Because you know there will be another one. And we will have the same choice we always have—to define the world in relation to the tweeter or…
…to do something else.
Recently I attended an experimental theatre production about the American healthcare system. We had to take off our shoes before going into the theatre. I got to chop parsley during the performance and we made bone soup. I danced. Sometime I’ll write about all of that because it was funky cool.
But what stuck with me afterwards were the closing words of the first-person monologue of the performer, who was portraying the true story of a struggling Latina artist coming to terms with her body as she interacted with a broken health system. In effect, she said, “The system needs to die. I can’t kill it. But I am an artist and I can imagine something different. It’s what I do.”
So when the next tweet comes, we can respond in the tired categories that overwhelm our social media feeds and eventually overwhelm us. We can single out the tweeter as a racist and we won’t be wrong. But others will hear the criticism as an attempt to shame and distance. To quarantine and sanction, not only the tweeter, but all of those who have seen in him an advocate for their hopes against their fears.
On the other hand, we can also be silent and allow the poison to spread, believing that those who speak out against the tweeter have other agendas. Believing that there is no remedy for the Great Divide but endless conflict that necessitates employing sometimes fallible champions.
The Divide needs to die. I can’t kill it. But I’m a Christian and I can imagine something different.
In her new book, Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump, Lutheran journalist and pastor Angela Denker, says, “Racism needs to be understood not as an insult or an epithet to be tossed out but as a very real part of America’s history, an original sin that not only plagues individuals but also is entrenched in the story of America itself.” (116) Strange as it may seem in this age when it’s definitely out of fashion, the language of sin may be just what we need to begin imagining.
Our fantasies, which we cling to, red or blue, involve pristine Americas that no longer have to struggle with sin because it has been effectively purged by our growing enlightenment. And purging is the right word, because we don’t believe we can become the Promised Land unless we rid ourselves of the unenlightened. The persistence of Sin is a reminder, rediscovered in every generation, that the Pristination Project is always doomed to failure. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23] O, and lest we forget, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you.” [Genesis 4:7] Wherever you go, there you/it/he/she/they are.
But even if we don’t talk about sin much anymore, we still take it dreadfully seriously. If we can tag the other side with racism, we breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t stick to us. Because…well, sin, I suppose. We delight in exposing hypocrisy, assuming it is a debilitating blow to the one exposed, even though we’re each and all just awaiting the comeuppance due us because of our own limited self-knowledge.
We’re all weary of this game, (though many a late night host makes their living from it). But we know we’ll be pulled back in at the drop of the next tweet. There’s too much temptation to join the morality play.
What else might we imagine? How about an honest assessment of the tentacles of sin, examining them as ridiculous vestiges of life outside the kingdom? What if we approached our sin, not with dreadful seriousness, but with the liberated seriousness that sees life through a kingdom lens? What if we engaged “the other” rather than endless efforts to ignore or purify ourselves from them? What if we loved “the other” as the neighbors they are? What if we, hypothetically, studied and got angry about a broken health system that is killing us and concluded by making soup and dancing?
You know, it could happen. I’ve seen it.