In those days John the Baptist came,
preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying,
for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
I wrote this piece the week that the president made fun of Dr. Ford at a rally.
Survivors of assault, don’t go looking for the video because it is horrific. I cried and I rage cried. I put up chairs in the back room at my tavern and composed tweet threads that I deleted and wrote Facebook posts that I took down.
Am I living in reality, I kept thinking while I cried and stacked chairs and took out the trash. Am I living in upsidedown land.
I come back to this piece every time this country, one more time, calls evil good and good evil, gaslighting us all and piling exhaustion on to our activism and hopelessness on to our prophetic uncovering.
It feels like reality has come unmoored from itself. The audacity of evil is overwhelming. No one whispers about wickedness now, but speaks it out loud, without even the help of a dog-whistle or a euphemism.
The boldness is breathtaking.
The boldness is heartbreaking and hope-stealing.
You can’t just say that this is “good” with a straight face, I keep gasping, like I can’t totally comprehend that evangelical leaders are saying that sexual assault isn’t really that big of a deal, that making fun of people is a show of strength, that my Jesus is on the side of those who are cruel to the weak – as if my Jesus stood on a hillside and said “blessed are the rich, the powerful, the satiated.” As if my Jesus rode in on a war horse.
Almost every day since the election, I have felt like I don’t know what’s real and unreal, like my mind has lost its touchstone. The Kavanaugh hearing was the weirdest thing I’ve ever watched – did he just perjure himself again, and again, and again, about everything from his connections at Yale to his drinking history? And did he just say that a Devil’s Triangle is a DRINKING GAME and did 1) evangelicals believe him but then 2) not believe him and say that it doesn’t matter that he lied and then 3) say it doesn’t matter that he’s having threesomes, the Christians who told me that sexual purity was a non-negotiable? What? What?
Evil has ripped its mask off, stopped playing parlor games, and is standing up in the middle of the whole world speaking his truth – and even without the masks, no one cares.
I thought evil needed a mask in order to succeed, but that isn’t true.
This Kind Only Comes Out by Prayer and Fasting
This week, I wrestled with how to live in a country where Kavanaugh will most likely be confirmed, and how to live as a Christian in a world where the veil is being ripped off of the cheery Bible platitudes of the Church to reveal an ugly lust for power and a violent misogyny and racism that is not just the outer layer of the American Church but at its core.
I was naive, because while I acknowledged evil, I never thought that Evil would survive unmasked, without feeling shame and reaching for something to cover its nakedness with. I thought the work of the prophet was uncovering and naming the dog-whistles – I never dreamed that once it was uncovered, people would keep choosing it.
Because I believed that evil wouldn’t survive in the light, I have spent so much energy trying to uncover it. I imagined that “if only we could find the right words, if only we could see the Scripture more clearly, if only we read the Psalms more often or Isaiah more carefully or the Gospels more intentionally we would all see the heart of God for the wounds of the world and feel the justice of God against the wicked.”
If only we cover uncover the fancy words that evil is using to hide under, everyone would see in shock how wicked it is, and we would turn and repent.
But we won’t.
I can’t convince you that red is red, that a square is a square, and that our God is a God of compassion – the God of the poor and the God of the weak. I am so sad, and so tired, because all this work to highlight hypocrisy, to show Scripture is against the oppressors, the ones who exclude the immigrants, the ones who take bribes, the ones who worship false idols, and the ones engaged in sexual immorality – it doesn’t matter. The people who taught me to take sin seriously don’t take sin seriously, and I have to be done trying to convince you to do so.
You don’t need to be convinced that evil is evil.
You need to repent.
When John the Baptist came flying out the desert like a holy fool, yelling and hollering and smelling terrible, he didn’t come with a Biblical exegesis.
He came preaching repentance.
Because this kind only come out by prayer and fasting.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped believing as deeply in evil, the way that I was taught to believe in it as a “roaring lion,” prowling through the streets looking to devour us all. I thought evil was something that could be argued down. I thought I could cure the world with logic, as if the world is suffering from a lack of information and not a gaping wound. Maybe, I thought, if we put together a really good powerpoint about Jesus, our evangelical leaders gasp and say “aha! you’re correct! I was wrong!”
They won’t. They never will.
We need revival, and revivals always start with repentance, and repentance always begins with prayer.
God knows that I need to repent right along with the rest of the Church.
I need to repent of my white girl naivete that thought that racism was just something plopped on top of evangelicalism, like a cherry that you could scoop off a Sundae, and not the ice cream that the whole thing is built on. I need to repent of my complicity with oppressors because I, too, hope that I will get a crumb or two from the table. I need to repent of my own lust for power at all costs, my own fear of scarcity that drives me to hoard my time and resources from the needy, of my own unexamined privilege that keeps me from passing the mic to people of color, to indigenous women, to immigrants and refugees.
And I need to repent of a small view of sin that only was matched by my high view of myself, the belief that I could argue away sin, as if a better exegesis or a smarter conclusion, or a better translation could change a heart of stone.
If the don’t see it’s sin now, they won’t ever. Not by my efforts, at least.
So What Now?
So here is my commitment, as I go forward trying to hold hope in my heart but feeling the weight of a Kavanaugh confirmation that is fully supported by a room of Christians who laugh when a woman says she’s been sexually assaulted.
Here is my commitment as someone who wants a solid hope, and not a cheap hope built on naivete and pride
1. I commit to take political and social action that protects the least of these from the worst of these. This means voting. It means protesting. It means calling my senators. It means phone-banking.
2. I commit to speaking up every time I see the least of these being attacked, teased, oppressed, hurt. I go forward with a commitment to never being silent. I will speak up because of the oppressed, not because I think I can convince the oppressor.
3. I commit to handing the microphone to marginalized people who are speaking but aren’t being heard, because marginalized people don’t need white saviors, they need us to willingly relinquish our unjust power and give them what rightfully belongs to them as Image Bearers.
But more than that – more than even that – I commit to the belief that Christians in this country need repentance, not convincing.
This means that I commit to prayer.
If you are still a follower of our upside-down Jesus who was heralded by a wildeyed wilderness itinerant preacher who smelled terrible and yelled at evil without ceasing – then yes, act and speak and vote and fight to protect the oppressed.
But pray, pray and pray some more.
Pray in your cars: against racialized policing and racial violence at traffic stops.
Pray while walking your dog: against crimes against immigrants, especially child immigrants and refugees journeying on foot, for protection from violence, and for God to raise up advocates for them – and maybe the advocate is you.
Pray while you’re cooking: for people facing food insecurity and being discriminated against in media and media representations, against the stereotype of the welfare queen and against the racialized anti-welfare war.
Pray in line at the coffee shop: against gentrification and the people who have been forced out of their homes by people who might look just like you.
Pray while you shower: for women who experience sexual assault and violence, pray for them to be heard, pray for the Holy Spirit to stop the mouth of anyone who would mock someone who has been assaulted.
Pray while you’re using the bathroom in a public place: for trans people and their safety, for their comfort, for the Lord to raise up advocates for them in the public space and in the church – and maybe that advocate is you.
Pray while you get home at night: against the war on drugs and how it has unjustly separated minority families from each other at disproportionate rates, ending the lives of many Black men and ending any hope they have for a career or even a home.
Pray while you’re singing in church: for LGBTQ kids and the church, for our acceptance and inclusion and celebration in our places of worship.
Pray while you’re paying your taxes: against the rich who are ripping off the poor.
Pray while you’re paying your electricity bill: for those who are experiencing homelessness, for the organizations that assist them, for the hearts of public officials to be turned towards the poor, for advocates to be raised up on their behalf – and maybe, again, that advocate is you.
Pray while you garden: against policies that are destroying the earth that God gave us to tend as our sister and our mother.
Pray while you work out: against unfair healthcare systems that are killing the poor.
Pray while you hike: for Indigenous Peoples and an end to injustices towards them in our political system, for a renewed commitment to repentance for our country’s history of genocide towards them, for their land and their healing.
Pray while you eat, while you walk, while you clean, while you serve drinks, while you chart patients, while you change diapers, while you write memos, while you sit on the subway, while you change the oil, when you’re on Reddit, when you read through Twitter, while you breathe in and while you breathe out.
Pray against white supremacy, pray against the plans of the wicked, pray against the patriarchy, pray that God would foil everything evil, pray that God would knock every Saul off his horse, pray that God would breathe fresh air even into the dry bones so that even the places of the world that seem the most upsidedown, the most dead, the most inaccessible to God –
Even those places would burst into life when the Gospel touches them.
Even those places.
Pray for revival. Pray for repentance.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to where he was baptizing,
he said to them:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”