The last time I got worked up over an election, it looked embarrassingly different. In 1992, I was a new Christian and addicted to this whole "truth" thing. It really did set me free. So I sought it wherever it could be found. One of those places was (brace yourself) on Rush Limbaugh's radio show.
I know, right? (Forgive me.)
Well, that was me then, truth junkie, and truth was black and white. Good guys and bad guys. Yes or no. Nobody was talking in extremes like that more clearly than Rush. He even had a TV show back then. Being conservative was smart and irreverent and (I thought) kinda cool. But my brand of conservatism was not conservative at all.
I was brash, in your face, and would not listen to anyone who did not agree with me. I might even suggest you did not know Jesus if you had the wrong views. (I decided which views were wrong.)
At the campaign rallies, I was a total fangirl. I saw Reagan outside the Cobb Galleria stumping for Bush, Sr. Then I was at Georgia Tech, in the overflow gym crowd, watching a livestream of the vice-presidential debates being held right there on campus. It was the night Ross Perot's VP (10 memory points if you know his name) opened with, “Who am I? Why am I here?” The place erupted. It was Quayle and Gore all night and that gym was louder and crazier than any basketball game I'd ever seen. Quayle stopped by afterward and it was nuts. This was so fun.
When Clinton ultimately won the election, I was devastated. I had bought the story that a Clinton win would END LIFE AS WE KNOW IT! He was the bad guy, right? The good guys are supposed to win. We're doomed.
Yet here we are. We lived through Clinton, Bush the younger, 9/11, and Obama -- all of which were supposed to be earth-halting (according to pundits) – and we're still here. Personally. I got to study, live, and work with people from all over the world during those years. I got to see what my American faith looks like in a larger context. I even got to see my city in the eyes of the world.
I watched the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics in a dorm apartment in Canada, surrounded by people from everywhere. The over-the-top festivities got a few laughs and cringes, in contrast to the “oh it was perfect!' reviews I got from home. Canadian and English headlines read WORST OLYMPICS EVER, reporting the crass commercialism and poor organization. I preferred the rosy reports from home but had to face what the world was experiencing in the streets and venues of Atlanta.
My faith has been similarly challenged in those decades. Working among the global church I've seen as many legitimate ways to follow Jesus as there are people on earth. And I've seen how internationals perceive our version of church. They know when we're whining about our first world problems and when we are truly stepping up. It's tough to hear at times. It's personal. It hurts. But that's growing pains. I had to change.
Now here I am in another election cycle, and it feels like I've landed on another planet – one where the alarmist views of my youth stood still. Like James Stockdale (had to google him), I'm staring ahead saying, “Who am I? Why am I here?”
In this old/new world, I'm watching displaced and persecuted people reduced to talking points. I can't bring up the Bible to Christians or mention how it tells us to uplift the poor and oppressed because the word “refugees” is a trigger that shuts down all conversation. We can't talk about that because we have already decided what we think about it. I can't tell you beautiful stories from refugees already here because we have decided to fear them. And we decided fear is okay.
I'm also watching an entire religion and all its followers vilified and persecuted by Christians. I can't tell Christians about the amazing things happening among these people worldwide, because “Muslim” is a buzzword that ends all dialog. We have decided Muslims have some sort of spiritual plague that can't be cured. They must be isolated and eliminated. There will be no discussion. It is in the hands of the government. Hate is okay. Fear is okay. We have decided.
Church people, there is GOOD NEWS! But how can you hear it if the people delivering it are considered unchristian or unpatriotic for delivering it? (Yes, I used to use those slurs, and now they're used against me.) I have good news from overseas! There's lots of it! And good news here, too but if I try to talk about a ministry among Muslim refugees here in Georgia, I basically get some version of Aunt Pittypat in Gone With the Wind (paraphrasing): “Muslims in Georgia?! How did they ever get in?!?!?!”
They're here, y'all, and more are coming. Many are very open to talking about Jesus. Even if they're not, we really can all get along. I've seen it. One friend who works among Muslims overseas thinks the American south is particularly suited for being very welcoming to Muslims because we have similar values of hospitality, modesty, tradition and honor. Don't faint. God's got this.
This is good news! And there's more good news I want to tell you.
To be continued...
more from this series: Beyond Our Tribes