We can be Christians and ____ : a defense of ACU’s Optimist

This afternoon, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to the website of ACU’s student newspaper. The article featured was an editorial response to comments the newspaper had received after endorsing President Obama for a second term. If you would like some additional context for this piece, I encourage you to read that article, the endorsement, and the comments.

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Before I’d finished the response, I had to close the window. I spun out of my chair and walked back along the hallway toward the copy room, to make some coffee, clean the table…something.

The fist behind my ribcage quickened, and I could feel the blood pounding red, agitating my limbs, wanting action. But why? What’s another internet fight between Christians? It’s the daily routine: offense, anger, pride and biting speech filling up the comment boxes.

But these are my Christians. This is my school. Just a few months ago, I would have waited with my friends after chapel as the lines thinned, slid my card, stepped, haltingly, down the stairs under section K and grabbed my own copy of the Optimist.

So I went back to the computer, read the editorial, read the comments, readied my own response, rallying myself in support of the college students being virtually berated by 40 year old alumni.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…

And then this comment:

Tell me “How can one be a Christian and a Democrat [?]”

that saved a wretch like me…

It’s a phrase thrown out so easily, repeated too often: how can you be a Christian and…

And call yourself a republican?
And align yourself with the democrats?
And spend billions on the weapons?
And support the rights of gays to marry?
And encourage women in roles that contradict scripture?
And cling to a broken hierarchy?

I once was lost, but now I’m found…

Can’t you just hear the condemnation, the indignation dripping off those words? You can’t live out two contradictory identities simultaneously. So surrender your faith or admit defeat. Because you cannot possibly be a true disciple of Christ and ….

Because I am a Christian. I know what God wants. So how can we both claim the same God?

was blind, but now I see…

Because when we teach an inerrant, get-it-right-or-you’re-going-to-hell theology, we end up with Christians devoid of humility, unable to admit uncertainty lest they condemn themselves.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…

And when we preach a God born in 1776, tied irrevocably to the Manifest Destiny stretched between Washington and Washington, we end up with Christians who worship political parties, terrified that the wrong vote will oust God himself, banish him forever from these shores, like a deposed king.

and grace my fears relieved…

It is not enough to rail against the vitriol and the hatred. It is not enough to plead niceness. We need a better theology, a theology that can handle our disagreement.

How precious did that grace appear…

So we can be Christians and…

Because I believe in a God who is not threatened or empowered by political parties or policy makers. I believe in a God who does not need the President of the United States of America to be on his side. I believe in a God who existed long before Jefferson made his declaration and will continue to exist long after North America has devolved into the Hunger Games.

the hour I first believed.

Because I believe in a love that will not be weakened by my inadequacies. I believe in a deep, incomprehensible love for this mess of a planet that will not be thwarted by my endorsement or my vote or my ideology.

And because I believe that if I give everything I have to walk beside my God, to love with mercy, and to seek justice, that God’s grace is sufficient for the rest. Even if I get it wrong every single time.

I am not threatened by our disagreements. I am not frightened by Fox News or The Optimist’s endorsement. I am not afraid of admitting that I might be wrong. Because I believe in a grace that will cover the insufficiencies of our reasoning and a God that will not be stopped by them.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.

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But I do know him

We are officially less than two months away from our wedding. Oh boy.

I’ve joked to David that this marriage better work out, because I don’t ever want to plan another wedding.

I’m only half joking.

If, God forbid, David dies in a tragic accident and I re-marry after the appropriate 30 year grieving period, I’m eloping. In jeans.

But kidding aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage, and about God. And about “the bride of Christ” – that mysterious metaphor, God as the bridegroom, marrying his people, binding himself to them, again and again.

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I remember “asking Jesus into my heart” at four years old. It’s my first memory of prayer. My mom sat down beside me on my Minnie Mouse comforter, and there, surrounded by pink and white polka dots, I plunged into faith with a four-year-old’s naivete, a four-year-old’s trust, a four-year-old’s image of a white-robed Santa Clause rising out of the clouds.

I had no concept of suffering, of redemption, of sacrifice. I had never heard of the crusades or the Reformation or the Moral Majority. I didn’t know that before the year was over, my dad’s partner (a fellow member of our church) would cheat him out of his practice and send us scrambling back to Texas. I couldn’t imagine how that move would tear into the foundation of our little family.

But I knew that after church on Sunday, Megan would come find me, give me a piece of bubble-iscious gum, pick me up and spin me in laughing circles around the atrium. I knew that when my daddy got down on his knees, looked me in the eye, and asked me to forgive him, it had something to do with Jesus, with flannel graphs and Easter and grace. I knew that I was loved.

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Seven years later I decided that I wanted to be baptized. I don’t know why that choice took root when it did. There was no impassioned speaker making the altar call at a youth rally, no hyper emotional, “can he still feel the nails” worship experience at church camp. Maybe I was just tired of not getting to enjoy the crackers and juice.

One day, it was some thing that would happen someday, and the next day, I didn’t see any reason to put it off. I believed in God, without question or qualification. I believed in church, in the bible, in the Nazarene who walked around the Middle East 2,002 years ago.

I was twelve. I had very few friends. I played the violin (badly) and I loved school. I was pro-reading, pro-life, pro-french, pro-George Bush. I was anti-gay, anti-terrorism, anti-swearing, anti-drinking, anti-Texas History class. My position on evolution was evolving.

I thought I knew who God was and what he wanted.

This may not quite be twelve. There aren’t many pictures from middle school because I tore them all into tiny pieces and threw them away.  I even went looking for pictures on my myspace page, which, let me tell you, is embarrassing. But apparently I didn’t start the social networking until high school. How far I’ve come.

I couldn’t foresee how a Wednesday night series studying other religions would eviscerate my certainty, force me to wrestle, hard, with the idea of an omnipotent God who would deliver babies into the middle east, into Muslim families, into belief systems as strong and confused and loving as my own, then condemn them to an eternity of suffering.

I wouldn’t have guessed that my first foray into doubt would bring me face to face with a God more wildly loving and forgiving than I had ever imagined, years before Love Wins would spark controversy into the heart of every LifeWay Christian Store.

I didn’t anticipate an almost forgettable conversation with my cousin, four years younger, that challenged all the lines I’d memorized about gay marriage and “the homosexual agenda”. I didn’t realize that would be my first significant break from my parents’ theology*.

At the time that my dad immersed me in that unexpectedly warm water, I would have sworn to the moon and back that I would never attend Abilene Christian University. I had no idea how much my soul needed that place.

My parents bought me a new dress from Limited, Too. It was black, and it sparkled. My grandparents came to celebrate, and I was granted the all important Sunday lunch decision. I chose Joe’s Crab Shack.

I barely knew God. But oh, I knew him. Something deep in my bones, stitched into the fabric of my skin – he wasn’t going anywhere and neither was I. I grew. I changed. My entire belief system got turned inside out and left me naked, without answers.

But always, somehow, I found myself growing into him, even on the days when I wasn’t sure there was such a thing as God. 

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David and I are twenty-two. I have many friends already married, but still, we are young. At least five years below the average. Some people say it’s too young: you can’t know the other, you barely know yourself, you don’t know what you’ll want in five years, you will change so much.

They’re right. Of course, they’re right. And maybe I should be more afraid of marriage, of this choosing at a fork in the road, a decision that cannot be undone, a life stretching out into the wilds of an unknowable future.

Maybe I should be more cynical, less naive, less certain of the hands I hold. There is so much future waiting ahead of us – most of our assumptions are probably wrong and four years is nothing like fifty – we barely know each other.

I’m sure we will look back, years from now, and wonder at ourselves, at how we could leap so blindly into a covenant we only barely understood.

I have no idea what awaits us. I don’t know where we’ll live. I don’t know that we’ll always be able to find work. I don’t know how parenthood will change us or how long our parents will be around to offer their love and advice. I don’t know what it will look like when death takes someone loved, when we are finally forced to encounter that reality.

But I know that even though David hates spicy food, he still ate the pasta when I accidentally went a little crazy with the Cayenne. I know that I stayed up till one helping him study after he talked with me for two hours about gender and the bible and the church. I know that we keep choosing each other, over and over.

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So my parents bought me another new dress, white this time.

And on another December day, I’ll make another life-long commitment. And maybe it doesn’t matter that I can’t know what’s waiting beyond the next ridge, that I can’t foresee how it will change us. I know the one I’m choosing.

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*I don’t meant to speak for my parents; they’re beliefs are more nuanced than I understood them to be when I was twelve. But that was how it felt at the time.

The world will still be turning on Wednesday

Four years ago, on a Friday evening in late summer, my Welcome Week group and I gathered around a table in the campus center basement. A couple years ago those tables were replaced with new offices and fancy leather chairs, but in 2008 it was the perfect place to escape the constant, searing Texas heat.

And as we chewed on cafeteria hamburgers, our conversation turned, inevitably, to the impending presidential election.

“So, what do you think? Who are you voting for?” I posed the question to our peer leader, a senior bible major and Optimus Prime enthusiast, who had recently shared the story of his Central Park engagement. I’ll admit it: I thought he was pretty cool.

And he just kind of laughed, a knowing “do I really want to get into this discussion with a group of self-assured freshman 30 minutes before the mentor group olympics” kind of laugh.

At least that’s how it sounds in my memory.

“Well” he finally offered, “I haven’t decided for sure, but I don’t really think I’m going to vote.”

In all of my political discussions, the idea of not voting had never occurred to me.

Growing up, my general belief system was something along the lines of:

Good Christian = good student = good American = voting Republican.

It had taken me 18 years to pull the last word off of that equation. In all my wisdom, I now believed it was possible to be a good Christian and a democrat. I know, how about a standing ovation for enlightened thinking.

But not voting? This is America. Elections matter. Democracy is the conduit by which all good and bright and true things are brought into the world. How will you fight injustice and the disintegration of morality if you don’t vote?

And then came election night, and I made the mistake of getting on facebook.

People seemed to literally believe that the world was ending. Or that Jesus himself had returned to instate the United States of America as the New Jerusalem.

And suddenly, the whole thing felt incredibly farcical. Half my friends had never experienced such joy. And the other half had already called a Canadian* real estate agent.

*Because I’m a contrarian, I felt the need to point out to them that if they were hoping to escape the tyranny of socialism, Canada was not a stellar choice.

The next day, I just kept thinking, “who cares?” What if Obama is the anti-Christ? What if, in four years, despite congressional oversight and a working judicial system, he somehow manages to destroy the very fabric of society of plunge us into a pit of economic collapse so deep that we can never escape? What if?

*Let it be said, that I don’t think that is or was remotely possible.

God will still expect the very same things from me that he expects right now. I mean, yeah, that would be awful, but my primary allegiances and obligations would not be any different.

Which brings me to 2012, in which I’m not planning to vote.

And it’s not because I’m uninformed. And it’s not even because I’m cynical, though I can rail against vitriolic and ineffectual politicians with the best of them. And it’s not because there aren’t issues I care about.

*Truth be told, I nearly changed my mind when Romney came out against PBS. Because I think NPR and PBS are the only unambiguously good things that the federal government does with my money. And I will pay for any number of ineffectual programs if I still have Ira Glass and All Things Considered. But,

It’s just my private protest.

Against all the years that I pledged allegiance to a flag.

Because I love my home, but it’s not my God.

And I don’t believe a politician will save the world.

On the first Wednesday in November, we’ll all wake up, and the world will still be turning, Lord willing.

One side will be celebrating.
The other will be in utter despair.
Compromise will still be a dirty word.
John Stewart will still be funny.

The poor will still need food.
Marriage equality will still be right, and it will still be happening.
My stomach will still ache at the thought of the billions we spend on the military.
I will still be paying into a social security system that will never benefit me.

I will still wake up and go to work.
I will still be a Christian, for all the broken mess that word encompasses.
I will still be wrong about a lot of things, I’m sure.
I will still be trying to figure out how to love well and care for hurting people.

In the end, I just don’t think this election has the eternal consequence it claims, and I won’t be participating.

*please note that this is only what I decided I should do. I don’t think that nobody should vote. I don’t think you’re a bad Christian or whatever if you want to vote. This is just how I made my own decision.

This God thing, it’s good?

It’s something like love
Something like light
Something like gold
Something like fight

Something like free
Something like cost
Something like sunshine
Something like frost

Something like mountains
Something like air
Something like cathedrals
Something like prayer

Something like broken
Something like grace
Something like falling
Something like embrace

Something like obedience
Something like tearing
Something like questions
Something like repairing

Something like knowing
Something like tears
Something like hiding
Something like fears

Something like leaving
Something like burning
Something like the father running
Something like the son returning

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David and I had our first evening of pre-marital counseling last night. And before we met with our counselor guy, there were the ubiquitous forms to be filled out.

Under the religious beliefs and upbringing section, there was the request: Describe your relationship to God. In two 12 pt. lines. To which I responded: It’s good?

Because I’m articulate like that.

Really though, what are you supposed to say in that space? I’ve been asked that so many times, as though there should be an ready-made answer: microwavable beliefs. I’ve been working on it my whole life, and I haven’t come up with an answer more concise than a seven stanza poem.

So maybe now I’ll just give them this.

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PS. I promise I haven’t lost my deep love of prose. I just found this beautiful blog a week or so ago, and it’s so full of lovely poetry. It just seemed like so much fun.