Wildfires and Politics

My world is on fire. Literally. Every ridge surrounding our city has a wildfire burning on top of it, and the smoke is settling on the streets of Chattanooga. It’s suffocating and headache-inducing. As I write (and as I dread going back to editing that Greek exegesis waiting on my desk) the pain in and behind my eyes is intense.

Our figurative world is burning these days too. If you found this post because of a social media link, then you’ve also read posts and articles all about how America is going down in flames if Candidate X is elected. Maybe you’ve even shared a few stories, commented on a few others.

My Granny would have been right there with you. Back when there was an alarmingly high number of cable channels–50, as I remember–she watched just CNN. It was on 24 hours a day. She listened to talk radio and wrote letters to our congressmen. She spent hours in AOL politics-themed chat rooms every night. She was the most informed woman I’ve ever known, and some of her passion “caught fire” in me.

So people who have known me longest may be surprised that I’ve stayed out of all the political squabbling. In fact, I’ve been avoiding Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else for the last six months. (Though to be honest, I started to pull away well over a year ago. Social media blurs the lines between opinion and truth, and the older I get the less willing I am to put up with that.)

The election has only fired up the animosity that pervades our society, so once we’ve all cast our votes tomorrow, the arguing won’t end. Why? Because we’re all so selfish.  We vote for who we think will improve our own lives, regardless of how others may be impacted.

If we are all going to live with each other after tomorrow, then we need to stop trying to change others’ opinions and start changing our own actions toward others.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Luke lately (thanks to that exegesis weighing down my desk right now). In chapter 10, a scholar tries to trick Jesus into contradicting the Hebrew scriptures when he asks how one can attain eternal life. He answers his own question:

You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”—and “love your neighbor as yourself (v. 27, The Voice).

And who is that “neighbor”? Jesus answers with a story:

This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night.

The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” (Luke 10:30-35, The Voice)

The neighbor is “the one who showed mercy” (v. 37). Not the priest and Levite who were literal neighbors–presumably sharing the victim’s Jewish faith and living in his community–but the Samaritan. He would have believed and worshiped and lived differently than the victim. Regardless of all his social differences, his actions made him the true neighbor. The one we are commanded to love as ourselves.

On Wednesday morning, I hope the election won’t have left you feeling as if you’ve been “mugged” and left “in critical condition”; but it looks like about half the country will feel that way.

It is time for us to start loving each other, regardless of our social differences. It is time for us to stop thinking so highly of ourselves and our own opinions that we can justify our disregard of others, or worse, we can justify attacking and hating others. Not just during election season–when America is on fire–but every day of our lives.

No matter what happens in the next 48 hours, let’s go out into our smoke-filled streets and AOL chat rooms and show some mercy.

Truth Will Set You Free

I first studied philosophy in high school English. We read L’Etranger and No Exit, and we memorized the principles of relativism and existentialism and other long-forgotten-by-me -isms. I remember one thing well: I don’t enjoy philosophy.

Twenty years later, philosophy penetrates my life and yours. Take a look at your social media feeds. What are most people posting about? Their perceptions of politics. And many are ready to have knock-down drag-out fights to prove to everyone else that their perceptions are right. And factual. And true.

Every knock-down drag-out my husband, David, and I have ever had resulted from differing perspectives of truth.

My best friend, Melinda, likes to say that David and I are a psychology experiment–the one where two people watch a video of the same car crash but have completely different recollections of what happened: “The car was blue.” “No, the car was green.” That’s us, and those different perceptions of truth make for heated but pointless arguments. How relieved we both are when we can find the truth by rewatching the car crash: The car was actually red. We can stop arguing now.

Rarely our arguments result from actual untruth…meaning one of us has lied. Those are the conversations that both begin and end with pain, because a lie is a betrayal. You can’t rewatch a video or Google the truth to settle a lie-spawned argument once and for all. Feelings have been hurt, and the relationship needs time to mend.

I think we as a society have largely lost the ability to distinguish between perception and truth, and that is one of the reasons politics are so ugly–particularly in 2016. My opinion about a candidate or a policy is not truth, so people who disagree with me aren’t technically wrong (even though I think they are!) or lying.

Many philosophies, and most of this postmodern secular society, state that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Christianity disagrees. In the gospel of John, Jesus talks a lot about truth, and it pretty much boils down to this:

I tell you the truth, anyone who hears My voice and keeps My word will never experience death. (John 8:51, The Voice)

If you are a Christian, then you believe one absolute truth: Jesus is the Savior of humanity. It is rare (though not unattested) that I see knock-down drag-out fights over that statement.

If you follow a philosophy that declares there is no absolute truth, then your perception becomes your truth. So when someone else disagrees with that perception, then you feel personally affronted. A “car-crash argument” becomes a “lie-spawned argument,” a betrayal.

We should follow Jesus’ example in John. When He declared truth and others disagreed, He countered by speaking the same truth in different ways. In that conversation, He did not back down. But when He encountered people who behaved or believed differently or even incorrectly (as in, Romans and Samaritans), He always responded the same way: by revealing the truth in love. He didn’t argue over the semantics of where the temple should be (John 4) or even about the punishment for adultery (John 8:1-11).

We would rather argue over the semantics. In a climate where opinions and perceptions are elevated and advertised on social media, Christians need to remember that there is only one absolute truth–that Jesus is the Savior of humanity–and that all Christians, by definition, agree on it.

Then we need to respond to disagreements as Jesus did: in love and with the one absolute truth. For if we show love, the world will see the absolute truth.

Kaleidoscope of Life

David and I just got back from our first vacation since 2011. That year we used our first Southwest points to visit San Diego for our 8th wedding anniversary. This year we used our last Southwest points to fly to a Coldplay concert in Boston, where we lived right after we married.

Ignoring for the moment the most awesome concert I’ve ever attended, this trip “home” was both surreal and affirmative.

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Cambridge is sporting new-to-us dedicated bike lanes (like those coming to on our own Bailey Avenue in the spring) and beautifully renovated housing.

We rode and drove and walked the areas we knew…but most of our favorite businesses have been replaced. Even the Harvard Shirt Shop, that had the cheapest apparel in town, was gone from Harvard Square. As were all of our friends. Sure, there were still thousands of people milling around, but no one we recognized. We don’t know anyone who lives in Cambridge anymore. In short, nothing we loved there was eagerly awaiting our return as we had been eagerly awaiting this trip.

Not only did we notice what was missing from Cambridge, but we found bits and pieces of our new home. There are bright green bike lanes at Central Square (like those CDOT is planning for our city), and the houses surrounding our other-side-of-the-tracks apartment are now up-and-coming (much like our current neighborhood). Riding the T–dark and dusty in the bowels of the city–made us dream about the Chattanooga Light Rail that is a real possibility for clean mass transportation in our city. In all the things we loved about Boston, we saw shades of Chattanooga. It was as if Boston was telling us, “Everything you love about me is coming to your new city. Enjoy it all–minus the inflated housing prices!”

Who doesn’t love subtle confirmation that you are where you’re supposed to be?  After years of feeling displaced, we are so happy to be home. Probably the biggest reason we know this is home is the church we’ve adopted. You don’t officially “join” our church because it is, as our pastor likes to say, “La Familia.” We are family. We serve and love one another and our community because we know God’s love and want the Holy Spirit to work through us. We were never able to find the right church in Denver, and our home church in Murfreesboro has evolved without us. It’s wonderful to visit, but they aren’t our church family anymore. And that’s a good thing!

So back to Coldplay. The primary artwork for this amazing concert series is a kaleidoscope, and it speaks to me. As you turn a kaleidoscope, the view changes but every shiny bit and piece still has its place. That’s kind of how I see our adult life so far. Just when I think we’re perfectly settled, God flips something around to give us a new and more beautiful view of the life He’s created. We love what we’re seeing from Chattanooga, and we are excited to experience His changes that are ahead.