Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

My anguish over the state of the church in America is plain enough that some good friends suggested some reading material to help me cope. Costly Grace is by an American Evangelical Minister who came up in the Regan-era, bought into Christian Conservative politics, became an ardent leader in the Pro-Life movement, and eventually came face-to-face with the reality that the Republican Party is not actually a function of the Church, or a Holy institution mandated by God. He didn’t change sides of the aisle — he’s still a Conservative — but he did have to reckon with the fact that not all Conservative positions are Christ-like.

Rev Rob Schenck prays in the Capitol

Its a good story, made better by the documentary he was in, Armor of Light, that followed his exploration of how Pro-Lifers can also be Pro-Gun advocates. The mental gymnastics necessary to align the Second Amendment with the Gospel have always been fascinating to me, as a Canadian living in America. I’m not opposed to gun ownership, in general, but I am in favor of reasonable regulation and licensing, and I can’t seem to find anything in the Bible that would suggest not giving guns to people with criminal records or a history of mental health issues is sinful…

This middle position we’ve been in since we first moved to the States is rarely a comfortable one. Growing up in Canada, it never occurred to me that one of two available human political parties could be all good, and the other all evil. The fact that I’m aligned with some Conservative viewpoints, but not with others, renders me suspect to both sides. I take some solace in being in decent company: Bill Gates recently said “its lonely in the center.” But we’re not really sure what to do about it when friends and neighbors “unfriend” us for pointing out that Donald Trump is very obviously not Christ-like. Blogging about it is cathartic, but its not changing anyone’s mind — if you’re still reading this old rag, you probably already agree with me on the main points. Those who aren’t reading have already written me off as a liberal, or worse, apostate, because I haven’t sworn allegiance to America’s newest golden calf

Yup, they actually made a graven image of Donald Trump

We’re not liberals, though (sorry if you thought we were and now you have to dislike us…) We’re quite willing to listen to both viewpoints, and while sometimes the “truth lies in-between”, we can’t buy the whole Democrat package either. So what is a moderate Canadian family to do in the upcoming civil war in America?

Well, I’ll tell ya, we’ve thought about moving. Its not off the table. But Canadian politics are far from perfect either, and the economic timing is… well it would be disasterous at this point. While my skills are so marketable in the US that my immigration lawyer’s current strategy is a “National Interest Waiver” — literally an assertion that it is in the country’s best interest to keep me (a determination I’ll leave up to the powers-that-be) — in my home country, I can’t find any employer willing to match even 75% of my current salary with the 25-percent-less-valuable Canadian currency. And our 3000+ square foot house on 2.5 acres of property in Ohio is worth half what 2000 square feet on a postage stamp is worth in Ontario. We just can’t afford to give up the American Dream at the moment.

So that leaves us with the question, if we’re stuck here, is there anything we can do to make things better? And I think the Lord has led us to two conclusions:

First and foremost, we do not believe that America is strategic for the Kingdom in the way it once might have been. Maybe once a shining light on a hill, this country has defaced itself on the world stage repeatedly. No developing country will believe that a white missionary from America has a lock on moral truth any more — we are too compromised by decades of sin to be seen as de facto leaders in guiding people to the Truth. That doesn’t mean we can’t work along-side others, as servants, as fellow seekers, or even as guides within the context of a relationship built on trust and humility, but the day of Americans showing up to bestow American culture and beliefs on another country is over — and well it should be. This is a culture that stubbornly refuses to confess and repent of its original (and ongoing) sin of racism. This is a culture that is quick to make idols of celebrities and politicians and political parties. And this is a culture that is historically, and currently, prone to division and disunity.

These things are true wherever there are humans — racism is not unique to America, idolatry is not unique to Americans. But in the past, the success of this country lent its missionaries some credibility. That’s gone now, and humility must take its place. God has His people all over the world, and we have something to learn from cultures that haven’t made a religion of themselves, but are busy practicing true religion. For Nicole and I, that means re-prioritizing our giving outside of this country. This is not a small realization: giving is our primary ministry outside of our home, and the related tax benefits are significant, and a major part of our strategy.

Secondly, we understand we are to “bloom where we’re planted.” By that I mean, if God put us here, we should do our best to act in our community in a Christ-like manner. Our community is, almost exclusively, Conservative Christian — and many of them are angry, suspicious and… in error. It would be easy to keep criticizing them, and pointing out their misapplication of Scripture (or science) as I’ve been doing on this blog for the past year. It would be even easier to break fellowship with them, and write them off as dumb Trump-supporters, conspiracy theorists, or right-wing nutjobs. But doing so does not help heal the wounds in this country, or help the Church behave better, or make Christianity more effective in showing God’s love. When Paul said the whole Church was one body, he knew about the assholes and the arm pits — he understood that not every part of the body is great all the time. But the body doesn’t work if one part says to the other “I don’t need you!

So ya, there’s a lot of smelly parts of the body right now — more than usual. And we could stand to clean up our act a little. But God knew that too; He knew He was entrusting His mission to a bunch of assholes, and He still told us to be about His business. So if we need each other, then we have to figure out how to help each other. For Nicole and I, that means we can’t disengage with the church or our conservative community, we have to be a part of the body — and maybe help rub a little “wisdom soap” and a “love loofah” on the parts that need to freshen up. I can help other Christians find verses in the Bible that challenge their political perspectives, specifically because I have empathy for those perspectives and some modest equipping and experience exegeting the Word we both hold as sacred… but only if I don’t alienate those people first.

It is when we decide that the “other” is irredeemable that we cease to function as a society — and as a Church. Fortunately, we have a God that looks on the lowliest of sinners, and sees none that cannot be redeemed. If He hasn’t given up on us yet, then we can’t give up on each other either.

Shaka, when the walls fell

I grew up watching Star Trek, and in one of the most meme-worthy episodes, the valiant Captain Picard and a strange alien are stranded together on a planet, and forced to figure out how to work together without a universal translator or any of the technology that makes these “first contact” situations easier. They learn to communicate through a shared language of stories and parables that resonate with their individual and cultural experiences — they find what’s common, despite their differences, and figure out how to talk to each other through it. Maybe its naive to think we can make things any better… but if we’re stuck as aliens in this strange country, maybe God would have us try to help His people communicate…

One thought on “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

  1. I’ll tell you a story, but I’d just as soon you not publish it. It happened after [Pastor] left [church]. I was on the Pulpit Search Committee. I agonized for a year as the Committee and the Deacon’s Board dismissed one qualified candidate after another for not being hard-nosed and hard-lined enough for those narrow men. Fine, upstanding pastors put through the same narrow, picayune process time and time. After a year I was dispatched to Regional Headquarters in [town] to come up with another slate of cattle for the slaughter. The Regional Director called me into his office for a reprimand. He had heard from some of these candidates [church] had summarily dismissed as “unsuitable” and they were not happy with the way they were being treated. He wanted me to convey his disapproval as a leader in the denomination to the Committee. I said I would bring it up, but I wanted him to put his comments in a letter to the Chairman and when the letter came up for discussion, I would lead a discussion about his disapproval and expectations.

    He wrote the letter and sent me a copy. But the Board never tabled the letter and the Committee never heard of it. After waiting two months for it to cycle through the the process I raised the issue about the missing letter. The Board then took action. They called me on the carpet for insubordination and told me to submit my resignation from the Search Committee. I asked for a hearing before the Board. The Board admitting getting the letter but denied it was worth considering and cited me as a trouble-maker. I argued that I was merely fulfilling my duty as Secretary of the Search Committee. No one on the Board, even “close” friends like [elder], stood with me. I refused to resign. A week later they all showed up at our house and sat around our dining room table condemning me. I did my level best to marshal every ounce of Christian tolerance and forbearance could muster and began to present my “defense.” I did not want to give up on [church]. There were many kind and caring people in that church that I was trying to represent. Your mother had several close friends at the church. All three of you went to the school at that church and had developed close friends of your own. I did not want to give up on my church.

    It was at that point that the leak in the bathtub above the living room dissolved the last vestige of adherence that the plaster had with the ceiling and came down with a splat on the floor in the next room. I don’t think any of those fine gentlemen even noticed. But I did. It is hard to explain why some things have a significance far beyond their worth or circumstance. But I had put my heart and faith in God into renovating that house to make it into a home for my family, and clearly I had made a mistake somewhere in the bathtub renovation. The plaster on the floor was evidence of that. And here I was about to make another and far more damaging mistake. It was like God was tapping me on the shoulder and whispering that I was not in charge, He was. He would bring the man He wanted. My best efforts were always going to contain mistakes. It was time to admit one, and move on.

    I did. I resigned the Committee that night and unwilling to face the inevitable round of questions from friends and church members about what had gone wrong, the following day I left the church, taking my family with me. It was a rough first patch for us at [other church]. But we quickly made new friends and you quickly got involved in running the sound board. In the process you got to know [friend], who was going to change your life for the better.

    Not sure that this is going anywhere in particular. I’m not saying it is time to leave, just because I did. I know as well as you that if you leave, wherever you end up will be where God wants you and He will be there to help you. I think what I am saying is that I know what it is like to live among hardnosed Christians who care more for public approval that they do the revealed will of God in His holy Word. It is not an easy road to walk. We walked that road as long as we could at [church]. Maybe longer than we should have. But when we left, God was with us. If we had stayed, we would have seen Him bring a much more reasonable and centrist pastor to the church than that narrow Board had reckoned on. At that too was the will of God.

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