Thanks for ‘Nothing’

I wrote a post this week on embracing The Nothing, as I’ll call it. The political wilderness I once feared is what I’ll now call home, and the tribal tendencies that once provided affirmation now seem so silly and undignified. I’ll provide a few excerpts from that post below so that you understand where I’m coming from, and then move on to the point of this particular post.

First, my acknowledgement that conservative media and pundits, many of whom proudly stood against Trump, have already spiraled back into their pack mentality:

As though getting behind the schoolyard bully is the only logical option, because while he’s shaken down all of the defenseless kids on the playground, it’s only reasonable to stand beside him until he shakes down the next, and then the next, and so on and so forth. They’re willing to wash, rinse, and repeat until there’s nothing left of their principles but a shell that barely tells the story of what they once were.

Many of the publications I found trustworthy have followed suit. When standing for what was right was no longer fashionable and click inducing for their mass of readers and followers, they walked over to the sewer and thrust their hand down into the sludge. Now they’ll dig in the waste, deeper and deeper as each moment passes, allowing the diseased remains of a movement that isn’t even aware of its state of decomposition to swallow them in hopes of finding a quarter.

As they pull out a disease covered bottle cap they raise it to the sky and rejoice, “We’ve found a quarter! He’s the law and order president!”  And as we point out the fault in their logic, and warn them of their hallucinations – “That’s not a quarter! He’s insane! Civil liberties will be in jeopardy!” – they label us ”traitors” to sooth a conscience that’s fully aware of their betrayal of principles. This trend will continue on until their allegiance is solidified, and – in their own minds – justified.

Next I explained where I will stand going forward:

As everyone stares at the paths before them, labeled by party titles that beckon them closer with promises of tribal comforts, I’m instead going to plant my feet and embrace the nothing. If you want to label me a “classic liberal,” “conservatarian,” “FNeverTrumper,” “traitor,” “liberal,” or “purple dinosaur,” I don’t care. Bicker on about the titles, and which you fall under and where you presume I do, meanwhile I’m going to sit here in the nothing, doing what I can to trip up those running blindly towards paths they’ve been groomed to embrace in hopes that they’ll stop and think.

In the past I’ve been guilty of jumping to the defense of those who were once “my own,” and jumping to demonize those in the other tribe. Yet here I sit at the crossroads, where everyone is rushing to their prospective paths and ideologies, and all I want to do is avoid them all. The more I stand back and listen, the more I’m convinced that both sides have served themselves well by making us hate each other.

So as Barack Obama exits the White House today, and Donald Trump enters, I want to make a final post regarding Barack’s legacy. I’ve done my fair share of holding his feet to the flames, but this will be different. I would like to note three particular issues that have been weighing on my conscience throughout this election. Three issues that I was wrong about, or partially wrong about at the very least. I wanted to write about these particular issues today because, while I did not agree with Obama’s politics and held him accountable, I also questioned his character in regards to these three issues, and now that I’m in “The Nothing” and – in essence – starting over, I’d like to correct that.

Race Relations 

I, along with many other individuals, felt as though Obama had further harmed race relations through divisive rhetoric. While I don’t agree with more than a handful of his choices throughout his presidency, I also don’t agree with my own choice to deliver swift and brutal judgement without fully thinking over issues such as this. When I saw the following tweet on the 11th, it dawned on me just how different my response to such a tweet would have been 4 years ago.

Now, as I said, upon seeing that poll all over my timeline, quoted by my friends on the right as evidence of Obama’s “divisive narrative,” I realized that years ago I was doing the same thing as my friends and fellow political pundits. I thought he had made things worse, and I would have used such a poll to make my point, and for that I am ashamed.

You see, I’ve always cared about race relations, and I never pulled as far to the right as friends in this particular subject, and I acknowledged that racial division existed. While I found it abhorrent, I was under the assumption that the racist and foolish individuals in this country had limited power – they were the outliers.

Then I watched Eric Garner dying on a New York sidewalk, and I watched various others – both before and after that moment – meet their end in a way that made me face my false assumptions. I forced myself to watch and read their stories, because it was the least I could do. My heart was turned inside out and I started researching and questioning my own stance. I looked at former cases, researched police departments and their history, complaint stats, etc., and I stared at a photo of Aiyana Jones, a 7 year-old child killed in a no-knock raid, and thought about who she may have become, and how much the God I proclaim exists adores her, and I reevaluated my stance because it was the only logical and decent option left to do.

You see, I once questioned Obama’s character in this regard, and I thought maybe he was trying to make things worse, and once upon a time that poll would have confirmed my bias. But now I look at that poll and think that in 2009 I would have answered “good,” and in 2016 I would have undoubtedly answered “bad,” and yet all that has changed is my knowledge of the issue.

“Penny rides” were happening before Obama.

Justice was failing to be blind before Obama.

The dismissive public reaction to tragedy was happening before Obama.

My inaction and ignorance existed before Obama.

I look at that poll and think that maybe, just maybe, we’re finally being forced to face an issue that existed long before I watched Eric Garner dying on a sidewalk in New York. Long before I watched our nation look for reasons to justify the death of an unarmed black man by pointing to how he wears his pants – grasping for cheap reason to not feel bad about his death before his body is even cold – only to turn around and talk about Brock Turner’s immense talents and the great loss of his potential after he brutalized a woman behind a dumpster. I look at that poll and see two women missing, while only one garners national coverage.

Technological advancements over the last 8 years, combined with the growth of social media, have made these instances accessible, and they have exposed our cavalier attitude. We can no longer live in our oblivious state, and our intentions and immediate reactions are cataloged for the world to see.

That poll is not an indictment against Obama, it’s an indictment against our ignorance and how long we allowed it to flourish. Are there times when he exasperated it, or handled things poorly? Well, of course, but there was no racial upheaval solely created by his hand, and we desperately needed to see our issues.

I think back to how Martin Luther King described those who are much more troublesome than the perpetrators of injustice themselves: “…the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…” We now have an administration that I believe wholeheartedly will only cause further embitterment, and I intend do whatever I can to care more about the truth and fairness than peace and passiveness.

Side note: No, this is not me saying that I agree with horrific acts of violence against innocent civilians and law enforcement officers. I will never side with the violent, nor play apologist for looters and those who create their own victims in response to injustice. As I have said before, we as a country can say, unequivocally, that we are against innocent police being targeted and murdered and overuse of lethal force and the abuse of rights, the two ideals do not have to be held in contention.

The “War on Women”

I had a great deal of fun joking about individuals who thought there was a “war on women” years ago. And while I still don’t agree with a number of their arguments, this election has opened my eyes.

I’ve often described myself as a “Classic Feminist,” and my beliefs aligned with heroes like Alice Paul, Elizabeth Blackwell, Mattie H. Brinkerhoff, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I believe in empowering women, but I have always taken issue with various fights within the current feminist movement, even if I used “Feminist” to describe myself. Each wave of Feminism came crashing to the shore with its new batch of necessary battles, from voting rights to marital rape, domestic violence to objectification; I’ve criticized many feminists, but I’ve always felt as though Feminism itself is a vital movement.

I saw, and still see, Feminism as women with a vast number of opinions & beliefs. Women fighting for the right to be acknowledged and counted. I believe that when we demand conformity – and that’s been my greatest objection to the current brand of feminism – we end up embracing what the original feminists fought against.

I often argued that the Republican Party was not anti-women, because I felt included in their ranks. I felt defensive when women on the left told me I couldn’t be a feminist if I owned guns for self-protection, or held a prolife stance – not unlike the original feminists themselves – and I felt acknowledged and purposeful in a GOP that, in my mind, valued my opinions. It became personal when I stepped out of the lines, it became personal when I was betrayed – along with countless other women – by politicians who had made us feel as though we belonged. Paraded around like show ponies for a movement we truly believed in, only to have them abandon us to elect a womanizer-in-chief.

In order for Trump to be elected, individuals – both men and women – had to minimize his treatment of women, which speaks poorly of the value they placed on those he attacked, demeaned, and objectified. Donald Trump being sworn in today is proof that our nation is willing to accept women as less worthy of the respect, dignity, and protection we deserve in this nation.

I watched as fellow women, adorned in their Trump paraphernalia, brazenly celebrated a man who speaks of women as though they are animals for him to own, and playing apologist for the men who defend him. I found myself telling women – WOMEN – that it is not okay for a man to brag about being able to sexually assault them. Why must I tell women that sexual assault is not “locker room” talk? That openly discussing your conquests and the romps you have behind your wife’s back is a sign of sewer level character that is not befitting of the Oval Office? Why must I tell women that it is not okay for a man to refer to them as a “piece of a–,” and treat them as brainless entity that can easily be replaced?

The fact that such things must be explained has exposed a societal breakdown in which many women have embraced their assigned degraded value as though it is a crown. Conservative women tend to speak on today’s disrespect of women, and the need for “old fashioned etiquette.” They have used their bibles to preach against feminism, and their God to rebuke immorality, but in reality they’ve embraced that which they preach against. The Savior these white evangelical female voters serve demanded that men love women as He loves the church. Imagine the weight of such a demand, to care for them as Christ cares for humanity. Yet here they have given their suffrage to a man who stands completely antithetical to those ideals.

With all that in mind, I must acknowledge that women – despite our great advancements – are still not seen as complete equals in this country, even through their own eyes, and it speaks to a great misjudgment on my part.

The Church

Four years ago I would have told you that The Church was on the right path, but for weeks now – months? – I’ve found myself staring at the ceiling on Sunday mornings, contemplating whether to attend church or not. For most of my adult life I’ve sat in a seat on Sunday morning and, while I’ve of course worshiped my God, I’ve faced my convictions; the inappropriate jokes I laugh at, the inappropriate quips I make, the words I said when I dropped that can of green beans on my foot, the gossip I gave an ear to, or the questionable TV shows I watch. I’ve questioned how many times I find myself searching through the sewer for a quarter in this world, and I’ve looked around at the other people who – in my mind – are clearly more in touch with the higher being I so frequently disappoint, yet so undeservedly continue to be loved by.

So why am I so hesitant to walk through the doors of my church now?

While eighty one percent of white evangelical voters voted for Donald Trump, the world watched. While eighty one percent of white evangelicals voters traded their witness for thirty pieces of power, the world watched. While leaders in the Christian movement traded Christ’s message for a seat at Herod’s table, the world watched. And while I lay in bed on Sunday mornings and allow the real and legitimate reasons behind a Christian’s involvement in church to mull around in my mind, I also have this sinking feeling reminding me that as I stand in a room built for worship – with a heart that longs to worship – I’ll also be comparing the number of empty chairs to the number of messages I’ve received from sexual assault survivors, minorities, and Muslims wondering why Christians didn’t take a stand for them… Worse yet, how many of those around me contributed to ensuring that those chairs remain empty?

My replies to them don’t seem sufficient, typing “my Christ would have stood with you” is the only real response I can give in the void of a legitimate defense of His people.

My heart hurts for those who are scared, those Trump has hurt, and those he’s threatened, and I’m angry at those who willingly helped him while sporting a cross around their neck. We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that if we have a World Vision child on our fridge that we’ve done enough. We pretend as though fighting to “keep Christ in Christmas” is actually anything more than the worthless antics of a people void of any real stand to take, so we put His name above His message. We’ve convinced ourselves that hearing “Happy Holidays” is persecution, and while Christians in other countries have grown weary of real persecution, we’ve become worthless in our freedoms.

Since November 8th my inboxes and social media messages have been overflowing with fellow Christians telling me to trust in God, as they simultaneously praise Him for the results of the election.

As mothers and fathers in Syria pull their crushed children from the rubble of bombed buildings, Christians in America are celebrating a man who is friends with those who helped murder those children, and who openly rejects the idea of helping refugees fleeing such an ending. Then these Christians have the audacity to demand that those of us who warned of his cold regard for the innocent children being slaughtered “trust God,” yet they didn’t have the bravery to stand by their “Christian morals” and do the same on November 8th. Christians in America have forgotten that the message of the Cross is more important than our religious freedom.

I know so many Christians facing those same issues today, and seeing our faith dragged through the mud by “our own,” has tested us in so many ways. And I encourage them to go back to church, as I will need to, because we need to “be the change we wish to see.” I don’t say this from a point of authority, or from condescension and a false belief that I am better than anyone else, I say this from a place of acknowledgement that Christians – me included – have failed to embody His message, and we all need to get back to the core of our faith.

You see, we talk about how politics should not impact our personal relationships, our church life, our family bonds, etc., but – unlike previous elections – this one was so incredibly personal. For the abused woman, a vote for Trump signaled a cavalier attitude towards her suffering; from both men and women. To the Hispanic, it signaled a dismissal of their worth. To the Muslim, a vote for Trump was a vote against their freedom of religion. To a vast number of minorities, it was a form of agreement that their life somehow matters less. You can dress it up and fantasize about it being like every other election, but that’s just not the case.

While I wasn’t a supporter of Obama, the unfolding of his presidency has also served to awaken me to the other side of issues I had denied existed. And this election – in all its filth – has shattered pieces of me that needed to be shattered.  It has demolished walls that I shouldn’t have built, and left me standing in the rubble of my convictions, and as I look around with regret that it took this to bring about my “awakening,” I am grateful that I was finally pushed into “The Nothing.”

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12 thoughts on “Thanks for ‘Nothing’

  1. Hi Marybeth. I understand everything you’re going through because I went through it myself. There’s a landing place and it’s an incredibly wonderful place to be. I hope I can convey that or at least begin a serious discussion about it.
    What you’re seeing is actually the result of a very long process which requires us to take a step back from where we are and look at things from a much broader historical perspective.
    The lack of adherence to principal you describe is nothing new. It certainly was in operation when similarly motivated men (mostly men, only a few women) began to shape the institution that formed the foundation of Western civilization, the church.
    The problem was that they ignored history and what it has to teach us for temporary power and gain. Their sin was quite grievous given that they had access to the Bible and Bible history is given specifically to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Those that do repeat them bring an extra measure of condemnation on themselves for their foolishness.
    There are many examples that could have saved the church leaders from making calamitous mistakes but they refused to heed them. One such example is the story of Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:26-33. Jeroboam received the kingdom of Israel and was promised by God a dynasty like David’s if he would obey Him. But Jeroboam feared for his life and decided to essentially create a new religion so that people would stay in Israel and not wonder off to Jerusalem. History shows that for his sins that were repeated by every single king after him, there was not one good king of Israel ever.
    Astonishingly, the church repeated the exact same errors with predictable results. They allowed the veneration of images, made priests which is something Jesus never contemplated, and changed times, claiming the church had transferred the sanctity of Sabbath to Sunday.
    The end result is that Western civilization took a great big detour. The church ruled with an iron fist for over a millennium, and when people finally began to break off the shackles with the Reformation, God’s character was so tarnished and many so weary that they used their new found freedom to develop materially instead of spiritually. This lead to the dysfunctional financial system we have today. Because of the spiritual void that was created by the church, the financial system evolved into a forced system of motivation to get people to participate more and more. This was done through interest. When countries create money they do it today by borrowing the money, which they then have to pay back with interest. The big problem is that the money to pay back the interest doesn’t exist. Therefore the country must borrow more to pay back what it owes, creating a spiral of debt. Because of this process, and the fact that, unlike in ancient Israel, there is no mechanism to cancel the debt, we are now in debt at astronomical levels. The financial system, built as it is upon a faulty premise, can’t help but collapse. When it does people have no choice but to return to the tyrannical church upon which the West was founded. But the church, like Jeroboam, forsook God’s Commandments, so it’s like going from the frying pan into the fire.
    This brings out the landing place I describe above, and the escape route for the process I just described. It’s the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are a true political system, competing on the same level as the systems we know today – communism, capitalism, democracy. All of those systems are man made and have obvious defects. We are seeing the obvious defects of democracy right now: when the majority decide to do something foolish all the rest are along for the ride. Capitalism is also defective, forcing the world to participate in the money system but not allocating resources to those who just happen to be ‘bad investments’. It’s estimated that nearly 20 million die each year simply because of this faulty system of allocation. A couple hundred years ago it was the true Christians that were against slavery, the false ones found ways to justify it. Likewise today the true Christians should be against this unfair system that kills so many people every year. But the Ten Commandments are not defective – they are the perfect political system. They are the base of Love.
    Love is a science and there are steps to it that each human can follow and reproduce and guarantee the same result. Love is not something optional. We are at a crossroads right now and can either go towards Love or selfishness. Those that go toward selfishness will destroy themselves and others, but those that go toward Love will survive. So this is a matter of survival. The first step to Love is an obvious one. I must stop hurting others. If I say I love someone and embrace them with my right arm while punching them in the face with my left then that is not Love. In order for Love to have a chance, I must first stop hurting. There is only one way that I can be absolutely guaranteed to not hurt someone and that is by living in harmony with the Ten Commandments. That is their whole purpose. God is Love and He wants us to love each other. The Ten Commandments guarantee two very important things. One, they guarantee the absolute human rights of every single person. And, two, they allow us to grow infinitely. As such, the Ten Commandments represents the last great human rights struggle on this earth.
    As Revelation 13 makes clear, the last idol we have to overcome is money. Money is the great motivator of our times. But it is a very poor one. Being motivated by money teaches us to put our own interests first. But what happens when the system fails as it did in the Great Depression? In that example, the factories still existed, the materials to make things still did, and the workers willing to work we ready to do so. But no one was willing to do anything because they weren’t getting any money first. Just at the time we need to pull together most, everyone stops working. This will happen again on a global scale and then what will we do? But Jesus said we must seek first His kingdom and righteousness and then everything will be added to us. Exactly the opposite of the way people act when motivated by money. If our motivation is Love instead, we can act when the man made systems fall apart. Again, this is a matter of survival for the whole world. Either we learn to be motivated by Love or we perish.
    Back to the example of Israel. Clearly they could have changed course. Any of their kings could have decided to reform and return to the Commandments. But none of them did. Apparently things were too entrenched for them to feel that they could do that. I don’t believe our leaders will act any different. So it’s up to us to come together as individuals in a world wide movement and join together under the banner of Love and the Ten Commandments and see what ways we can work together.
    I’m doing this now. I’m in Thailand helping Pakistani Christian asylum seekers – people persecuted for their faith. They are a special group, and especially receptive to the Ten Commandments. From this there are also people in Philippines, China, and Pakistan and it’s growing. We love each other and help each other to survive. I have a non-profit started in US called Love Movement and we are establishing organizations in each country. There’s a lot more I could say about this but would prefer to privately if you’re interested in learning more.
    The end of the matter for now is that the landing place you’re coming to is the Ten Commandments, which is the perfect political system. You and I want exactly the world that they portray and if that’s what we want, then it starts with us and through that start we can change the world. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.
    Blessings,
    Craig

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  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently. The disconnect between what I used to trust as Christian love and the election of someone who tramps love and respect underfoot while engendering a culture of hatred and division has been my biggest struggle these last few months. It is so refreshing to know that others are as dismayed by the hypocrisy. Thank you for cutting through the crap!

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  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I am amazed by the number of prominent Christian pastors who backed Trump. Many people say that Obama is Muslim because he seems to value them more and always side with Muslims over Christians. But somehow these people believe that Trump is Christian? “By their fruits you will know them.” Very little that I see from Trump leads me to believe he’s a Christian, and it saddens me that so many Christians have jumped on the bandwagon. I can only hope and pray that somehow he’ll turn out to be a better president than we expect.

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    • Interestingly, not five minutes after I posted my comment last night I heard a caller on Coast to Coast AM mention how many evangelicals voted for Trump and that he believed that Trump won because he’s bringing integrity back to the office. The guest agreed with him.
      It’s strange to think that in barely 25 years we’ve gone from thinking someone like Bill Clinton was a scumbag to electing someone who may be even worse with the backing of the vast majority of the Christian right. The number of people who believe that a person can be a good president with low morals has plummeted in just the last four years. It’s scary.

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  4. My mantra has always been “The purpose of the Civil Rights Movement was not to change racists’ minds but to force the non-racists who promoted and supported racists into positions of power out of fear or laziness to stop.” That’s what you and many like us are feeling the effects of now. That troubling in their soul that everyone feels at one time or another unless they have seared theirs with a hot iron.

    I participated in the latter part of the Civil Rights Movement and witnessed first hand what bigotry and prejudice can and will do, but even so drifted into that forgetfulness that allows us to Otherize people, rejecting their humanity and to assume their evil intent because they’re ‘not like me’.

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  5. I grew up in a Goldwater Republican household. The older I became and the more I was out on my own, the more I personally experienced the limitations individuals, society and the law imposed on what I could do and become. Many of the barriers we “radicals” fought to eradicate a generation ago are gone. As you are learning, others remain and are more subtle.

    The GOP that I belonged to was co-opted long ago by publicity-hungry ideologues who give God a horrible, undeserved reputation. Many of our neighbors rightly fear and avoid church, the Bible, Jesus Christ and “Christians” because the hate, intolerance and condemnation spewed by these hacks has drowned out God’s loving message. I am somewhat back in the fold only because I stumbled across someone who lives the real message of love that Jesus taught.

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    • Another Obama criticism that was prevalent over the past year was that he would not use the terms “radical Muslim extremism” when attacks occurred. As a Christian with Muslim friends, I understood why he would not utter those words. I was raised in a southern baptist church in Kansas. I always cringed when Fred phelps and his baptist church would protest. He did not represent my personal beliefs. Unfortunately, many of the uninformed in the United States associate the radical terrorists with muslims.

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  6. Hey Marybeth.

    As a once disillusioned ex-Christian, I can also testify that there is a very dark side to Christian churches. I have not been a sexual abuse victim myself, but I’ve talked to enough of fellow ex-Christians to recognize the pattern. Christian pastors cheering for Trump was a symptom, not the sickness. The truth is far uglier.

    Christian churches have always been quick to use the teachings of forgiveness and traditional gender roles to silence victims of sexual abuse. In the Trump case, this all played out the exact same way it has played out thousands, if not millions of times in more private occasions. What we all just saw in the news was but a tiny peak of the iceberg. Given the fact that people usually put up their best face in public, you can only imagine how the story that plays out behind closed doors, is like.

    Pastors and theologians making excuses for a powerful sexual predator, urging forgiveness for him etc. was not an anomaly, this was the normal way of conservative Christian culture. This “forgive the powerful abuser, throw the victims under the bus” – culture is as much part of Christian lifestyle as going to church at important holidays is. Trump – support didn’t create this culture of protecting sexual predators. Trump – support simply brought into daylight something that’s usually kept under the rug.

    For further reading about topic, I’ll give couple of links to start from. (You’ll find thousands more of these ‘testimonies’ about this culture by simply googling):

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2016/04/the-sexual-predators-in-evangelicals-backyard.html

    https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/sexual-abuse-has-become-a-huge-problem-for-americas-bible-colleges

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  7. Pingback: ‘You are what you wear,’ and other dumb advice. – The Collision Blog

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