Hope, Even When Reality Bites

   I remember years ago watching “Reality Bites” for the first time, and nodding my head in silent amens during one of the pivotal scenes. Ethan Hawke's character Troy, responds to Winona Ryder’s character Lelaina’s question, “I  just don’t understand why things can’t just go back to normal at the end of the half hour, like the Brady Bunch or something?” He says “Well, ‘cause Mr. Brady died of AIDS. Things don’t turn out like that.”

     What do we do in a world where Mr. Brady dies of AIDS,  our dear ones are struggling with illnesses and other troubles, refugees seeking to escape the carnage of their hometowns and lands risk everything to cross a land only to be told they aren’t wanted. “Go back to your home,” They say.  “What home?” Say the strangers and refugees.  Where people in our country, mainly trans and cisgender men and women of color, are being killed because they dare to exist in the world and all of the other tragic and horrific injustices that fill up our newspapers, 24 news cycles, and social media feeds. In this over saturation of injustice and pain, it is understandable that we might want to find an escape. To see ways to disassociate from the stress of holding the weight of the world.  Needing space, to regroup, to breath, to engage in self-care is a very important thing. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgent. It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”(Audre Lorde)  As activist Audre Lorde says self-care is not self-indulgent, it is a vital need that we have to be able to cope and move forward in the world.

   But what happens when our good need for rest and self-care becomes the things that we seek to live our lives out of? When our sense of the world is so malformed that prioritizes and sustains whitewashed and “G” rated lies to the messiness of “R” rated truths? (Dr. Craig Detweiler, The Liturgist Podcast Episode 38) What is meant by this statement? First and foremost Dr. Detweiler was responding to the question “Why is the Christian Church (or at least parts of it) so afraid of powerful cultural spaces of good storytelling, like the Sundance Film Festival?” His response, “We are recovering the fact that the bible is an ‘R’ rated document, every other chapter is incest, rape, murder, pillaging stuff in the name of God, using God to justify your position, good kings bad kings, that’s the history right? That’s the history of humanity, that’s the history of people of faith. I think we are just allowing people to reclaim a more holistic view of both scripture and ourselves….(Q:how did we get there, into the ‘G’ rated version) I think we prefer a ‘G’ rated lie to an ‘R’ rated truth.”

   In American culture and American Christian culture, at least the evangelical culture I came out of, there was and still is a profound unwillingness to look at the reality of our history and actions. Like Dr. Detweiler highlights in the above quote, the church (and America) are recovering from the reality that our foundations and history and sacred stories are not perfect. They like us, are beautiful and flawed humans. Yet somewhere along the way, someone told us that our history, our sacred stories had to be factual to be true. They lead us to believe if we looked honestly at the whole of the story (or at least as much as we have access to) everything would lose its meaning. So we exchanged our “R” rated truth, for “G” rated lies. And  so we began to function like someone with borderline personality disorder, where things and people must be all good or all bad, they are not allowed to be what they are humans capable of doing both good and bad sometimes even at the same time.

   Across all three of my theological degrees, I encountered people who were indoctrinated into an understanding of faith built like a house of cards. For them, to be faithful and true to their religious practice meant, everything had to be “true” or nothing was true. The reverse was often true for my friends who weren’t religious if one part of faith was false all parts were false. In both cases, these friends were often operating under a modernist assumption about truth and fact, that which can be “proved” through tangible methodologies  or disproved in the same way. But this understanding of truth and fact is relatively new in the world. “A Wrinkle in Time,” author Madeleine L’Engle say it this way, “Truth is true, and it isn’t necessarily factual. Truth and fact are not the same things. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it goes beyond facts. This is something very difficult for some people to understand. Truth can be dangerous.”

   So what do we do, how do we move forward? In spite of the desires of some, we can’t  “go back to normal at the end of the half hour, like the Brady Bunch.”  There are no easy solutions to the messy beautiful existence that is life, but there is hope, presence, wisdom and self-care. Hope in small gestures and moments hope that sometimes there are little miracles and those we thought we were going to lose are spared. Hope in the importance of presence with one we see as “other” and our willingness to listen and be present to their story. The presence of sitting with and showing up. For me, presence looks like Donald Miller’s confessional booth on Reed University campus, where he and a small group of friends, play proxy for the church modeling the spiritual doctrine of confession by confessing and asking those who have been harmed by the church for forgiveness. (See Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller) And there is the wisdom of self-care and engagement. Social Justice advocate and seminarian, Sarah Green explained it this way, “Part of self-care is knowing that you have the power to walk away or leave. Too often we feel like if we don’t engage in this conversation (around race) or that conversation (around gender), then no one will. For those of us who work for social justice and embody those intersectional elements, there is a very healthy aspect of self-care in letting others have taken on those conversations or actions. There is vital self-care in allowing ourselves to leave and allowing others, especially our (straight, able-bodied, male, white, or otherwise privileged) allies enter the fray. Allowing us to rest.”  

For it is not our differences that divides us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences that divide us.” Audre Lorde

by Jessi Knippel