There is something unsettling about this moment in history. Normal doesn’t feel normal. Observing those who are on vacation, I’m not the first person living on this tourist island to remark, “It feels like people are going through the motions of having fun.” Life itself is askew. You can feel it in the shorter fuses, easier arguments, one too many late night bar fights, and suicide attempts marking “this” present from the past.
Something isn’t right. Despite the sunshine and fishing on offer, the world seems a darker place. Why? I listen. I watch. I pray. I want to know. The license tags from all over the United States and foreign languages tell me the world is passing through our tiny island. Despite our size, the people I meet offer a snapshot of a much larger whole. I ask. I look. I notice. What have I observed? There are those who are angry and on edge. Some are drunk. Plenty are nervous. Many expect this island to be a tropical paradise (a word frequently used is “happy place”), exempt from problems dominating the world they left. Some have no plan other than to numb the pain they feel from the constant negativity they imbibe hour after hour. A few come to die. Mental health issues have no respect for geography or season.
Aren’t these the perennial burdens of the human condition? Yes, to one degree. This feels different. The world, even this perceived perfect corner of it, is edging beyond weird. It’s at the golf cart stand, the bakery, or anywhere “wrong” rears its so called head. There is a growing malignant sense of self-entitled vengeance leaving many Americans unanchored to any larger sense of morality or virtue. In the past week I have come to realize that vast numbers of Americans (regardless of their political persuasion or faith background) believe that two wrongs make a right.
Regardless of what view one holds of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, or the number St. Augustine’s angels dancing on the head of Saint John Wesley’s pin; it is impossible to embrace the basic teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and believe two wrongs create a right. This is not a “hold two thoughts in your brain” at the same time issue. That is the essence of Jesus’ identity. Don’t confuse retributive violence (or actions) with a God who loves everyone, even the people you hate. Don’t call death, love. Don’t call shame, love. Don’t call anger, love.
If “two wrongs make right” becomes the dominant situational ethic in America, the church need no longer exist. The Judeo-Christian ethic is dead. The Creeds and Articles of Faith are meaningless in a world where the underlying value system of right and wrong underscoring the teachings of Christ no longer exists in the culture the church claims to serve.
Perhaps, we could fight the good fight? I say we replicate the same divisions within the larger culture, demonize our enemies, ride our Wesleyan high horses, create podcasts called “Why I’m Right”, and argue ourselves silly about the true meaning of civility. Sounds lovely!
To paraphrase Wystan Auden, suffering is what takes place when other people are eating dinner. If this is what the future portends for the church, as we swim in the backyard pool of homemade authoritarianism (whether political, theological, or Wesleyan Covenantal), we are all dining with each other in order to watch ourselves suffer. I will gladly offer my seat on the Misery Express to someone else. I’d rather opt out than participate in an ecclesial struggle where culture (in any hegemonic sense) wins and Jesus is excluded, perpetually, from the team.
In the end, perhaps none of our theological shenanigans and religious posturing will matter. Climate change will claim this island. Methodism will, to quote Hamlet, be or not. Jesus might even return. And one day, perhaps sooner rather than later, we’ll all be in one of those camps on the border. There we can argue in person, wearing orange jumpsuits, about the true nature of civility and Sanctification.
Save a cot for me. It’s the least you can do.
Richard Lowell Bryant