This originally appeared on the blog astrawberrypointe
By Alicia Hager
I had an interesting conversation with my new fifth grader on the Eve of the First Day of School. She couldn’t remember where her classroom was, so I said, “go down the stairs and turn right.” She shrieked, “which way is right?!” I shrieked calmly replied, “right is this way,” holding up my wrinkled and age spotted claw to show the backward L shape. I held up my left hand and showed a forward L and said, this is left.
She was really ramped up now, foaming at the mouth, leaking the huge extra heavy tears of anxiety. “But mom! Some people say left is right and right is left! How do you know you’re right?!”
And I just do, right? Just like any adult person knows – when in doubt we don’t do backward L’s, and righty tighty, lefty loosey, and if it doesn’t go easy you aren’t doing it right and there is nothing certain except death and taxes.
But in the days since, I’ve found myself returning more than once to this exchange. A tad ashamed on the one hand for giving in to the childish urge to shriek back and also feeling unsettled by the very truthiness of her strange assertion that left and right are not left and right anymore. I know we live in this interesting post-modern place where truth really can be relative, but surely some things are still and always and perpetually true…. right?
And then John McCain dies and suddenly is lauded as a – I can’t even think of a word for it – when before, during the 2008 election, we didn’t seem to think so highly of him as he stood on a star spangled, bunting covered platform, yoked up with Sarah Palin (who could see Russia from Alaska). Remember her? Good Lord.
McCain ramped up, used, and was complicit in the demonization of Barack Obama.
Remember the Tea Party? How about that he opposed gays serving in the military?
And yet now that he’s passed (and I mean this sincerely; may he rest in peace and rise in glory) my whole Facebook feed is full of tender-hearted renderings of a man that many of us said pretty mean words about 8 years ago (and since probably). Sure, he opposed Trump, but most people in their right minds do.
Where is the truth in this? How does he get remembered in the small section of a history book that talks about our first black president? Did he live an amazing life, was he a war hero? Yes! But he was other things too and we seem to have collectively completely forgotten that in our rush to lay him out in state with all due pomp and circumstance.
And we come at last to the holy scriptures. We come to the Christian faith. We come to a point where a sitting president tells a room full of evangelical faith leaders that there will be violence if they don’t get out the vote with their congregations in November. We come to a point where that president seems to threaten those faith leaders, somehow claiming that because a baker in a certain state can refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple that somehow a religious freedom that was NEVER in jeopardy will be preserved. (Never mind the couples re-marrying, there seems to be a convenient forgetting of those sticky little verses, google it, Matthew, Mark and Luke). And look, the way I was taught is that we always choose love. When in doubt, when Jesus didn’t say it, LOVE.
Can we talk about different branches of Christianity approaching scripture real quick? Because when I was growing up I imagined men in rough wooden cubicles wearing itchy brown robes sweating literal blood and some God force shoving their quills across parchment, and voila! The Bible is written!
Where does a deliberate ignoring of how the Bible came to be factor in? What sort of thing is it to tell people that it just appeared somewhere? Where does the difference between the gospels (and who wrote them and when) and the pastoral letters (and who wrote them and why and to whom)… where does all of that go when evangelical leaders completely ignore this information, pretending that the people who wrote those things are like dinosaurs – nonexistent.
This is where the truth becomes relative…but only sort of. My truth here is based in actual reality and grounded in the scriptures and based on the teachings of Jesus – always, ALWAYS, a message of radical love and welcome. Other truth is a truth that says it doesn’t matter who wrote what or why, that all things are relevant to all people in all times — but not those icky parts, let’s leave out those.
Along these lines, I feel sad that our theology has shifted, in some portions of the population, to “Jesus paid for his crimes because he was a rabble rouser and disturbed the system.” I feel sad that we aren’t able to talk about the beautiful thing that happened.
It happened when a girl said yes.
It happened when a baby slid forth from that girl body in a rush of blood and warm water, and it happened again when a body was nailed to a tree and warm water gushed from a pierced side as blood trickled from hands and feet and head.
It happened when a man descended into hell and trampled (river-danced?) down death and redeemed the whole world. It happened and it keeps happening.
Today I sat with my brother in an office where another beloved camped out for four months. We watched Dave Matthews sing a song about Jesus. We marveled at his theology, his soteriology. Dave’s assertion is that Jesus became one of us and bled and died, but that he keeps on doing it WITH US. That the holy communion wine is the co-mingled blood of all of us, all of us now human and divine, all of us set free, all of us yoked with the burden of caring for our own broken humanity.
And if that is the case then that ever creating Trinity is doing this work in an ongoing way. Each birth is a death, each death is a birth. Every day is a choice to lay down our lives for the people who should be our friends and not our enemies. I am begging you to lay it down.
There are truths we can still hold in common. Preaching the gospel is not political. It’s just hard to swallow sometimes. Hard for me too.
But these things are not relative, not really.
These things are not truths that can be twisted to create an agenda that leaves anyone out because the rest of us standing here, hands on hips, are resisting and choosing the radical love of the Jesus we follow.
These things are real and occurred when Jesus was born under that bright star and angel choir (maybe), they were real when his mother took his dead body from a stranger and washed it and laid it in a tomb, and it was real when women found the tomb empty. Even if you want to stop at the Jesus was born part, you can still follow his teaching and example and be a really decent sort.
There is more that joins us than divides us. Don’t believe them when they tell you the chasm is too wide and the pathway too narrow.
Not everything is relative.
Some things are eternal and I am telling you about those eternal shiny hard things.
The weather has turned. The light is different now, I noticed it as I washed the dishes, smelling the clean scent of Dawn as my nail polish washed even further away. Tonight is cool and I imagine the whole earth sighs in the breeze, the ground still gurgling and processing and swallowing the huge amount of rain we’ve had.
These things are heavy and a lot. But we promised to tell each other the truth and so here I am, with my maybe true stories scattered like laundry on the clotheslines. Come closer and take a look. If you see something you like, something you can live with, something that will keep you warm and that smells like me you can take it, it’s all ours anyway.
I love you still.
Left is left. John McCain is dead and he left a family behind that grieves and he said mean things about a political opponent and tried to hold people out and back. The Bible isn’t a book written by the men I imagined when I was 10, all in one go.
And Christ came and taught and died. You can leave it there for now if you have to, because I get the undertaking that is demanded of a disciple. I get the laying down, I get the death, the sacrifice, the losing your life to find it. Some days are easier than others.
And we belong to each other. We really, really do.
I’ve been trying to quantify
All of the wrong that one can pack into a lie
And I’ve been trying to put on a scale
Just how bad all of that wrong should make me feel
Because they told me once when I was young
That liars are as liars do
And if you do, it’s off to Hell with you
No smiling, kid, I speak the truth
But I’ve a sneaking feeling they were liars too
So logically, then, we’re all hypocrites
But does it make it better or make it worse to be aware of it?
I’m convincing myself that it’s all relative
And if there’s a God, when He forgives, I think He must consider it
‘Cos I’ve been noticing confusion in the laws He made
The nature of the truth and where it bends and where it breaks
And where I twisted it to my benefit
When this man said he was in love with me
And I thought that he was dumb to be
So I pretended that I was asleep
Called it free will what he willed to believe
And it ended, so I guess it’s just as well
But that’s why sometimes I think I might go to Hell
And I worry too, how I never mentioned to you
How I drove your car while you were gone
A mile with the parking brake still on
‘Cos it seems to me, you wait too long
And you may as well have not meant well all along
And I’m hoping hard if it’s the thought that counts
That you don’t ever have to know what I think about
And every soul can always fit through Heaven’s door
With the weight of things it never told anyone before
Alicia Hager is an Aspirant to the Priesthood in the Diocese of Western Michigan. Alicia enjoys spending time with her family, writing, and singing in the choir at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, MI.