There Is No Future

My inability to change frustrates me. Recently, I’ve tried to avoid looking at Twitter or news feeds immediately upon waking. I used to tell myself that there was some good reason for doing so. Maybe I’d awaken to see that some national tragedy had befallen us while I slept; maybe the world was on fire; maybe aliens were at the door and I should get dressed.

But more often, I see what I’ve always seen, which is what you’ve always seen: maddening politics, inane entertainment news, and some sports talk. The sports talk is fine. This morning, predictably, my eyes adjusted in the middle of reading a New York Times article detailing the North Carolina legislature’s newest bullshit. Having lost the governorship to a Democrat after a protracted post-election battle, they decided it’d be swell to strip the governor’s office of several key powers, including the ability to oversee state colleges and their trustee appointments.

If irony wasn’t dead, I’d say how ironic it was that in the midst of this season of Advent, in which we look to the nebulous future, a time-not-yet shaped by our ability to be patient and hopeful and tense and a bit sorrowful about what we cannot see but hope we shall soon see, our societal life is filled with those for whom there is no future.

Immediacy is king in politics. Moves like the one in North Carolina mirror so many other political actions and conversations that they begin to run together. Surely our memory is not so short as to have forgotten the debate over the “nuclear option,” in which Senate Democrats were faced with option to neuter the filibuster so as to fast track certain decisions with a simple majority. A primary element of that argument was that such an action might be appealing now, but could (and most certainly would) be used by the GOP when it arose to power once more. We should, said some, think of ourselves as the future minority party and consider what powers we’d want in that situation. Such caution only kept Senate Dems from amending some filibuster rules, not all (though the changes that did pass will almost certainly come back to haunt them now).

Still, that kind of cautious thinking requires an acknowledgment of the future, which we collectively appear to have set on fire.

While conservatives tend to make the headlines for this kind of news, liberals are far from blameless, lest you think shortsightedness prefers red or blue. Resting assured that you have someone's support because you've historically had it—even though you've done little to nothing to see that support as an agreement from a human who has real human struggles and needs real human things from you—is as warped as anything I can think of. Couple that inflated ego with a decade-long unwillingness to stop the erosion of your influence and effectiveness on a local level despite believing in your moral superiority, and you've got a medically-diagnosable lack of imagination.

But imagination requires an acknowledgment of the future, which we threw out the window after we set it on fire.

Flaming acknowledgments aside, our current political reality couldn’t be much more opposed to our religious season if it tried. If Christians are to be people of hope, we must be those who consider a future, for hope is predicated on the to-be-but-not-yet. That’s future talk. Advent is a time of hope set against sorrow, a time when we feel both and seek resolution and reconciliation in the coming of Christ. Christ is born into our brokenness; that’s what Emmanuel, “God with us,” is all about. Not “God watching over us,” or “God up ahead from us,” but with us in all our present maladies.

One of those maladies is clearly our political climate, which isn’t some separate realm from our daily life. Politics is a complicated way to frame the simple idea that people live together and have to figure that out. Throwing out the notion of a future, then, becomes a disastrous way to handle our togetherness. For those of us passionate about our planet and the health of its natural environment, this inability to couple current tension with the possibility of future resolution (good or bad) has been our long-running source of high blood pressure. “How can you not look toward the not-yet and see the potential? The flourishing or the reckoning?” we cry.

But politics work in much the same way currently. Folks who feel no good future awaits them begin to see the lack of potential as no future at all; their decisions then become those defined by no possibility. And if there’s no possibility, why not burn it all down and see what happens? Why not operate as if today’s victory is ultimate?

It’s hard to be an Advent person right now, with the world seemingly antagonistic to the long view. But our faith is of the not-yet, of the to-be, of the possible but not inevitable. Which makes it all the more important to put our hands to the plow right now. Waiting is not stagnant, after all. Waiting is the sprinter hiked on the starting blocks. True patience is a tense state, one fraught with preparation and more activity than can be seen. Waiting with an eye on the almost-but-not-quite is combative and upending. Let us be ready. Let us be against those with no future in mind. Let us be Advent people.

Every Vote Counts

Every vote counts. Decisions are made by those who show up. Refusing to vote is not a protest, it’s a surrender. Don’t boo, vote.

When our circle of reality is threatened, common sense aphorisms will be invoked in its defense. Pay attention to these today, of all days. An election is always threatening to the circle of reality because it's a liminal moment, a transition from one narrative arc to another. What we know to be true is called into question behind the veil of the voting booth, so we work extra hard to reaffirm our basic assumptions about the way the world works.

However, an election is also the highest liturgical moment in the circle of reality. Reality requires a “should-be” condition in relation to the present “is.” Sound like anything going on right now? Reality, as we experience it, is part of a meaning-making story told by those who depend on it for power. Those who cannot tell this story are the most vulnerable in our society. They also tend to be our scapegoats. That is, the vulnerable among us, who cannot tell our story, are blamed for impeding the “should-be” from being actualized in the present.

Questioning the value of our political apparatus is met variously with criticism of patriotism or privilege depending on their source on the right or the left. Each "side" strives to meet every threat and re-establish the circle of meaning that maintains reality. This is especially ironic with an eye on the left, because demanding the liturgy of reality be carried out according to plan ensures the vulnerable among us continue to function as a scapegoat—they are structurally necessary. Liberal social justice ultimately cannot address the condition of the vulnerable because social problems are necessary to the continued existence of our circle of reality.

I end up taking an existential view. Can society be a bit more humane for my friends living on the street? Can we show a little more mercy to those who need it? Are the policies we enact in this circle of reality hospitable to everyone? And that's how I vote. But I'm not confused about the limits of human imagination.

The Middle Ground Is for Chumps

I don’t know why I feel the need to say anything about tonight’s debate. Or anything at all. I’m experiencing an unusually vicious onslaught of cynicism (which is significant, as I’ve got a high resting cynic rate), so I’m not sure what to say about the state of politics, or the social fabric, or my own ability to figure out how I feel about all things.

I have vacillated between what it means for a person on the far left (me, in this case) to vote in this election. I have been scolded for my privilege when I consider not casting a vote for Hillary. I have been called childish, foolish, idealistic, unsympathetic to the lives of women and minorities, and all other manner of accusatory names by those who consider a vote for Clinton and the Democrats to be the only option for someone calling themselves progressive in these excessively weird and troubling times.

I have tried to tell friends and acquaintances that my being further left makes it hard to stomach the Democrats' move to the center right. I have tried to explain to them that Hillary’s domestic policies and foreign decisions have made voting for her feel unconscionable to me. I am told that my critique of “warmonger” isn’t enough to justify my “protest vote.” I am told I’m making a protest vote.

I am told that my moral agency is nothing compared to my civic responsibility. I’ve been chastised for how they do or don’t line up in the eyes of those upset with me. But this is the new reality, the magnanimous duopoly. We are a people of A or B, of black and white, of love or hate. The middle ground is for no one.

I agree with this. The middle ground has proved itself inept. Really, that’s where we’ve been living for as long as neoliberalism has made our two major American political parties laughable mirrors of each other. However, admitting that the middle ground is useless doesn’t mean dualism is inevitable. Nondualism, theologically, politically, and socially offers us a three-dimensional way of being. Like the ship in space, we are not limited to forward or backward. We can also float up or down, shirking the bonds of earthly gravity in favor of choices not previously open to us.

You might say that I seem to have made up my mind about the worth of voting for Clinton rather than a minor party option who might offer what I believe to be more responsible and live-giving options on a range of issues. I mostly have, but I have my days. As Adam Kotsko recently pointed out, it’s giving this bourgeois, capitalist system I disdain a lot of credit when I so desperately seek a good candidate. If the system is as ethically bankrupt as I believe it to be, why not ride out the cynicism and vote for a candidate who I acknowledge is better in several key ways than her opponent?

It’s a logical point, albeit a relativist one I struggle to adopt. Holding my nose and marking a ballot for someone I believe to be directly responsible for military policies that left a lot of brown folks across the ocean—women, children, and men alike—dead is still a moral choice. And as I’ve never been one to prefer Mill to Kant, it’s one I’m not sure I can make. But I’ll admit to being unsure how to move as flawlessly as possible despite my being quite the flawed person in a tragically flawed system given power by an overwhelmingly flawed culture.

Nothing is easy here, at least not for me. I don’t begrudge you if it’s easy for you. I don’t give a shit if you’re mad at me because it is easy for you and hard for me.

I’ll probably watch the debates, if for no other reason than to be able to better articulate my own thoughts by engaging in (mostly) silent argument with the person speaking at the moment. I doubt they’ll put anything into focus for me except for, perhaps, my contempt for both candidates and my longing for a better political system that could and should produce a better servant leader. It won’t move me to the middle where most people say they live but so few actually do. Who can survive there anyway? Who’d want to? Not I. Give me the up, the down, the upside down any day. Duopoly and myself in the eyes of those who like the left, right, and middle be damned.

True Idiocracy

If you haven’t taken the time to seriously consider your ineptitude, to truly face your ignorance and your failings, especially those which can be addressed and fixed, do that now. Then embrace the hell out it and join the American political process.

It shouldn’t be surprising to me at this point, having watched the slipping quality of dialogue and participation when it comes to the life of the community, which is what politics is at its core, for the last decade. I’ve seen the progression. My elders have noted it before me, often stamping a start date on Nixon’s forehead. Some say it’s been happening a lot longer than that. Today, we nervously joke about the decline by drawing parallels to Idiocracy, by feeding the “entertainment” that is laughing at bumbling public figures. But we don’t turn the channel. We feed it. We make reality stars of the dumbest among us, and chortle, and feel smart as we become stupid.

The celebration of ignorance isn’t new. I’m not unique in calling it out. It’s just frustrating as hell, is all, and sometimes one has to speak their frustrations to give them form and better understand them. I didn’t grow up with much money, but I was always taught that supreme value existed in my education. Anything I learned was mine, something earned which could not be taken away. I lived out this philosophy by gathering every bit of knowledge I could, parlaying the hunt into good grades which I then used as a basis for my identity. My parents never shamed me for a bad grade alone, but they did rain down the guilt when they felt that bad grade was associated with a lack of effort to learn. They were upfront with me that all knowledge, whether little or great, was power. Schoolhouse Rock wasn’t lying.

Academia and the ranks of the educated liberal elite, the stereotypical yuppies and college professors, are in some ways to blame for their own reputation among the uneducated masses typically found in the lower class. If you sneer down at someone, they generally don’t like you. However, the vilification of these privileged ranks has been, at least in parts, misplaced. The uneducated often blame the educated for their judging gaze, both sects resenting the other for classist ills which get represented by false social narratives. Yet the blame on an unbalanced and underfunded education system goes unplaced, which is mightily convenient for politicians (themselves usually educated and elite) who rely on the poorly educated voting against their own self-interests in order to stay in office. Cultivating this dichotomy has bred a desire among the ignorant to shun knowledge itself as the forbidden fruit; take a bite and you might find yourself “livin’ above your raisin’,” as we Alabama folks say. And in a room of have-nots, no one wants to be accused of thinking themselves better-than.

This toxic mix of shame, jealousy, and foolish pride has settled on the split between ignorance and information like a blanketing pesticide, clouding the actual issue with poisonous misinformation. Cable news feeds people opinion in lieu of facts, and when actual facts are presented as counter-evidence, the knee-jerk reaction is to angrily disbelieve. Intelligence and novel thought are no longer trusted, leaving us a culture of hearing what we want to hear and nothing else. This is precisely why presidential candidates can say whatever they want, beholden to no truth, and amass unthinkable voter numbers. Donald Trump doesn’t have to actually answer a question; he can just spew nonsense and feel superior. And his supporters will see him that way. Any attempt to highlight his idiocy will be met with vitriol aimed at the “elites” trying to inject factual knowledge into a situation where gut feelings reign supreme.

I wish there were some positive spin I could put on this, but the unfortunate reality is this isn’t going away. Even if the smartest, most honest person in the race wins the White House, the ignorant hordes who lift up liars and morons like Trump aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be around in four years. They’ll be around in twenty. We’ve made an idol of ignorance in this country, one supported by classist columns and draped in fear of the other, and until we truly confront it, we’ll just stand around in horror as millions of our friends, neighbors, and family members bask in the glory of their own unknowing, pleased as pigs in shit.

The Myth of Christian Voting

The trend in U.S. politics for the last few decades, from the conservative side at least, has been to court the "evangelical vote" by creating calls to arms around various hot-button social issues. This is often called the ‘culture wars’. A broad name, but complexities, of course, abound.

The usual push-back points are that not all evangelicals are alike, that we have a hard time defining the term evangelical in our modern context, that those who court such a vote are often Christian in name more than deed, that Christians should vote based more on the biblical teachings of Christ and less on the modern social lens through which we try to squeeze the Bible… you’ve heard them all. There are more think pieces on these subjects than one could ever read.

This is all amplified in the case of Donald Trump, as most things are. Trump seems to be courting the evangelical vote effectively, which in this case means he’s able to pull socially conservative folks who also identify as Christians and who, usually, name Christianity as a driving force behind what and who they vote for.

The response in this case has been for more than a few evangelicals to talk about why voting for Trump is antithetical to evangelical beliefs. This New York Times piece has been making the rounds; this one at Ministry Matters is well-written, too.

But both miss the point, which is that being a Christian really isn’t a matter of civic responsibility. The thing is, you are Christian apart from your role in the citizenry, and the two identities have very little to do with each other.

Here, you might say I’m not being practical. You might say, "If I believe that Christ teaches to take care of people, I’m going to vote for people and policies that help others.” And I’ll say, “Of course you are.”

But the thing is, your participation in the life of a nation, in the life of an institutional system, isn’t the same as your life in Christ. It isn’t wholly different, but they aren’t analogous. When Ben Carson spoke about it being necessary for a Muslim who wanted to hold office to renounce their religious allegiance, he missed the point that Christian politicians have to do this, too. In Christianity (though the metaphor is troublesome), Christ is king, and America ain’t dealin’ in kings.

There are lots of reasons—practical, emotional, intellectual, STRAIGHT-UP-BASIC MORAL—to not vote for Donald Trump. But being a Christian has little to do with it. Your identity in Christ isn’t a moralistic one, though how you act communally is undeniably linked. Your identity in Christ isn’t tribal, meaning that it isn’t confined by narrow categorization like party affiliation. Your identity in Christ isn’t governmental, civic, or legislated. Life and identity in Christ is something much more universal and free than any specific policy vote you make or label you choose to associate with. We humans like to put things in boxes because categorizing makes things make sense; unfortunately, the mystical nature of incarnation, of God-Human, makes categorization impossible.

So I don’t think evangelicals should or shouldn’t vote for Trump because I don’t believe in this ethereal voting bloc which is “evangelicals,” nor do I believe in labels which denote things as “Christian” or “secular.” Instead, if Christ is incarnate, in our bodies and our air and our lives lived as liturgy itself, then voting becomes quite secondary. That doesn’t mean that it stops being our civic duty, or our duty to work for our neighbor simply because they’re our neighbor. Some of our decisions will look more like Christ. Some won’t look like Christ at all. None of it is separate from the mind of God. Nothing is outside the realm of the divine life. If Paul is right, then there are no categories. We are who we are, created and free, only bound by the burdening Christianicism with which we have hobbled ourselves.

An Economy of...Something

A friend sent me this story about an recently-invented language built on the simplicity of expression, relying on 123 words and good ol' nonverbal communication to carry the tricky thing that is having contact with another human.

I dig this idea. I'm not surprised, as I've always gravitated toward the idea that we can simplify. It's a marvel then, that I somehow ended up studying theology, a field which thrives on complexity and nuance. Still, I can remember doing an architecture project in the 4th grade. We were to study different styles and draw up plans for our own house. I went minimalist, naturally, and scoffed (I was a 4th grader who scoffed, which is why you would have rightfully hated me) at the overwrought, decadent displays my classmates came up. "Why do you want so much stuff in your house?" I'd ask.

I have too much stuff now. I'm still in pursuit of a simpler life. Not just simpler in the new-age, self-help sense. Not in the "let's appropriate Zen Buddhism but where we get to keep capitalism" kind of simple. A real kind of simple. Where I have an economy of language, of thought, of action. Where I'm intentional about each waking moment, but I don't even think about it as it's so fluid and natural. Sounds like a dream. I doubt I'll ever get there.

This is why I find the current political circus infuriating and damaging. It's not new, but we're definitely experiencing a heightened flavor. The rhetoric is bombastic, manic, stark-raving...so many words saying so very little. Not only is it unnecessary, it's damaging, dangerous, menacing. In not seeking together a simpler road forward, we've opened the bag wide to every form of insanity and called it liberty.

Which isn't to say that I don't want a diversity of thought, expression, players and thinkers; I do. I just want that very diverse group to be able to sit together, quietly, and think before they speak. I'd love to hand them 123 words and have them try to communicate their hate or their ignorance or their indifference. And when that became too hard, I'd like them to use 123 words to find a way to be in the presence of the other and marvel at the fact that we can exist together. Ideally, they could get that down without words at all.

Theologically, I drift toward the apophatic and, if I'm being honest, the mystical. In this way, words don't get to the heart of who or what the divine is. But we have to get through all the words before we can realize that we need less of them. Perhaps this is a model for our pursuit of communal life.

This is my dream of the economy of words, deeds, language, thought, and spirit. I'm not naive enough to believe it's how we can conduct ourselves on global, wide stages. It's also important to say that I love words. I love language. I write on a blog, for heaven's sake. Jokes, wordplay, and exposition are my daily tools. I don't want our ability to express to diminish in any way. But I would love some added value on silence and simplicity. I would love us to seek such things out, in any little corner where they might live. Maybe I'll shut up now and listen for how I might do that best.

Really Not Really Alone

Logan sent me a tweet a few days ago of an image which has since gone viral, retweeted and commented upon and analyzed. It was this image. In it, you can see the end of days, the beginning to every horrific piece of dystopian science fiction you’ve ever encountered. You might hear the Imperial March when you look at it. Maybe you just feel cold, like that kid who could see Bruce Willis (poor kid).

Maybe you’re completely unlike me, though. Maybe you see within those pixels an image of the glorious future, of technology spreading its benevolent arms until we’re tightly wrapped within them, choking out our last bre—I’m sorry. I’m ruining something good for you. My apologies.

Of course, I felt a similar sentiment when I looked at this brilliant cartoon last week. I laughed a lot, and then I set my jaw and felt intensely grim; I was laughing because it was all so damn true. The realism of our current world feels inescapable, and it feels especially so when fantasy and imagination don't provide the outs they once did. It’s harder for me to lose myself in a book or a movie than it once was, or to lose all sense of time staring off the porch at the swaying trees, their limbs stark naked in the late-winter air. Partly, I’m out of practice. But I feel the other part is that we’re not afforded the ability to be alone.

This could be what scares me so much about a bunch of slack-jawed goobers fawning over VR headsets in eager hopes of making WALL-E non-fiction. It could be what scares me so much about the current U.S. political climate. Don’t they want to step back? Don’t they feel crushed by all that forced connectedness? Don't they want to just take a breath?

Everything is constantly in our face, and even what looks like an ingenious technological escape to some seems like a Philip K. Dick novel to me. I don’t mean to sound like an old person on a cable news channel railing against the kids and their smartphones. I’m a millennial, though on the outer edge; I get the arguments my peers use for why they’re always looking at a screen. Some say it allows them this sacred loneliness of which I speak, that even in a crowd of distempered people then can retreat via apps. Others go the other way and use devices to wax poetic on the newfound ability to find community anywhere and everywhere. I get those arguments, too.

The problem is, it’s a trap either way. Just like so many of our political/social/religious modes of being, we’re fed two narratives and are expected to pick one. Rarely do we talk about a third thing. Leaving the party to read an article on your phone doesn’t make you anymore alone than the Oculus wearer. You’re still tethered, a string of data and ideas and intention swiftly and firmly grasping you from the end of the writers’ pen, from the coders’ fingertips. Where is the escape hatch, really? Maybe it was never there. Even the desert mystics went to commune with. Did even they get a moment away from God? Did they want one?

I’ve previously searched for a balance between connection and solitude, thinking that I could straddle the line between the high values I place on community and relationships as well as on my own needs as an introvert and generally “in my head” feller. But perhaps I was misguided. Perhaps I should’ve been striving not for a balance, but for a mode of living that supports both, sans dichotomy.

What would it look like to practice loving relationships in a community that encouraged your need for true solitude? What would it look like to be truly happy in a moment of complete disconnect, knowing that your appreciation of the inevitable reconnect was just as profound and just as worthy? Maybe what I’m describing to you sounds like a monastic experience, which it might be, but I’m thinking of something different. I’m thinking of a societal shift which would build us from birth to be completely at home in the realms of the "totally alone" and the "totally with" because it never believed they were two separate realms in the first place.

We’re jumping away from the practical here, I know. I said recently that I’m trying to give up cynicism for Lent, which is incredibly difficult when you’re constantly bombarded by reality, doom-flavored as it typically is. But I think that effort contains just the seeds I’m looking for when trying to figure out how to cultivate a nourishing and fruitful way of being for myself and others like me who wish desperately to be both tethered and untethered.

The seeds are those of hope, wonder, and love. When we allow ourselves to be fully opened in relationship with another, be it God or your significant other or your neighbor, maybe then we can be released—and feel comfortable releasing—into the void. We take the space walk without a cable because we are connected by something less tangible but more powerful. Your hope in who I am, my love for who you are, the wonder we have at how that can even be…that’s our breadcrumb trail back. We can go be alone, and know we’ll get back if and when the getting back is necessary. How lovely.

Feel the Bern, Feel the Ash

“Seems like the best way to decide if someone is electable is to hold an election.” — Logan


Lent begins today. I pass people with ashes smudged across their foreheads, reminding me of a time when I observed the start of this holy season with a different attitude. I used to spend the weeks leading up to Lent figuring out exactly which thing I should give up which would strike the delicate balance between “will make me suffer” and “really doesn’t make me suffer at all because suffering sucks.” I wanted to feel like I was doing something meaningful without actually doing something inconvenient. Eventually, I stopped thinking of God as someone who gave even one damn about what I did or didn’t give up for a month and a half. I became especially convinced that God didn’t care what I gave up when what I gave up was so trivial, so privileged to begin with, so utterly materialist in my attachment to it anyway. Unfortunately, while I stopped thinking of Lent in those terms after I finished high school, most of American Christianity kept right on going.

Overall, I’m a cynical person. I don’t give the benefit of the doubt often, especially when it comes to folks expressing their religiosity, or, as they more likely see it, their innermost personal faith.[1] I realize that Christians who still approach Lenten practice as “I’m going to give X up for the next few weeks” are, for the most part, genuinely trying to get at what the church is asking us to do during this time. I think they're missing the point, but that's judgmental of me. If I'm assuming the best of them, which I'm terrible at doing, I should admit that they’re working at self-denial as a means to reflection and contemplative faith practice.

That goal is a good one. But I’ve long lost the ability to trust in our modern means of reaching it. I tend not to trust a lot of things the church in my context does, foremost because I see American Christianity (the only version Christianity I know personally) as irredeemably tied to the capitalist economic system that drives our everyday lives. Church and faith culture so often fall into the traps of selling us a false scarcity, of perpetuating the need to belong “rightly,” which is usually to say “uniquely,” though the actual vision of the Kingdom is supposed to be universal. It seems, therefore, a little trite to think about how giving up your favorite soda is doing anything at all. But I suppose in an environment which says consuming is everything, not consuming is supposed to be something.

My cynicism stretches beyond the bounds of how others practice Lent. It’s in overdrive right now given the amplifying political spectacle at work. It won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me—and shouldn’t be to anyone who reads me—that I’m a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter. I feel the bern. So when I’m constantly faced with arguments on why this particular candidate isn’t “electable,” all I want to scream is “Anyone is electable if you go elect them!” I’m in a struggle to deny what I know about the American political landscape and instead choose a vision of the future, a vision I believe Bernie and many others share, which emboldens communities to be better at being communal. I’m keeping my cynicism at bay so that I can carry on doing the work of seeking a compassionate way forward in this time and place in which I live.

In a way, it’s probably the most obvious Lenten observation I’ve made in years. For the first time in so long, I’m denying a part of myself in favor of the work all Christians are called to do, namely the work of building the Kingdom here on earth. So as long as I’m putting down the cynicism, maybe in the same way you put down chocolate[2], I guess I’m participating in a tradition I thought I’d left behind long ago. I’m preparing for a vision bigger than myself, bigger than one election or one person seeking an office, or even one movement which is trying to bring about specific change in a specific region. Rather, I’m looking toward a future in which all are lifted up as created ones, valued and cared for, a world inherited by the meek. It’s a resurrection vision, an Easter-people’s hope.

Take the offering of my cynicism, Lord. I’ll try to give it up as long as I can.

[1]: See what I did there? I’m rich in cynicism. Loaded.
[2]: Dammit. I did it again. Don’t take it personally, please.

Thought and Prayer

Today there have been a lot people turning their ire at the "thoughts and prayers" platitudes that follow an American mass shooting event. It's the go-to phrase for politicians, who are forced to say something after a public event. Annoying.

But a lot of other people say "thoughts and prayers" too. Look, it's a formulation. The words, "My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families," don't really mean anything regarding the way they were originally arranged. For politicians it's like saying, "I acknowledge this event happened and will now engage in the appropriate way of saying so." For others "thoughts and prayers" means, "This event makes me sad," or, "Oh shit," or, "I wish this wouldn't have happened."

"Thoughts and prayers," as a phrase, does a bunch of heavy lifting we don't necessarily want to do in public. This is especially true when we're limited to 140 characters.

I don't get the ire. Living in a country as violent as the United States and railing against the phrase "thoughts and prayers" is like living next to a coal plant and shouting at the sky about air quality.

Anyway, quiet, contemplative, even conversational prayer is fine. Even good. Posting about it on social media doesn’t effect your reach, though. God don’t care about “likes” and RTs.

Lord, have mercy.

Illegitimate

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In case the comic wasn't clear, each and every person who used their power to exercise their own bigotry in the form of demonizing refugees was wrong. And if they were actually face to face with the Jesus many of them claim to follow, I think they'd have to do so with fear and trembling. The bad kind.

The Reactionary Christ

The Starbucks Christmas coffeecup fiasco:

Apparently there are no liberal or conservative Christians in America, only reactionary Christians. Without fail, when public awareness turns its gaze upon the next feast day of the Christian liturgical calendar (except Pentecost, because no one knows what it is), this or that wacky corner of American Christianity will complain about some such nonsense and then it is open season for the reactions.

As a friend put it recently, we are now encountering fourth-level meta reactions: “outrage about the outrage about the outrage.” Every year some piece of nothing is presented as the foundation for quickly building a moralistic platform out of plywood and glue. This year it is Starbucks’ stupid red cups. In response, the holy, morally pure objects of the True Meaning of Christmas are thrust into social media: foster children, refugees, homeless people, poor nations, real religious persecution, the environment, Syria, something about Advent. Never you mind that people spouting these moralist tropes have little to no actual encounter with any of the people they're talking about. Liberal reactionaries need only wait as their conservative brethren dutifully choose the outrage du jour for the season.

Worse, news outlets that pass along the story appear to be reporting on a phenomenon that has no existence outside of one man's viral video and the echoing likes and shares of the unthinking masses. The moderately liberal moralist response to these kinds of non-stories shows the utter lack of politics among liberals. Far from building a constructive political foundation addressing the realities of life in America, liberals are in a constant state of reaction—reacting even to essentially fabricated movements on the right. As for conservatives, their response to this liberal cacophony is to double down on a felt sense of persecution and injustice that allows these kinds of stories to flourish in the first place.

This would merely be a disappointing trifle if reactionary politics were not a hair's breadth from fundamentalist politics. The right and left feeding off each other in the way described above cannot help but devolve into feuding fundamentalisms, each spouting its own doctrinaire moralistic truisms and working to dehumanize and silence its opposition.

What is required is a politics of reconciliation and love wherein disparate individuals are encouraged to hold political tension together and work through problems based not on whatever common wisdom they bring to the table with them, but through encounter of each other and the world with eyes unburdened by fear, hatred, loss, and the will to power.

This is the politics of the cross.

Kim Davis, Freedom of Conscience, and the American Tradition of Religious Pluralism

Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis has been in the news for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on the grounds that her religious beliefs forbid it. She has been jailed, national politicians have jumped to her defense, she has been both demonized and trumpeted as a hero. The pluralism of belief in the United States means that the place of religion in public life will always have the potential to be one of the most divisive topics in American politics.

In the documents that form the United States and in their own private lives and discourse, our Founders intended to establish a society where freedom of conscience reigned and no one would be subject to coercion in their beliefs by an official of the government. Because the U.S. is an increasingly religiously diverse nation, an authentic, ongoing, sharp-edged pluralistic discussion is a necessity if the unity of the United States is to be maintained and a just society is to be cultivated. Otherwise, our rhetoric will devolve into the vitriol we have seen surrounding Kim Davis and the gay marriage question in the last few weeks.

A Christian Nation?

Kim Davis, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson would not exactly see eye-to-eye with the Founders who made concrete their Enlightenment principles in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. While the Founders certainly carved out a place for religion in America, they never gave credence to a specific religion.

A well-known document crafted by John Adams and the U.S. Senate puts this bluntly. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli. Specifically Article 11:

the government of the United States... is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.[^1]

President George Washington, for his part, was no Christian. According to Brooke Allen, on his deathbed Washington did not speak of heaven or ask for a minister to preside over his death. Rather, "his last act was to take his own pulse, the consummate gesture of a creature of the age of scientific rationalism."[^2]

Other Founders went to greater lengths to impose their rationalism on the world. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia with no religious affiliation, and "even banned the teaching of theology at the school."[^3] It is well-known that Jefferson edited his own version of the New Testament, which he called "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth." Jefferson carefully deleted (literally cut out of the Bible with a scalpel) any miraculous passage of the Gospels that did not conform to Jefferson's understanding of reason.

These three examples don't cover the entire body of men who shaped the beginnings of the United States,[^4] but they represent a sample of the kinds of sentiments that operated among men of their standing and generation. For the Founders, the main concern about religion was that the new nation be free from bondage to its rule. With this concern, the Founders established a possibility for pluralism and laid the groundwork for the great flourishing of religion we see today.

The Founders understood that the power afforded the banner of religion by its adherents could be a corrupting agent in government. They knew that governmental power and religious power combined could be catastrophic to the new nation. They sought to mitigate the threat to individual freedom posed by the confluence of religion and government.

In the person of Kim Davis, we can see the outcome when government power and religious doctrine meet. In her power as a clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, Kim Davis has unilaterally limited the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of her fellow citizens based on her religious beliefs alone.

There is an overwhelming feeling in the United States that the country will tear itself apart over issues of religious diversity, including secularism. However, according to John Meacham “history suggests… that there is hope, for we have been fighting these battles from our earliest days and yet the American experiment endures.”[^5] The question is why, even with all of the challenges presented by a society like the United States, the Union still stands.

The Founders knew this would be a divisive issue for their new nation. Their solution was to separate the state from the power of religion and religion from the power of the state. These separations were grounded in freedom of conscience.

Freedom of Conscience

What does freedom of conscience mean? Basically what we’re talking about here is freedom from external coercion directed by the government. However, it cannot mean that individualism and total self-sovereignty reign. That is the way being tested by Kim Davis and her supporters.

If freedom of conscience is to flourish, it must be based first on respect—perhaps even love—between individuals, and it must be guarded by the government. Freedom of conscience, guaranteed by America’s framing documents, promises something deeper than freedom to act, speak, and assemble; it promises that the right to think freely will be defended by the government, as long as citizens respect each other.

The Founders did not seek to separate “faith and politics” or “religion and public life.” No. They sought to separate the institutions of religion and government. Separating the public spheres of religion and government was not about secularizing society, it was about “protecting conscience by insisting on clear institutional boundaries.”[^6] Personal faith could inform politics, private religion could be manifest in public life, and how an individual chose to exercise her religion was her own business. But faith itself “should not be singled out for special help or particular harm” among private citizens.[^7]

In a nation as diverse as the United States, the government and its officers have a responsibility to the free thought of every individual under the government’s power. Importantly, the Constitution’s religion clauses exist not only to protect doctrinaire believers, but to “protect the right of religious dissenters.”[^8] For the Founders, the greatest sin was to impinge upon another human being’s freedom of thought and ability to choose. Here the reader may herself connect the issue of “religious dissenters'” rights being impinged upon to the actions taken by Kim Davis’.

For Americans, the way forward is paved by freedom of conscience grounded in the Constitution and in respect for one another. For Christians, the way forward is paved by love of neighbor grounded in Christ and in freedom of conscience grounded in the Constitution.

Pluralism

”Freedom of conscience is, in a sense, the reason for pluralism and also the appropriate and just response to pluralism.”[^9]

Pluralism is forever an attempt. The point of pluralism is not to achieve perfect agreement on all matters and tastes. Pluralism is not the savior of society; it will not fix all ills or erase sin from the world. What pluralism does do is aim at achieving relationship. Only if we openly, respectfully disagree can we come to understand our disagreements and begin to find common ground. The Founders knew this and so built freedom of conscience into the Constitution through separation of church and state, providing the foundation of plurality itself.

This is all well and good, but if the discussion of who we are devolves from respectful dialogue to angry muttering, idealistic positivism (as in the Kim Davis case), or outright violence, then we should begin to worry.

A generation of pluralism is not enough. A commitment to religious literacy, respect, understanding, and the responsibility of citizens to teach their children the way of pluralism is required. For Christians, pluralism means dedication to Jesus' command, “You shall love your neighbor.” American Christians should be the champions of pluralism. It is time that we worry less about politics and more about love. Building a perfect society is an unattainable goal. We will not save ourselves from sin. But pluralism grounded in freedom of conscience and love of neighbor grounded in Christ are steps toward a society that cherishes justice for all.

21 Senators

I like to think that I’m not a natural curmudgeon. I enjoy hope; I revel in beauty; I seek out good things in life, both small and big.

But it’s important to be honest with yourself: I’m an asshole.

This doesn’t mean that the other stuff is untrue. It just means that my natural disposition toward the world is usually an obstacle for me. I’d like it to be otherwise, but, as some wise old Brits still say, you can’t always get what you want.

All that said, there are mornings when my natural lens through which I view reality is confirmed with serious force. For example, the first story I read this morning detailed how 21 United States senators chose to vote against a bipartisan bill to ban torture. Now keep in mind, this is America; torture isn’t going away. But at least the majority of our leaders feel (correctly) that there should be some explicit language against practicing it. That’s a good thing.

Unless you’re the worst.

Which is really the only way I can view the 21 human beings, charged with making policy decisions for millions of collective constituents, who openly voted to keep the right to treat other human beings worse than the law allows us to treat domesticated animals. Baffling, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s not baffling to you, though. Maybe you are still among those who feel that torture can serve the greater good, that it can lead to valuable information which protects the wider public. What’s wrecking one guy’s body when we’re talking about hundreds? Thousands? Millions?

But you’re wrong if you’re not baffled. I’m saying you’re wrong. I’m right. There aren't a lot of times in life when you can be confident, but about this, I am. We’ve seen time and time again that torture doesn’t work. It doesn’t get results. If your body was being pushed beyond all fathomable limits of pain and possibility, wouldn’t you say anything to get it to stop? That’s common sense, and common sense wins out in every reliable case we’ve seen.

Still, we’ve got 21 powerful leaders in this nation who feel fine with blatantly ignoring such evidence. I honestly wish I could be more cynical about this, because then at least I could believe that they’re only trying to win some shrewd political points with such a vote. But I’m not. As an asshole, what I’m seeing isn’t even through the lens of cynicism at this point. What I’m seeing is both the active and banal nature of evil at work. The warm light of hope is so far gone for me when I see a story like this that it’s hard for me to process. I mean, stuff shouldn’t line up with the way I tend to view the world because the way I tend to view the world sucks. But here we have it.

So what’s to be done? I don’t know. Elect different people? We can do that. We can take note of the specific individuals who think mangling the body and mind of another is fine if the perceived (but never actual) gains are big enough, and we can vote for someone else. We can keep our memories of their deeds sharp, never forgetting that their view of human life is straight up disturbing.

We can also remember the value of life, and the value of living it with purpose and hope in light of our reality as connected beings. That's the stuff of divinity. We can remember that we're humans, and as such, neighbors are our reality. We can live that out with some optimism for the good life to be shared by all. We can get upset when even the most jaded among us notice the imbalance of ethics and policy playing out in our public sphere.

We can desire the new and the good. And maybe this desire for transformation and change is part of being an asshole who wishes you weren’t; in any case, it sure makes you different than 21 senators.

Obama, Jesus and 57,000 Immigrants Walk into a Bar

I've written before about the dangers of trying to have a discussion via social media (spoilers: it's terrible), but I continue to do it. I'm an idiot, though, so I forgive me.

Recently a friend posted the Facebook status referencing the humanitarian crisis on the U.S. southern border in which thousands of foreign minors are fleeing their homes in Central and South America and attempting to gain refugee status here. He wrote, "Jesus wouldn't deport 52,000 children." To which Logan responded "No. I mean...he wouldn't. But he also wasn't a head of state." This led to Logan and I having a lengthy offline discussion about what the original thought implied and what our reactions were to it and why they were so immediate.

It's important to look at what's going on when we talk about what the government is doing or should be doing and what Jesus said we should be doing in the same breath. On a historical level, it gets murky when we try to grant Jesus political authority. There was a separation and a tension for him (the "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar" thing[^1]), so outright conflation of the two doesn't sit well.

This doesn't mean, of course, that what Jesus was all about had no political implications. The social and economic status quo is very much the business of the government and has been since the invention of the concept of governmental authority. But that's where the crux of my reaction to the statement lies: Jesus was about something so much more than government business.

For the record, I don't believe deporting those kids will do one damn bit of good. Maybe it'll discourage others from seeking asylum here[^2], to make the dangerous journey that might cost their lives, but if the crisis at home is bad enough, those deported back will just leave again. I also believe that it is morally necessary to care for them while they are here, to do as much as we can to help them begin a life here, and to also make the life in their home countries good enough that they don't feel the need to flee in the first place.[^3]

The flip side to all this, and what I think my friend was going for when he wrote what he did, is that such an invocation is usually the tool of the Christian Right in this country. In that sense, he was turning it back on those who commonly use Jesus as a way to justify political and social action, often for causes that look and sound very un-Jesus-like. However, this tension between what Jesus was all about and how governments operate doesn't really let the technique work for liberals, either. No matter which side uses the lingo, problems arise.

That being said, if we're going to think through an issue that holds government action and religious conviction in conversation, we have to think about how much the two have to do with each other and how action in one sphere might affect the other. For my friend, the issue came down to how we begin to focus our responsibility to those children in great need and what our top representative's response should look like given that responsibility. To which I replied, in part:

If by "our responsibility" you mean the responsibility of the federal government, its representatives, and the people who elected them, then no. It's not "our" responsibility. Obama's responsibility is constitutional, to do what he can for our national interests while following federal law. If he does more, it's above and beyond the actual responsibility of the position.

If by "our" you mean Christians, which I assume you do by invoking Jesus, then yes, it is our responsibility. However, as much as fundamentalists want it, we're not a Christian nation and our president, of all people, shouldn't be acting based on one set of religious virtues. This doesn't mean he can't act morally within the grounds of his public office, but it also means that he can't base such action on what Jesus wants.[^4]

Essentially, we can't expect Obama or any other politician to abide by WWJD bracelets. Nor should we. Government will do what government does, especially in this country where we at least claim to stake some identity (I'm sighing as I type this because it's ridiculous to keep saying it given current American politics) on the separation of church and state. That leaves those with a religious responsibility to respond in their own way.

"What does that look like?"[^5] is the million-dollar question. A lot of things, actually. Electing representatives that favor domestic and foreign policies that speak to the tenets of your religious beliefs (and if you're a Jesus follower, I sure hope you're thinking first about major social and economic reform and not gay marriage or birth control) is a place to start. Giving your financial resources to trustworthy groups that seek those same goals is another quick way to jump in. But most importantly, giving of yourself, your time and body, is the best way we can demonstrate commitment to our responsibilities. If you truly believe we have a commitment to those children, to the humanitarian struggle they're facing at home and here on our soil, then how are you actively, physically planning to help them?

Am I helping them? Have I taken a leave of absence from my job to go down there and touch those in need with my hands and tell them they are loved and show them that someone cares? No. But I'm a bad Christian. It's important to know these things. I've known I'm a bad Christian for a while, actually, since I have a house full of stuff and a car and money in savings and I'm planning for retirement. Jesus said something about selling what you have, giving the proceeds to the poor, and then following him.[^6] I haven't done that. Most Christians haven't. But we can try to do better. We can think on how we failed the least of these, breathe in and out a few times, and then try to do better. We can then do our best to help those in need all around us. We can even ask Obama to do the same thing. Just don't get mad when he allocates funds to speed up the deportation process because you think Jesus wouldn't have done that. Jesus wouldn't have agreed to be commander-in-chief, either.

  • [^1]: Mark 12:17
  • [^2]: Though if they did, the Bible has something to say about that, too. Check out Leviticus 19:33-34. That's in the chapter before the one certain folks like to wield.
  • [^3]: We're up against some decades-old Reagan-era policies toward Central and South America here which, frankly, haven't gotten much better with presidents since. This one's a toughy.
  • [^4]: Feel free to substitute another moral/religious system in place of Christian here. I'm arguing from a Christian perspective because that's a) where most of my experience lies and b) where the discussion started.
  • [^5]: It sure as hell doesn't look like this.
  • [^6]: Matthew 19:21

The Body Politick

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the Freedom States of Freedom ruled on a highly contentious case. Not contentious because of facts, but because of beliefs that have root in non-facts. You know, opinions. The court ruled 5-4 to allow businesses held closely (like the handful of family members that run Hobby Lobby) to deny certain healthcare coverage if it offends their religious sensibilities. Heaven forbid. No, really; HEAVEN FORBIDS IT.

What we are left with is a stunning new landscape where corporations can have religious identity and individual women are now beholden to those corporate beliefs to navigate their sexual and reproductive healthcare. Now, these are both massive issues that come together in a terrible chaotic mess in this one case. If you want some good summaries of the issue, in case you're not familiar with the ruling or its possible implications, I invite you to read this comprehensive New York Times piece that covers the issue as well as the majority and dissenting opinions. If you want to hear more about the economic and governmental impact of changing corporate/business law, I encourage you to ask a business professor or a tax lawyer. They could help you more than I. If you want to hear more about the social terror that is forcing women seeking gainful employment to adopt the specific and restrictive religious beliefs of their boss which directly impact their bodies, maybe ask a woman. Like, any woman. I'm no expert on these facets of the case, but what I can speak to is the idea of Christianity that's supposedly so important to companies like Hobby Lobby. Without these professions of belief, there wouldn't be a case. So let's briefly look at how that belief works, and just how Christian it is.

Well, the Bible Says…

Stop. No it doesn't. Whatever you were about to say, there's a betting chance it's wrong. Unless you were about to finish with "that we should treat most women as lesser than men by governing their bodies and micromanaging their place in the community" then you're not about to make the point you think you are. The Bible doesn't have anything to say about IUDs or the Plan B pill. And why should it, when the science of the day thought everything needed for a baby was in sperm? Remember, women didn't hold that kind of power for biblical authors.

"But, but, in Jeremiah…" Nope. Calling story, not a biology lesson. Stop it.

You know what it does say? "When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman's husband demands, as negotiated with the judges." [^1] That's in our sacred text, so we have to deal with it. This line of thinking doesn't attribute rights to the fetus or to the woman. It attributes rights to male decision as it regards property. So if we as a society are willing to say that viewing women as property is wrong, we can't ignore the second piece, which is that what's going on in a woman's body is now her business. Jesus doesn't say anything about it, which makes it even harder for a legitimate follower of Christ to stake his or her moral and social focus on this particular issue. Gotta find something to focus on that's not laying down all your possessions to follow Christ by helping the poor and caring for your enemies, though, amiright?!

What's going on so far doesn't have much to do with the Bible. Sorry. But because Christianity in America is an extra-biblical activity, maybe one could argue that Christian values as they've developed need religious protection, too. So, how much of what Hobby Lobby wants and what the court delivered are Christian, even in a looser sense of the word?

Christianicism

Christian belief has a lot to do with the body. A LOT. It's a religion of incarnation and bodily resurrection, and so when someone wants to argue about the body as it applies to Christian religious thinking, there's more than enough to talk about. The problem is, the religious protections set by the SCOTUS ruling have nothing to do with Christian doctrine.

There's some mind-boggling hypocrisy[^2] at work. For Hobby Lobby and other "pro-life" advocates, the whole point of being against birth control in all or specific forms is a focus on "personhood." Like, you could be killing a "person" with the Plan B pill (even though there's no respected evidence to prove anything of the sort; though a young gentleman did try to tell me on Facebook that the Plan B pill stopped fertilized embryos from attaching in fertilized lizards. Don't say things like that unless you want people to laugh at you. We do lots of things to lab mice, too, without basing medical and social law on them.) And yet the ruling dilutes the meaning of personhood by attributing personal protections to corporations. Biblically speaking, affording a non-human entity human religious identity is idolatrous. The whole reason we matter so much in the first place (in strictly religious terms, that is) is because we're made in the image of God. We are supposed to be infused with the light of the Divine. Right into our body place!

What this means is that, without a body, it's not Christian. Christ is Christ because he's God incarnate, in a body. And he's got a lot of groupies because his body defeated death, because it got up and left the tomb. It's about the body. That's why music isn't Christian, there's no such thing as a Christian novel, and there's sure as hell no such thing as a Christian business. Though if a business' entire goal was to make a billion dollars ethically only so it could cash out the stocks, empty the vaults, shutter the windows, and lock the doors before handing over that billion dollars to the poor, I'd at least have to think about it. Call me when that happens.

That being said, for the religious person all things are religious; your business practices, your artistic expressions, and your relationships are all tied to how you live your life through faith. But that doesn't make the practices or the fruits of those expressions intrinsically religious. They are born of belief and guided by our bodily actions. The point is, being a Christian means following Christ with your mind, body, and heart. A corporation, by definition, doesn't have those things. It's not a person, as much as previous SCOTUS rulings like Citizens United would have you believe. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, says this:

"As we will show, Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA’s definition of “persons.” But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people." [^3]

That's some high-class legal BS right there. In any case, as with Citizens United, corporations are viewed as persons, though their structure, identity, and very purpose is analogous to what it means to be a Christian. But if they're not Christian, what are they? As Logan said to me yesterday,

"'Corpus' means body. But a corporation has no body. Is beholden to no one. It exists for nothing but the accumulation of capital, which is itself formless. A corporation's only goal is to escape reality through accumulation of wealth (rather than knowledge/gnosis). And the Supreme Court right now calls that a person."

It's Gnosticism, and it flies in the face of incarnation. However hypocritical the basis, that doesn't mean it can't be afforded religious protections under the current Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the five justices interpreted it. As Eric Posner, a University of Chicago Law Professor puts it, "My initial reaction is that Alito’s legal argument is stronger, but that the law—as now interpreted—is pretty dumb."[^4]

I only partially agree. The law is dumb, and so is the ruling. Especially since the case is founded on a religious objection to an opinion about what certain birth control options do, even when they don't in fact, and this opinion is fueled by religious belief which calls itself Christian but isn't. So Hobby Lobby thinks they're being Christian, the SCOTUS protects their Gnostic identity, and all is right with the world because Jesus wins the sportsball game. Now every Christian business can tell their employees how to love Jesus best (while being productive money-makers, of course). It's a big win for the economic sector, which is Christian. Hmm? What did you say?

Dammit, There are Non-Christian Businesses?!

You're telling me that a closely-held business of any religion can now use this avenue to impose religious restrictions on their workers (i.e., probably just the women)? I had no idea!

While many defenders of the recent decision are quick to point out that Hobby Lobby still supports multiple types of contraception while only rejecting four that they believe are abortifacients, that doesn't mean that another business couldn't "believe" that all types are abortifacients and that their rejection of such methods should also be protected on the basis of religious freedom with the argument of unreasonable tax burden. As Justice Ginsberg noted in her dissent,

"Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?"[^5]

Ultimately, this is a decision that does nothing for healthy religious practice in our society and does a whole lot for corporate tax structure. It's a messy business, and it has nothing to do with Christianity. You know what does have something to do with Christianity? Grace. Grace for those who don't live lives like you. Grace for those who live life in the body as you do. Grace for those with decisions to make regarding their own health, identity, and beliefs. A truly Christian business, if such a thing could exist, would recognize that first and foremost. Grace lets us participate in incarnation, which means we, each person, must be the caretaker and decision-maker when it comes to bodily decisions. Grace gives us room to question and believe, which means we are not to be kept by another from seeking what is true and best for what we have been blessedly given. And most of all, grace leaves judgement up to the one from whom grace comes.

Grace and Christian life lived and practiced bodily, daily, looks like loving people even when you don't want to. Tough. Grace isn't easy, but it's not about you. If you're going to call yourself a Christian, remember this: the love of Christ, freely given to you, is to be freely given to others in the name of Christ. Controlling a woman and what she does with her body, especially in the name of her own health, doesn't look like that. Hating others and fighting to control them because they believe what I just said isn't that either. Christianity may be about life, Hobby Lobby, but not the kind you fought for.

Grace and peace to us all.