Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Proximity > Politics


Last night, somewhere around eleven o'clock, Cory and I paused the show we were watching. I don't remember why. It might have had something to do with a snack. Maybe one of the kids needed a drink. Maybe the extra little one sleeping upstairs was thrashing around as she does sometimes, screaming, "No! No! Stop it!" in her sleep. Take your pick.

I checked my phone before we resumed, me at one end of the couch and Cory at the other, my feet resting on his lap. Before I knew it, we were ankle-deep in our newest favorite argument. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's either about trash day or an existential crisis. These discussions flame as quickly as they dampen. The truth is, I love fiery debates. (A friend of mine recently asked me what my Enneagram number is. I don't know much about this business at all, but I know I'm an 8. When I told her she smiled. "Ah, 8's build intimacy through anger." Zing! I now take the blame for all these "heated talks.")

Cliff's Notes version: Cory says Christians probably shouldn't be political at all, though this isn't what comes naturally to him. He says it's a distraction from the real brokenness we face. I say it has to be both. It's people and systems. Oppressed people might not feel our withness if we aren't actively fighting the broken, unjust systems that grind their faces in the dirt. It has to be both.

Right?

"Mmmmm, I don't know," he responds, much too calm for my liking. "I think if we would fix this at a heart level, if we would truly stand with the people Jesus stood with, change would come."

In all fairness, the man spent over a decade in federal politics. He saw enough grandstanding and empty promises, whiplash-inducing election cycles and power-grabbing to earn himself a lifetime supply of Congressional skepticism.

In some ways, I see his point. But it sounds eerily similar to all the Christians I've known who claw for an excuse to stay fresh and keep their world tidy. Also, isn't it more than a little too optimistic?

~

Last week after Sunday lunch, a man came by and asked if he could mow our lawn for $20. "I noticed your yard looks different from your neighbors yards." (This is the most diplomatic way of saying, "Y'all, CUT YOUR GRASS!" I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.) It was awkward, just sitting there on the patio while a near-stranger in baggy jeans pushed our mower around, but we have learned a few things along the way. Dignity often requires discomfort.

Fifteen minutes after he went on his way, a different man approached us. He had some steaks in his freezer, some really good meat, would we want to buy it for twenty bucks? We recognized him from the pawn shop, where he waves to passersby now and then for minimum wage. He said his dad had just died, and he was trying to get to the funeral.

I spent time with a kiddo who had just watched his mom get beaten bloody. "She lost her purse, her glasses, and one shoe." He said without expression.

I sat with a mom who pushed an envelop across the table, asking if I could help her understand why her middle schooler was being called in on deliquency charges after he'd worked all year to live by the letter of the law. There was no case number. No explanation. Just a command to show up at court in a couple of weeks. But first, she'll need to make sure she can get the day off at her minimum wage job. First, she'll need to find someone who can give her a ride. Various white people, smartly dressed, keep telling her her boys are "trouble." It is patently untrue, but she keeps lapsing into believing them. Just last week she took them for their annual physicals and the pediatrician looked one of the boys in the eye, in front of his mother, and said, "You're a mess. I don't know how your mom does it." For context, this is the boy who brought me a candy bar tonight just because and hugged me for the very first time. When his brother asked why he gave it to me he said, "I just can't stand to see people suffer!" He's the one who helped me pick blackberries. He's the one who found a plastic rosary on the street and asked Cory to pray with him, his mama isn't feeling well tonight. "Be with all of the people who don't have as much as we do," he prayed.

This weekend, at a birthday party for one of Ruby's friends, I met a guy who explained in detail why he served eight months in jail and spent over twenty thousand dollars in order to avoid prison after getting caught selling two hundred dollars worth of drugs. His bail alone cost him nearly ten grand he didn't have. His mom mortgaged her house to pay for an attorney so that he could be around to care for his family. Across the shelter, his wife smoothed their daughter's hair and smiled often. She'd made her niece's cupcakes, they all take care of each other. Like family. When we left, the friend's mom thanked me, "This was the first year we let her invite friends but Ruby is the only one who came."

All of this, in the span of just a few days.

Tonight, minutes before I sat down to write this, Cory's phone rang. Am I allowed a small exaggeration, to say our phones almost never stop ringing? Can I go ahead and say it that way, since that's how it feels? (Can I also tell you that as I typed the last sentence a text popped up, "I really need to talk to you," and that this sometimes overwhelms me to my core?) Tonight, Cory's call was a friend fresh out of prison. His bike had a flat tire. He was stuck at the grocery store one town over with his whole life stuffed into a backpack and two trash bags, on his way to stay with another former inmate who understood his position. Could he please come and give him a ride?

Cory mouthed the words to me, "Can I go get him?" Of course. Of course. Go.

And that's the precise moment some understanding clicked into place. My husband is right, or at least for the most part.

Twitter is a constant hotbed of controversy and outrage and I slurp it up like a spicy bowl of pho. I find intimacy in anger, along with taco memes and literature, apparently. The past year has been a rush of information, uncovering the layers both over and under the broken systems of race, education, immigration, poverty, and incarceration. Our words and our thoughts don't cost us nearly enough.

As a follower of the weird way of Jesus, I am uniquely and specifically called to fight for the things God cares about. I am invited to believe my neighbors deserve the same life I think I'm entitled to, then do whatever I can to let it be so.

These are not strictly political issues.
These systems form the rubble around us no matter who is in office.

Sign petitions and retweet popular columnists if you want to. Get out the vote. Show up at meetings with a holy fire in your gut. Burst into tears after yet another fruitless meeting, then go back in for more.

Just remember, my friends are selling frozen steaks for cash.

My friends' days are numbered. If they don't find a place to live and a job, they'll go back to jail.

My friends have grown used to being ignored because they suffer bad teeth, DIY tattoos, and the stains of generational poverty.

My friends have learned to let others talk for them, even and especially when those "others" seek to harm them.

My friends hope the phone will buzz with an invitation to be included in almost anything.

My friend lost a purse, eyeglasses, and one shoe, and their pre-schooler lived to tell.

My friends have grown nearsighted in their search for Jesus. They do it alone, at close range, because no one else wants to stand in their line of vision and be the real Jesus, who existed in and for and because of community. No one wants to be near enough to see that same Jesus reflected in them - we can't bear the humility required.

It's almost midnight, and I honestly think Cory would just like more people to field these calls. He knows what an honor it is. He goes because he wants to. He can. (And sometimes, he can't.) Our friend circle primarily consists of hard-life people drained from trying to prove themselves to the power class dangling the carrot. We're protective of them, because they are among the greatest treasures we've ever known.

But we are also vastly outnumbered.

As for all of our competing political inclinations, whatever. My thoughts and opinions are many, but until we get this settled, I really don't care.

We answer only to Jesus, and we are missing the mark.
We are not getting low enough.
The fall will cost us dearly, and that is exactly the point.

Do you want to know what will begin to truly change this devastating world? Living as a neighbor, wherever you happen to be.

Take a look around and search for the hidden corners you'd rather avoid. Listen to different people. Dare to believe your life isn't half as chaotic as it's supposed to be.

May our words and our ideologies be few.
May we end this race good and sweaty for the sake of the kingdom right in our midst.


//

Jesus Untangled by Keith Giles is one of the books that really got us talking after hearing about it on a podcast. I haven't read it yet, but I'm eager to.
I Twitter-met Michelle Ferrigno Warren, the author of The Power of Proximity, earlier today and bought her new book immediately. She speaks my language. 
Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne is another one on my list. (I have loved several of his other books.)
Falling Free is the book I wrote, which recounts our fall from political jobs, comfort, and safe faith to everything I shared tonight.