Maybe you haven’t heard about the latest visual and verbal contrivance that has been bestowed upon us by the meme lords?
If not, White Boy Summer, has been making an appearance on my news feed, especially popular amongst the disenfranchised right of center males. It is mostly in fun, a poke at the color tribe obsessed, that started with a post by Chet Hanx, and has since evolved into a sort of pushback campaign against divisive identity politics with some actual white supremacist types joining in on the action. It is mostly just the typical alt-right silliness the feeds off far-left identity politics outrage.
As for myself, I’m still principled enough, in my opposition to color identity politics, to not to join in. No, that’s not at all to say I’m any better than those less idealistic and more open to this kind of humor. However, I can’t help but believe this is exactly what far-left fringe elements of the political spectrum had in mind when they started to affix “white” or “black” to various terms. Even as a joke it is reinforcing of their divisive narratives.
The Identity Politics Dilemma
That feedback loop is the insidious part of identity politics and tribalism. When one group of people starts to gang up, then others need to do the same or risk fighting a mob alone. A person doesn’t have to care one bit about skin color to not want to be the next Reginald Denny, a man beaten by four strangers because they hated people who looked like him. So we go down this spiral of increasing mistrust and polarization often leading to an escalation of hostilities.
In my own life time I’ve watched the tension grow between ‘white’ and ‘black’ people. It feels as if we have taken steps back, more people see relations deteriorating, most likely due largely to the intentionally divisive framing of news stories, and yet perception becomes reality as we react to this by being more conscious of color. Those who push racial or other identity division do it cynically, as part of their divide and conquer strategy, winding the two sides up to play them off each other while they use the ensuring chaos to take more power.
White and black should not be identities. It is superficial. It confuses culture with color and goes directly against everything gained in the Civil Rights era. I’m sorry, but a person only needs to be the slightest bit aware and marginally intelligent to realize that there are vast differences between individuals in these too generalized color categories. As someone born into the working class and a small religious subculture, I probably have more in common with most racial minorities than I do the American mainstream.
Call Me Stephanie
Stephanie is a wonderfully energetic and comedic person. She’s the receptionist and all around badass, in heels, employee for the place where I go for physical therapy and friend. Being my inquisitive self, knowing that she’s a cool person who laughs about her love for fried chicken, I had to ask her a little about what it is like for her (as a black woman) growing up in rural Pennsylvania.
The most significant thing that came from that conversation was her answer to the annoying (yet well meaning) questions she fields about her preferences regarding her identity. In other words, does she want to be called “black” or is “African-American” her preference? To which her witty response is “call me Stephanie.”
As a conservative Mennonite kid in a public school, who also had to field dozens of such ‘micro-aggressions’ or ignorant assumptions that undermined my individuality, I wanted to give her a hug. I also admire her for taking such things in stride. I’ll admit, I have not always handled similar things as graciously and let people get under my skin rather than just blow them off as ignorant. And for this reason I love Stephanie, she’s just a great person and all around good example.
To be honest, what she expressed is a big part of my own identity. When classmates tried to pigeonhole, bringing up my then side parted hair as being “Mennonite” style, I would resist their categories and changed to a different hairstyle. Despite my love for my strange religious denomination, I didn’t want to fit their stereotype for Mennonites and allow them to minimize my own uniqueness in the process. I may have been Mennonite, but I was also Joel and had my own mind separate from their generalizations.
Stop Coloring Everything!
There are some who, unlike Stephanie, love to wallow in their assigned categories. They both choose to be and then simultaneously resent being categorized. In other words, if something bad happens to someone who is superficially like them they’ll tribalize around that person and yet also not own the many reasons for differences of outcomes that are less than politically expedient.
Why should a college educated, reasonably law-abiding and responsible person ever see a drug addict or convicted rapist as being their own peer or clan?
That’s what drives me crazy about all of this color division, those who truly have more in common with me or even enjoying privileges that I do not, are so easily bamboozled into believing that our many similarities are less important than the color of our skin. The more troubling part being that to do that they have to ‘other’ me and not accept my own lived experience as equal to their’s. It is the very definition of dehumanization and ends any possibility of finding common ground that transcends our most obvious (most truly meaningless) difference.
I mean, does my exterior veneer actually make my own suffering, my many losses and disappointments, any less valid than that of someone else?
It isn’t fragility to reject the divisive color framing intended to keep us at odds. And, no, taking responsibility for our own future, two-parent homes and a work ethic are not indications of white privilege, rather it is the most probable and proven path out of poverty and laying the foundation for the success of future generations. That’s the big lie of divisive color terms. People, no matter their skin color, are not fundamentally different and those who try to convince us otherwise are only trying exploit our insecurities to keep us trapped under their games.
Blood relatives can be our closest friends. We share some of the same genetic material and often intimate experiences as well. My siblings and cousins understand my humor, we think alike in many regards, and sometimes I wonder if I have any true friends that aren’t family. I certainly do not trust anyone, besides Charlotte, the same as I do my own relatives.
Don’t get me wrong either. I know many good people, some who might literally give me the shirt off of their back, and yet I’ve had so many friends like that who have faded out of my life.
The fraternity of Christ, is closer than the fraternity of blood.
St. Ambrose of Milan
Is a statement actual truth or wishful thinking?
This is what the body of Christ is supposed to be. A brotherhood, a group of people who carry burdens and cry together, who cheer each other on and encourage, who have real intimacy rather the superficial, make small talk, kind of relationship. The kind of familial investment that goes to bat for others in the Church, as St. Paul did speaking on behalf of Onesimus:
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.
(Philemon 1:8-10 NIV)
When I read that quote of St Ambrose, a couple of days ago, it provoked me to reach out to someone that I love in that way and still did after a sort of falling out. It remains to be seen if that effort, to be a brother, will bear fruit or only widen the divide. But one thing is for certain, no matter how this goes, and that is that relationships that are “closer than blood” have not been my own experience yet.
Sure, the good church people will use weighty words like “brother” and “sister” to describe their relationships, but is it truly reality or is it a faux closeness like those social media scammers trying to exploit religious strangers for personal gain?
Maybe, in this time of social fragmentation and community disintegration, where many children are raised without both of their biological parents, we have lost some of the meaning of these words?
Community, for example, should mean living in close proximity and sharing in common. People used to work and worship with the people who lived in close proximity to them. Now I barely know my next-door neighbors and then drive thirty minutes to ‘fellowship’ for a couple of hours. And then there’s those who watch a sermon at home and make-believe that’s being part of the church. I mean, might as well take it all the way and spend the afternoon gardening, right?
Is It All Fake?
One of my memories, in the church I grew up in, was pastor Sam slapping down a transparency onto the overhead projector, and starting with his wonderful baritone, “You may notice we say brother and sister ’round here…” He was certainly sincere. A fatherly leader in a denomination that neglects such things. Once he caught a hint that I was a fan of high school football he would always ask me about the game. I have fond memories of the times spent in the Corderman’s living room even after leaving my Mennonite roots.
And yet not all there got the memo. We were more glorified acquaintances. Sure, we would smile, shake hands, and make small talk together. There was also that cultural and ethnic component that did give a kind of closeness. There were also those last vestiges of the Anabaptist barn-raising spirit. However, like those veils on the female heads or the foot-washing rituals, it all seemed to be mostly symbolic. A father might set his own son up in business, but no man in the church would ever think of doing the same for a non-family member in the congregation. It was superficial closeness.
I’ve heard it explained before that religious groups hijack the language of family to create a false sense of closeness. At first, I had bristled at this suggestion. It felt like they were trying to discredit this special spiritual bond that people of like faith share. However, if we were close as family, let alone closer than blood, would we even need to use this familiar language? Wouldn’t it just be self-evident, like when Charlotte told me she would rather die with me than go on living without?
It is in that weird territory of language, like when some feel compelled to pray in old English as if this somehow reverences their prayers or those hypocrites that Jesus condemned for their love of important titles. One starts to be able to see through the pretense. There’s a vast difference between the man who treats you as a brother, offers protection, like big Tony Fisher did for me in school, and the people who use the right terms as a way to acquire resources or maintain status.
But, for me, those intuitions only came after being played a fool many times.
And perhaps I learned that lesson a little too well?
It’s Not You, It’s Me
I have trust issues.
And I’m not completely sure why.
It could have something to do with my premature birth and spending my first weeks in a plastic box rather than bonding with my mom. It could simply be a natural disposition. But I do know that I was the one child in my family who had separation anxiety and would go into panic mode if my mom would leave me for a moment to take out the trash. I was clingy and fearful.
Still, I was an extremely trusting person at one time, and long before I knew names like Jerry Sandusky or Jeriah Mast, when I lived in this sort of “Leave It To Beaver” world where people were true as their smiles and everything worked out in the end.
And that’s how childhood should be. Children may pretend, but they don’t put on masks in the same way as an adult and tend to be open about their intentions and accepting of even strangers. It is often easier to talk to eighteen-year-old girls than it is to have a conversation with those that are in their mid-twenties and that’s likely because the latter group understands that male attention usually means romantic interest. We become cagey as we become older, it is a way to protect ourselves from those who might do us harm or simply defile with their hopes of more than we’re willing to offer them.
For me, everything went downhill after puberty and with that gradual (often excruciatingly painful) loss of innocence. One of my earliest memories is walking hand in hand with my cousin when we were five years old. I don’t even talk to her anymore. She’s married to a privileged wackadoodle and didn’t appreciate my opinions of where his far-left politics will lead. Even if that weren’t the case, we probably wouldn’t be holding hands anymore even if we were on better terms. I mean, I would, because I still have fond memories, and yet I’m weird.
Anyhow, my own fear of rejection, a product of my purest hopes being smashed over and over again, has metastasized into disillusionment. I have a hard time trusting. I start to pull away when I sense the slightest bit of phoniness in another person. Call it despair, call it depression, I prefer to think of it as preserving what little sanity I have left, but I don’t want to have fake friendships anymore. I’m tired. Exhausted by it all, truthfully, and simply want to withdraw to the safety of not caring or concerning myself with those who are only going through the motions.
My expectations are impossible. But, then again, they should be. We are told, in Scripture, that with faith all things are possible. And, therefore, if someone declares otherwise, says that they can’t love or live as a Christian ought to live, it is because they lack faith.
Either that or it is all made up.
The thing that has most fed my own fear and doubt, is how people in the church don’t really act any different from people outside of it. In other words, if we don’t act like family then are we even Christians?
My Orthodox parish has a good number of converts and some older singles like me. There is a sort of closeness that came initially, as we traded stories about our experience, and it was very exciting for someone who had looked for depth elsewhere and had come out disappointed. However, there is this class, a sort of misfit club, of converts that is very similar to the Protestant fundamentalists of my past. They are really caught up in getting the Orthodox rituals right and somewhat neglecting as far as the meat of faith which is this self-sacrificial familial love.
The thing is, I came into this damaged. I had shot for the moon, in faith, and somehow ended up in Williamsport, at Holy Cross, wondering what happened. My expectations were low and it wasn’t about the “smells and bells” to me. There was a combination of things that brought me, excellent theology, Fr. Anthony’s fatherly care, and a connection to the ancient Church. Since I knew no one local who was Orthodox, I went in simply seeking a place to worship and not expecting much. But I did meet many good people there, some who did embrace me as family, I’ll never forget that old woman (I can’t even recall who it was) who warmly told me “welcome home” after my Chrismation.
As with everything in faith, familial love is a work in progress and there are bound to be many failures along the way. At best, we’re a dysfunctional family, like many American families, caught up in our own lives, acting like Protestants when things don’t go our way, and not as truly full of love and grace as we are for our own blood. My want of perfection, and pursuit of the impossibility, must first and foremost mean that I love those who are difficult to love, love who let me down and abandon me, and let God judge those who do not meet my own expectations.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12-14 NIV
What Is Love, Friendship, Humanity?
Still, the thought that plagues me most and probably always will is this question of if real love even exists at all. I’m not talking about those passing feelings of fondness we have for another person, but that spiritual bond and willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. As I’ve posited before, there is a selfish component to love. Not only those who say they “love” someone and then kill them in a jealous rage either. But it seems that it is impossible to love without getting something in return.
It is always nice when a server pays attention to me. I would certainly like to believe that they like me. And I’m guessing a few would actually enjoy spending time with me outside of work too. I’m a polite and considerate guy, I also tend to lay a heavier tip when there’s some conversation that comes along with the meal. I do, indeed, go out because staying home would be lonely and alone since it is simply too hard to coordinate plans with friends or I don’t know whom to ask. So I’ll pay for that time with another human. But it can also be unfulfilling. The relationship could have an element of truth and yet really it is centered on the economic transaction or they would be inviting me to hang out when they’re not on the clock.
There is a scene, in Blade Runner 2049, a science fiction thriller about what it means to be human, that illustrates the point. The story follows, K, a “replicant” (or bioengineered ‘human’), and his relationship with his girlfriend named Joi. Except she is not flesh and blood, not even human, but artificial intelligence, software on a computer, with a holographic projection. Still, despite this, the relationship is real. And, when the device containing her (their memories together that made the interaction meaningful) is crushed, he mourns. As the audience, you feel some pain. Yet, later, an interactive sign, with her likeness, uses the same pet name, and it is obvious that the original Joi was programmed to “fall in love” with anyone who wanted companionship.
The part that gets to me is how hormones and the positive feedback loop of emotions is, practically speaking, the same as programming. So how are the emotional responses we receive from others any more authentic than that of Joi?
What about our own friendships?
Why do we favor some people over others?
Do we love people or do we merely enjoy what benefits we get from them and that’s why we show such strong preference. Sure, there are some who are kinder and more willing to give attention to the unattractive or social outcasts. However, as far as real commitment, ongoing investment, we generally spare that for those most likely to produce a return. In other words, we love those who do what we want them to do, have something we want in terms of their physical form, intellect, or other abilities, or simply feel drawn to as a result of our coding and subconscious desires.
And then we expect people to stay at the level of friendship assigned to them. One sure way to make things awkward is to make an expression of love that is more intimate or deep than the level the other person wants. Asking a girl on a date is a good way to get put on her blocked list, to get an industrial strength cold shoulder, and even if she was seeming to enjoy the relationship up until then. Why? Well, maybe the ‘friendship’ was a social obligation more than anything authentic? You just know, when push comes to shove, most on your social media friends list aren’t going to be there for you, or at least not like blood relatives.
The Impossible Love
Still, I’m not comfortable with this mechanistic, bound by programming and mere product of circumstances, perspective. If love is not a choice, if we can only love those who are attractive, have resources we want, or are this sort of enjoyable reflection of ourselves, then we would not have agency or the ability to follow the commands to love God and our neighbors. Can we really do that? Do people ever go beyond and actually transcend themselves by loving those whom they would not naturally love?
I’m not sure, when I look at the Christian experiment, that I see much evidence of these relationships that are closer than blood. I mean, maybe, if we were willing to “fake it until we make it” then we would be able to overcome. Isn’t that what faith is really about, doing things that are uncomfortable, going against our own natural condition, or an exercise? I’m pretty sure my grandparents didn’t always feel like loving each other and yet going through the motions of a relationship, in those tough times, is how their love became such pure gold. Sixty years of marriage is impossible for many today because they’ve decided to be ruled by what is comfortable at the moment.
So when church people say they can’t love, and I’m talking about any kind of love, what they’re actually saying is that they don’t believe. It is agnosticism, denial of the humanity of another, and have refused to see the command of Christ as being actually true. When we decide we can’t love as we ought to love or pretend that we are loving while we truly are not, we are essentially making Scripture into a lie. At that point we are nothing but animals following after our programmed instincts and selfish desires. Do you truly love the body of Christ as much as you do your own blood?
Many people, whether they realize it or not, love for what they get in return and essentially are in love with their own image reflected in another person. This can be dressed up in many ways, it can be hidden under religious motives or romanticized, but it is (once all the layers of rationalizations are removed) a selfish love.
For three years now I’ve sought after a different kind of love. For three years I’ve sought after the kind of love that sacrificed personal ambitions and loved another purely out of love for God. It was a love of faith, a love that transcends differences rather than be divided by them, and a love made possible only through God.
The impossible love meets human reality…
I set out to do the impossible in belief that the words “with God all things are possible” were true and pursued the love of someone who was completely different from me in everything but faith.
Unfortunately, this person—being that they are fundamentally different from me (despite our both being Mennonites)—did not see faith as a good enough basis and could not see the potential for love and refused even a friendly relationship.
I don’t blame her. It was what she inherited from her parents and religious culture. Mennonites, despite their bluster, are really no different from their secular neighbors and promote the same perspective of love. That is to say Mennonites give advice like “find someone running the same direction you are” and centers on the wants of the two individuals. You don’t need God to explain that kind of love.
But I sought something entirely different. I sought a love that was not self-seeking and shallow. I was seeking a deeper bond of a love that was truly self-sacrificial and put God at the center rather than the wants of individuals. Instead of two people choosing each other because they are similar, a narcissistic love, I hoped to find the love of two people who formed their ambitions together in a spiritual union with God.
I met a wall of resistance. Mennonites may claim to love their enemies and practice non-resistance, but don’t try to be their friend unless you fit their list of requirements. I was not up to her standards. She told me she couldn’t love me the way that I wished to be loved, except I didn’t ask for love—all I wanted was a little faith and a chance.
Imagine the exasperation of being told “hearts don’t change” by someone who plans to commit their life to missionary service. It makes me wonder why they would even bother going over land and sea? Evidently they aren’t going with actual faith in a God that makes the impossible possible. Perhaps they are going for the excitement or for the praise of religious peers?
Anyhow, it is impossible to love someone who refuses to receive it. In her mind, as one who was “thirty years old living in Milton” I had absolutely nothing to offer her. She, taking cues from her father and religious peers, treated me more like a rabid dog than a brother in faith. They actually denied me a means to love or be needed by them.
Meet Sarah, my sister from Congo-Brazzaville…
Severe disappointment leads to depression and many days I wished that I could disappear into my bed forever. I was hurting and not in the mood to be sociable when the notification “Sarah Zinia has sent you a friend request” popped up on Facebook.
My initial thought was to ignore it.
However, I decided not to use my own pain as an excuse. I remembered, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” and decided to apply that reasoning to this circumstance.
I clicked “accept” not knowing what to expect.
I was not kept in suspense.
Immediately thereafter a message “hey” came from this mysterious new friend. So, still fighting the urge to ignore and deciding to apply the Golden Rule again, I said “hey” in reply. We exchanged our “how are you’s” and that marked the beginning of a very special friendship between two very different people.
Sarah, I would soon learn, was in dead end of a town, living in a group home, a mother to a one month old baby Anthony, and had no car or public transportation. It was obvious she was very bored, and I knew that if I were in her shoes I would want to get out a little. So, in a moment of impulse, I offered to take her somewhere and she enthusiastically accepted.
After a first meeting (and being a good Mennonite by too carefully explaining my platonic intent) we were regularly going out to eat, hiking trails, visiting parks and even shopping! She didn’t seem to care that I was a mildly miserable guy in his mid-thirties, she was simply glad to have a friend.
Our conversations were light at first, usually about the food we ate or the weather, but soon I was learning about the struggles of a teenage single mother and life from the perspective of a refugee from Africa. Her story touched my heart and made my life seem like a walk in the park by comparison.
Sarah was pulled away from her home country, taken from her mother (who she has lost all contact with) in a new strange country, raised by the state system, treated as a slave and bullied. I can’t go into details out of respect for her privacy and yet can assure you that she has gone through many awful experiences in her life.
Mennonites, like many others who are so privileged, take for granted the security that a family provides for them. Sarah, by contrast, has been separated from her family and has been a half step from homelessness. Yeah, sure, there are many government programs and private organizations to help, but none of that can replace family. She needed real family and that is why she decided to accept me as her brother from another mother.
I treated her with respect. She did not need to ask, it was easy to recognize the void in her life and that she needed someone she could trust to be there for her no matter what. I tried to help her with her insecurities by assuring her that she would have a place to live even if I needed to give her my home and move back to my parent’s house.
The friendship we have is impossible by a conservative Mennonite standard. I’ve had various people in the church express their ‘concern’ to me. Apparently, in their minds, a guy and girl can’t spend time together without bad things happening? And then there were those who advised me to practice some ‘tough love’ and cut her off when she went against my advice and moved back to Arizona.
But I stopped caring what other people thought. I trusted my heart and knew my intentions were right. Sarah might be a net loss for my bank account, I’ve had to answer those late night calls, tune out a screaming baby (who had been perfectly delightful until alone with us in the car) and yet it was well worth it. The moments of laughter, the happy and sad tears, seeing her progress—priceless.
She made my life meaningful again. I probably needed her as much or more than she needed me. She gave me a reason to care enough to get out of bed and her success has become my own. Witnessing her accomplishments over the past couple years has encouraged me not to lose hope because the odds are against me.
Sarah has a positive outlook despite all the evil she’s endured—she still smiles with a big goofy grin and that brightens my day…
Helping my little lost sheep find God’s love again…
Last year I met another dear soul through social media. I will never forget the first message where she apologized because she felt unworthy to be my friend. She was a poor little lost sheep, shivering in the cold dark world, a nameless number to the machinery of capitalism, and had lost all hope.
Her family and her young son were far away in the Philippines. She was working to support her son, and (because the wage was a little better than in her home country) she was pressured to take a three year contract in an electronics factory in Tiawan. She lived in a dormitory with strangers. Her life had fallen apart.
After her first message my heart ached with compassion. I tried to convince her that she was indeed worthy to be my friend and assured that I would be there for her as long as she needed me. But her descent from dreams of a simple happy life to the pit of despair was not overnight and restoration of hope would also take time.
Despite being on complete opposite ends of the planet (exactly twelve hours apart) we had the same schedule because she was on night shift. So it worked out that every day she could be the first person I would greet and the last one I would talk to before going to bed.
There were many times early on where she would come away from work forlorn. I would see the sad puppy sticker come across on Messenger and that was my signal to put everything down to get to the bottom of what was troubling her. My mission was not accomplished until she smiled.
One day she asked me if it was okay if she called me “bhest” and, not seeing a reason why not, I granted permission. Since then I’ve been her bhest and tried to live up to that special distinction. My bhest has looked to me for assurance, for forgiveness when she made mistakes, and has privileged me with her faithful companionship.
The sad puppy sticker has not made an appearance for quite some time now. Our daily reminders to each other to smile and be happy seem to create a sort of synergy or positive feedback loop. It seems that we get more out than we put in. We might be on complete opposite ends of the globe, but somehow we are twins and share one heart.
She has transformed from a sad puppy to a bouncy dancing and happy puppy—that is a great source of happiness for me. It is my goal to continue to provide her with hope of that simple and happy life as long as I am able.
And, for the first time in my life, following her lead, I’ve started to call someone “bhest” and that makes me smile…
Anyhow, what does nuclear fusion have in common with a sister, a sheep, and the love I seek?
Nuclear fusion is a process in which two (or more) different atoms are pushed together with enough force that they overcome the forces that would normally keep them apart and they become one. The result is a release of energy and particles. Nuclear fusion is the process occuring in stars (like our sun) that continuously converts hydrogen atoms into helium and creates light.
There is research underway to replicate the conditions necessary for nuclear fusion to occur. The reason for the effort is the tremendous potential for nuclear fusion to be a renewable and clean energy source. Once the reaction was started (using a tremendous amount of energy) it would create far more energy than was used to start it and solve many problems of how to power our future.
My vision is for a love like nuclear fusion. A love that takes two very different people who are not naturally attracted and bonds them together through a faith greater than the differences. The idea would be a composite of two people of like faith with normally incompatible strengths and ambitions who are held together through a supernatural love.
That is why I set out a few years ago praying for the impossible to be made possible. It was my hope to see this fusion of very different people who transcended their own independent dreams, sacrifice themselves completely (rather than find someone like themselves) and became bonded in a faith greater than themselves. I had a vision of a tremendous potential yield.
And, I suppose, I may have gotten part way there. I’ve seen people as different as black and white become family. I’ve also found a love that can literally reach around the globe, and bridge east to west. I’ve seen relationships that produce a synergy and seemingly more output than the energy put in.
But what remains to be seen and impossible?
I have yet to see a good Mennonite from the in-group make a commitment of love to someone outside their exclusive club. Yes, I’ve seen them love a good project, I’ve seen them budge when hammered and make small concessions.
But, for these good religious people to truly reach for faith in something beyond their own comprehension and current abilities?
That, like nuclear fusion, remains out of reach (at least for this man) and impossible.
So what is my positive vision for love?
I asked God to make the impossible possible, and when I asked, I was seeking after that greater love—the fusion love of faith. And, I’m not sure I’ve arrived at an answer yet. I have many questions.
However, what I do know is that I have been changed over the past few years and now things that were impossible are closer to reality for me. I have lived to be an answer to prayer even while my prayers seem to have gone unanswered. I’m determined to help others see their own visions of a greater life become their reality.
The picture above is my family. Not a family caused by biology or religious culture either, but one formed of obedience to conscience and love. Do you share my vision for a transcendent love?
One may think from the news coverage that Christians are out, torches and pitchforks in hand, looking for coffee shops to burn. The story is that Starbucks isn’t exploiting Christmas enough and this lack of proper capitalization for a profit of holiday has offended the sentiments of the unwashed religionist hoards.
This fury seems to have originated with a humorous poke at a bland Starbucks holiday cup design. It was escalated by a fuddy-duddy blowhard extraordinaire (aka Joshua Feuerstein) who, apparently not seeing the joke, posted a video that urged a movement to trick hapless minions of secularism (aka Starbucks employees) into saying Merry Christmas.
And, since then—like that bar fight where nobody knows which drunken idiot started it or why they are fighting to begin with—the story of angry Christians has exploded into a media fiasco. But strangely the two main characters in this brawl do not seem to exist as much more than mythological creatures and that has led some to wonder if the whole ordeal is a fabrication.
Where are these offended Christians?
In my cadre of conservative Christian social media commentating friends, I have yet to see one who is offended by the Starbucks design. In fact, of my coreligionist friends voicing an opinion, I have observed two main camps:
1) The Apologists, or those annoyed by other Christians who are offended by Starbucks cups and have taken to social media to scold these theoretical entitlement-minded embarrassments to the Christian cause.
2) The Sanctimonious, or those who are suspicious that this controversy is created by the liberal irreligious media and take their high horse to condemn those annoyed as being pawns in this imagined nefarious plot.
Then there’s one last group made of non-religious friends:
3) The Amused, or those who watch with a little gleefulness, are not overly suspicious of the media and have little trouble imagining Christians that feel they are entitled to special treatment or would become outraged over something as silly as Starbucks cup.
My own opinion is that the whole thing has gotten blown out of proportion. It has likely only gained traction because we are already accustomed to the cultural wars that take place over issues similar to this. There is usually a skirmish or two this time of year (whether arguing for and against nativity scenes or some other cultural expressions of Christianity) and this has primed our pumps to expect it.
I also do contend, again, that Joshua Feuerstein represents a small segment of the general Christian population. There’s always those who are perpetually offended on behalf of their own tribe (look at the Halloween costume controversy at Yale and the chaos at Mizzou as examples) and yet whether or not these outspoken activists represent much more than themselves is an open question. My own anecdotal evidence suggests that those outraged by the cups are, at the most, a fringe element even amongst fundamentalists.
What’s with the media coverage, anyhow?
If one wants to study the interplay of the media echo chamber and social media viral phenomena they should start here. There seems to be a positive feedback loop at work in this where a one-man movement on YouTube, picked up by the mainstream media, was then sifted through the amplifier of social media and each step promoting more to add their own opinions. This has gone through several cycles of growing in magnitude. Even Donald Trump weighed in suggesting a boycott of the mermaid logo brand.
I do not think this is a media reporting this ‘controversy’ is a coordinated attempt to discredit Christians. Professional journalists are not any different from the rest of us and will report on what is the latest buzz as we do. In the age of social media the feedback loop is faster and the amplification quicker than ever. By the time people start breathing again, we all feel a bit duped and start to wonder how the insanity got started.
Newsflash: All news is manufactured!
And, furthermore, we all participate in manufacturing news when we share about events that interest us. We present a product of our own perspective whenever we tell other people about anything. As a professional news reporter, we also select the facts we believe are relevant and omit those that seem inconsequential. We carefully craft our words to reach our target audience and create a narrative based in our own worldview.
The adage “if it bleeds it leads” holds generally true. We are drawn to controversy and this latest fracas over Starbucks cups has struck a cord or we wouldn’t be talking about it. There are evidently enough perpetually outraged Christians like Feuerstein to make a premise of widespread butthurt believable. He may be a crude caricature of us, but there’s a reason that he’s not taken as parody and that’s likely because he’s representative of a type of person we know does exist.
My decaffeinated analysis of the issue…
Yet, the bigger story is that most people (Christian and secular alike) are seemingly more offended by the controversy itself than the plain red cups that started it. So maybe we should be careful not to get too carried away in our own outrage over the outrage that may or may not be an outrage at all. There are plenty of people sharing dumb opinions (Bill Nye on abortion for example) and this is probably a good reason to reserve judgment until the facts are spoken.
Anyhow, for the record, the only problem I have with Starbucks is the inferior quality of their brackish liquid. I prefer my coffee with milk, sugar, in a Dunkin Donuts cup and agnostic. If that offends you, then please, by all means, do complain and start a movement or something—I will sip away amused as my blog views climb.
“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)