I can’t begin to understand or adequately articulate what exactly has transpired in my subconscious due to the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate. Nevertheless, like so many of my generation who grew up within traditionally Bible belt Red states a mess of complex and difficult emotions have been triggered and I wonder if we’ll ever be the same.
This is why my latest trip to visit family in Indiana came with such spiked anxiety.
My wife and I both grew up in southern Indiana. My side of the family resides in the hometown of Republican vice presidential candidate, Mike Pence.
While driving through state roads and passing along familiar small towns the Trump/Pence signs dotted the Hoosier landscape.
I passed by a church whose marquee displayed the message “All Lives Matter Especially Eternal Life” – a less than subtle jab back at the movement which promotes police accountability and justice reform in black communities.
A few miles further down the road I spot a police station with a “Blue Lives Matter” banner hanging out front.
This is small town middle-America where the dominant fear based ideology and party loyalty is expressed with clarity.
Late October means the combines are everywhere grazing the soybean and corn fields like sheep in wide open pastures. Most of the fields had already been gleaned allowing your eyes to peer miles into the dream-like expansiveness.
That countryside scenery, the hayrides, the vegetable soup, warm pumpkin pie, and all those affectionate familial embraces trigger one thing.
The pervasive messaging of white supremacy within social, political, and religious ideology triggers something altogether different.
For one who feels such close ties to this land, these people, these are days of tumultuous complexity.
The civil war that rages within my interior is palpable & unavoidable.
This is the culture and ideology that raised me.
So, what changed?
I've considered this and at the risk of oversimplification I've come down to three primary reasons.
1) I keep reading the gospels and attempting to follow the ways of Jesus I discover in those powerful texts. I've tended to grow increasingly curious and open about my faith and worldview rather than certain and dogmatic. I realize not all streams of christian faith grow increasingly curious and open.
2) I’ve expanded my friendships to people who don’t share my particular faith, cultural roots/preferences, sexual orientation, etc. (And much of this I blame on my continued reading of the gospels.)
3) I've traveled. Particularly it’s been trips to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation, as well as Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of Mike Brown being killed by police officer, Darren Wilson. And again it's been my continued journey through the scriptures that continues to provoke me toward oppressed places and people stuck within the shadows of empire.
My faith and worldview has dramatically shifted over the years, but so what?
As I've mentioned this election has triggered so much within me. There's simply no question in my mind that the Trump/Pence platform and entire campaign drama has been an exposure of and celebration of American white supremacy and all the symptoms that make up that sickness.
I suppose it's also been an exposure of my personal and our collective naivete. I had no idea that so many Americans including people I know and love would be on board with something so entirely other.
In all the confusion and complexity brought to the surface of my psyche one thing I do know is...
reality is not in further division.
In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton, describes how so many people feel real and alive through the hollow strategy of division,
They can only conceive one way of becoming real: cutting themselves off from other people and building a barrier of contrast and distinction between themselves and other men. They do not know that reality is to be sought not in division but in unity, for we are 'members one of another.'
The man who lives in division is not a person but only an 'individual.'
The man who lives in division is living in death. He cannot find himself because he is lost; he has ceased to be a reality. The person he believes himself to be is a bad dream. And when he dies he will discover that he long ago ceased to exist because God, Who is infinite reality and Whose sight is the being of everything that is, will say to him; 'I know you not.' (p.48 New Seeds of Contemplation)
The division Merton speaks of is not only the external divisions that are so currently apparent but also the interior psychological splits that we inevitably experience but are so damned hard to articulate.
I have to recognize that each of those three reasons for my shifts in thinking are all privileges that many who reside in their ideological ghettos simply are not afforded.
These times require a great sobriety and humility.
The toxicity in the air at this moment will drive us in one of two directions: further away from the other or closer toward each other.
I believe brother Thomas's words, "The person who lives in division is living in death." Any movement that creates more division from others regardless of their personal beliefs is a movement toward resentment.
And resentment is hell.
The way of Christ will always be a way of living humbly yet boldly within a tremendous sea of tension and complexity. In other words, the way of Christ at the end of the day will persistently and radically be a way of love which invites unity over division.