Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

The sports world has a common narrative thread that usually runs through almost every championship team. It’s the “nobody believed in us” cliché.

Often at the conclusion of the championship contest, members of the winning team will be jubilantly celebrating their victory with various exclamations that fit that thread. “We’re all we had.” “The guys in this locker room, we never stopped believing.” “Everyone doubted us, but we believed.” And so on and so forth.

Sometimes it holds true. Last month marked the 40th anniversary of the Miracle On Ice US Olympic hockey team that stunned the four-time defending gold medalist USSR squad and won gold in Lake Placid. Al Michaels’ legendary call in the closing seconds – “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” – is iconic for a reason. It captured the sentiment that this team beating that team in this moment was a miracle. Where only hours ago nobody believed in them, in that moment we could all believe.

Hand holding lantern in a forest

One of the core issues we currently face in our society that prevents us from bridging the partisan divide is the lack of universally acknowledged truth. This is evidenced with the famous quote from President Donald Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway about using “alternative facts” when confronted about mistruths the administration was espousing.

This idea that false facts are not, actually, false but are simply “alternative facts” speaks to the larger issue where, despite provable evidence, certain parts of the population simply refuse to acknowledge facts. Instead, they typically attack the messenger as biased or try to change the topic to something bad a different party did (this is the premise of whataboutism) in an effort to somehow justify an often unrelated thing. Neither of those responses actually engage with the facts.

The battle for truth versus relativity is one that has to be waged on both sides of the communication process. The message sender shares a message and the message receivers takes it and responds. If either side is not acting truthfully, the entire process of legitimate conversation falls apart because they’re not working from a mutual foundation of understanding.

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We’ve all heard the sayings that life imitates art and that truth can be stranger than fiction. Those thoughts took on a whole new meaning for me over the past few days.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow in our country and we’re encouraged to stay at home, I think it’s a good time to review a couple movies that happen to be two of the biggest blockbusters in movie history: Jaws and Titanic.

You see, after almost a week of finally acting like he understood that COVID-19 is a serious threat, President Trump has reverted back to minimization and added the idea that “the cure can’t be worse than the disease” in an effort to focus on the economy over lives. The feedback loop between him and right-wing commentators has continued to push this idea that we can sacrifice a percentage of the population in an effort to restore normalcy.

While there are so many things to be said about this approach and its flaws from both a logic and faith aspect, today I want to pretend we’re watching a movie and see how we respond to people who espouse similar thoughts.

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What we’re seeing right now is a perfect confluence of all of our failings.

I’ve written many times about our unwillingness to reckon with the darker aspects of our history, both as Americans and as Christians. We like to plow forward professing that we’re the greatest country in the world and proudly proclaiming that God has blessed America and somehow equating this country with the chosen people of God.

While faith and patriotism are wonderful things, what we’ve clung to has gone far beyond into an arrogant nationalism. When we say America is the greatest nation in the history of the world, we don’t actually look to any evidence to back it up. It’s not an evidentiary claim; it’s a gut claim. And anyone who even slightly hesitates to echo such a suggestion is blatantly anti-American. Further, America is God’s chosen land, and therefore anything less than full-throated nationalism is heretical.

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I’ve seen references to a recent National Review piece about the “Reluctant Trump” voter, and to be completely honest, I think it offers a complete cop-out category for people who claim to be troubled by many of Trump’s words and actions but have no legitimate other choice.

Reality doesn’t bear that out.

The white evangelical base is far and away the Republican party’s most powerful base. If white evangelical Christians wanted a different candidate in 2016 – one who still would have adhered to many of their same faith-based initiatives – they had an assortment to choose from, including many who have a much stronger track record of supporting white evangelicals’ favored initiatives both politically and with their lifestyle. The group chose Trump. And they did so overwhelmingly.

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I saw a story today announcing President Trump’s plan to offer updated guidance to “safeguard” students’ rights to pray in school. It is by no means the biggest story about the president in the news today, but I think it’s important to consider what it actually means.

I’ve written previously about what religious liberty actually means compared to how white evangelicals in America use the term, and this is another time when we need to make sure we’re truly supporting the religious liberty promised in the First Amendment.

First of all, like so much of Trump’s bluster, this is really not changing anything. As an NPR story on the announcement says, “There is no change to existing law or regulations, but the White House says it wants to empower students and teachers to exercise their rights.”

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