Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

I often end the things I post on social media with the words “we must do better.” My hope is for it to call us to self-reflection and efforts to improve on whatever topic I’m discussing (usually with a shared link).

I use those four words specifically because I think they tie together well for the sentiment (and action) I’m seeking. “We” includes all of us; none is excepted. “Must” reflects just how compelling the situation is; “should” or anything similar would not reflect its importance. “Do” captures thoughts, words, and actions; any combination of those three without all of them falls short. “Better” seeks improvement, which requires a recognition of our past and current situation and shortcomings; it also recognizes that we will never be perfect, and the best we can seek is to have each step be better than the one that came before.

With that explanation for why I think that four-word statement is powerful (and necessary), I have a slight shift for the purpose of this post.

I must do better.

I’m thankful to have people in my life who love me and are willing to hold me accountable and call me out at times when I need it. Such a time happened recently, so I’m devoting this post to some self-reflection, an apology, and a clarification of my goals going forward.

Over the past several years, I’ve become progressively more aware of what I see to be serious shortcomings in the mission of the Christian Church in America. It’s always been tough to tie Christians together into one “Capital-C-Church” due to the extreme divisions that have over time led to literally thousands of different denominational splits. How much that division goes against the commands of Jesus and Paul is a serious discussion, but not one for this post. My personal background is with a couple specific branches of white evangelical Christianity, and the power and priorities of that form of Christianity have come into stark view in recent years with its adherents’ relationship with the Republican party and, specifically, Donald Trump.

Because that is my background, I feel compelled to speak out about some of the things I feel this group is saying and doing that contradict the words and actions of Jesus. I kept publicly silent for a long time until I felt I could do so no more, and then when I began to speak out I did so with a conscious desire to “speak truth in love,” as Paul commanded in Ephesians 4:15. I’m nowhere close to perfect, but I believe most of my early posts and comments reflected that goal.

However, as time has passed and our world has seen even greater challenges surface, I’ve allowed bitterness and frustration to get the best of me. As a result, far too often I’ve merely become, as I was lovingly admonished, an online version of an angry man yelling into a megaphone on a street corner. Regardless of whether or not the words I said were true, there was no love. Instead, there was palpable resentment, which only provokes people to either ignore me completely or respond angrily and never consider the content of what I’m saying.

I will admit, that was tough to hear. But it was only tough to hear because the second I was told that analogy, I recognized it to be true. Talk about convicting.

So now I lower my megaphone to reflect what should come next. I still feel deeply that we have gone far astray of the teachings of Jesus, whom we profess to follow. I believe there is overwhelming evidence of that in the fact that the same percentage of self-identified white evangelical Christians (81 percent) voted for four more years of a Donald Trump administration after witnessing the vitriol, dehumanization, cruelty, and death of the last four years. I believe we need a lot of self-reflection and to put the things we’ve supported up against the words and actions of Jesus to see where we might need to change our minds, hearts, and actions.

I also believe that those of us in positions of power and privilege often use “tone-policing” to ignore the legitimate pain and suffering of those with less power and privilege. Tone policing is when we criticize the way someone expresses their pain and say, in effect, “you know, your concerns might be legitimate, but I don’t like how the way you talk about them makes me feel, so I’m going to disregard them.” This is a serious problem, and I don’t want this post to seem like I’m giving in to tone policing. I don’t believe the issue of tone policing is applicable here because I’m not speaking from a position of weakness about my own experiences that have been disregarded by those in power. I check the boxes of pretty much every demographically privileged category, and as such, often have access to audiences far beyond what I deserve. So while it would be nice if it didn’t matter what tone my frustration took, I have no excuse not to seek out a tone of welcoming engagement. After all, that’s the approach Jesus took, and my goal is to follow his example.

Moving forward, I will strive more fervently to “err on the side of love,” as the saying goes. This does not mean I will stop pointing out what I see as uncomfortable truths. I believe more than ever we need that in our current time. But I will seek to be more engaging and less compelling. I will do all I can to not speak out of bitterness and frustration, but instead pursue grace and an invitation to discussion.

I’m sure I will fail at times, as I have already. But all I can say is that I am deeply sorry for the bitterness and frustration I’ve allowed to take hold. And that brings me back to those four words as I reflect on the past and look to the future.

I must do better.

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