Transformation Through Cultural Conflict

Washington DC.jpeg

I've been spending time in Virginia and DC for the past 10 days with my family. We started by visiting Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown - all historically significant places to what would eventually become the USA.

After a few days in Virginia Beach for a working conference, we've been in Washington DC this week, staying just north of the National Mall, visiting all the historical sites, monuments, and touring the US Capitol + White House.

I've been struck how DC is just like any other large city in the US today. That is, super diverse ethnically & economically, young, gentrified, and kinda hip. There's both a Shake Shack and Blue Bottle Coffee within a few blocks of where we're staying which are sort of the pinnacle of urban, millennial, gentrified neighborhood retail economics.

I keep asking myself some variation on these questions: Where is God in this city? How can I pay attention to the Divine in the people and places all around me? Does God really favor one people group - or country - over another (uh, no.)?

I've been struck by the humility and awe that has welled up within me learning more about the complicated mixture of racism, abusive religion, narcissism, and work ethic that have built our country. I'm not sure how one can study history and take away that "God is on our side." God is generally on the side of the underdog (news alert: entitled, resentful, wealthy white men are NOT the underdog).

I've been struck by how much I wish our current President would learn some of our basic histories. That we're a country of immigrants, that has ALWAYS made room for more. That we're known by our generosity toward those that don't have enough, rather than our hoarding by those who already have enough.

I don't mean to minimize the real economic and emotional pain rural, white America has felt over the past few decades as the economies of our urban centers have exploded, while our small towns have suffered. I simply believe there are ways to fix these problems without demonizing immigrants and people of color as the originators of a lagging, rural economy. The scapegoating of these people groups that are "different" from us, that is so prevalent from our Far Right friends, is frustrating and simply wrong. There are ways to solve our economic problems without demonizing those who look, behave, love, and worship differently than I do.

I've also been stuck by the diversity of this city - from the Latino workers all around, to the Syrian Lyft drivers, to the African immigrants. We're stronger together when we make room for those who need a home, especially those who work hard and want to contribute to our broader society. We're richer by learning from these new friends. We're more full when we learn to enjoy their traditional foods, and when we share table space with them. We're wealthier when we let them pay into the system. Our politics even come together when we let these historically conservative people groups into our public life. Did you know that most Latino culture is traditionally conservative and Catholic?

It continues to baffle me that so many middle-class, white Americans are so resentful of immigrants coming into this country. That they've so easily bought into the lie that if they are hurting economically, then it must be the fault of the most economically vulnerable among us, rather than those who are hoarding the resources at the top. It baffles me every day. It speaks to the power of fear and manipulation in our politics, and how easy it is to exploit those who are hurting for the benefit of the wealthiest among us.

Also, if our elected officials wanted real solutions to our problems at the Southern Border, they could pass comprehensive immigration reform today. There was a bi-partisan bill produced back in 2013 that had support from prominent Republicans AND Democrats - so let's do that. Bills like this exude compromise, which is what politics are all about.

There are ways to solve these problems. There simply hasn't been the WILL to solve them in a way that benefits everyone.

I don't' know how to solve these problems around immigration on my own, but I do know that we have so many bright, hard-working, good faith folks among us that can create solutions that will benefit everyone, if only we allow these folks to do their jobs. Generally speaking, I want my political representatives to be remarkably more intelligent than I am. I want to aspire to their ideals. I want them to challenge me to be more generous, more faith-filled, and more hopeful than I currently am.

It's easy to be resentful.
It's so much harder to be hopeful.

So, today I choose hope, knowing that our system is imperfect.

But also knowing that if we work together in good faith, and believe the best about each other (rather than be suspicious of each other) we can find solutions to our deepest conflicts and most persistent problems.

I've loved being in this city this week. It helps me see the scale of our differences, which is much smaller than the talking heads and politicos would have you think.

We're all in this together.
We're so much more alike than we are different.
When we choose to believe the best about each other and see that we all want similar things out of life, that's when we can accomplish the most.

So choose life today.
Turn your back on resentment and cynicism.

Choose hope today.
Turn away from prejudice and despair.

And turn off the talking heads and politicos.
Because they all have an agenda to influence your behaviors and attitudes, which often doesn't serve you well.

Lose your mind, as Wendell Berry says in his famous Mad Farmer poem - so that you can find it, outside of the mainstream of thinking.

Let's fix our problems, together.

God is in the middle of our conflicts, if only we choose the path of transformation in the face of differences. It is in the middle of that path where God's Spirit will transform our hearts, renew our minds, and draw us closer to each other, and to God.

Let's do that.

May it be so.