videos…I roll my eyes and pretend to be annoyed. But I’m a softy and they’re kinda cute.
I pause from scrolling and take note of my inner tensions.
I smile at the mischievous pets, nod my head at the insightful words offered by friends, grieve the fact that this kind of thing is still happening, and feel my blood pressure rise as I consider the rants that spilled out over my feed. I don’t appreciate being told that I don’t love God or that I’m as bad as a Nazi because I’m not politically radical enough. I don’t appreciate my family or my neighbors being condemned because of who they voted for or what they respond to on social media. Social media is one part of our life together, but it is not some kind of arena by which people prove their compassion and character, providing the evidence for some kind of Final Judgment overseen by the progressive jury of justice.
I am fully aware of the subtly racist comments made by my friends and neighbors and their perplexing moral hierarchy that I cannot accept. I’m also aware of their kindness, generosity, and hidden hurts. But I am aware of those things because I know these human beings in real life and through real relationship, not through the faux sophistication of a vocabulary learned by freshmen in Intro to Sociology or the shallow caricatures used by politicians and lobbyists to raise money. I refuse to believe that the meaning of the hatred and violence in Charlottesville can be reduced to new weapons for blaming and shaming our political opposites or tools for proclamations of self-righteousness.
And yet…all that being said…on the other hand…
The ideas and events being manifested must be opposed–clearly, unequivocally, universally. The emphasis must be placed on standing against the sickening, regressive, dangerous ideologies of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. My frustrations with the increasingly fundamentalist Left should be minor compared to my outrage about the outcropping of hatred from the alt-Right. No false moral equivalence necessary.
Then I heard that little liberal voice inside me saying, “What are you doing sitting here safely in this conference when you should be out there protesting, sitting in prayer vigils, and shouting from the social media rooftops?!”
Shifting restlessly in my chair, I decided to take a break from my scrolling and super-ego examination. As I looked around the room and grounded myself in the present moment, I heard a different kind of whisper. Not the little liberal voice but the still, small voice of Spirit.
I looked around the room and saw a diverse group of people. Admittedly, most of the crowd was white, liberal, and Quaker, but it was more than that. Throughout the weekend, I was able to sit with women and men from Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Bolivia, and Columbia. In small groups, I heard stories about their painful challenges and beautiful opportunities. Through their presentations I learned about their work and ministry. I heard the ideas they have for new ventures that will address social problems, meet needs, create space for joy, and manifest divine love and justice in new ways. Among the Americans, I was knit together with people from rural and urban settings, type-A personalities and contemplatives, old, bearded men and members of the LGBT community, creative types and business people, traditional Anabaptists and spiritual-but-not-religious seekers. They shared their stories, pitched their ideas, asked for guidance, and discerned next steps. I soon realized that I was a member of a motley crew that only the Spirit of Christ could have put together. The still, small voice bid me to simmer down, center down, and join the Great Work.
I was exactly where I needed to be.
I said thanks, smiled at my neighbor, turned again to the speaker, and shoved my phone back into my pocket.
A song from the musical Rent reminds us that the opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation. I think the same could be said of hatred and violence, of the sort we recently saw in Virginia. The opposite of hatred isn’t niceness or social media activism, it’s creation.
We must protest. We must sit in vigil and stand in solidarity. We must use any avenue available to name evil and stand with the oppressed. But wait, there’s more. We need creators, healers, builders, and innovators. Sometimes we call those people entrepreneurs. Our rural communities need entrepreneurs of every kind. Cities need them too. Our country needs them as does our world. People who have more faith in the miraculous process of continuing creation than criticism and cynicism. People who pay more head to the still, small voice of Spirit than the little voice of liberalism or conservatism (or any other “ism”). People who have the resilience to steward a vision with patient persistence, embracing quiet but courageous acts of repair and rebuilding. Imagine what would be possible if such a great cloud of creators decided to simmer down, center down, and join the Great Work.