I love trees. Growing up there was an oak tree on our property that was my multi-dimensional playground. Some days it was a pirate ship. Other days it was a rocket ship. And still other days it was my bunker for the heat of paintball battles.
I was in Northern California last weekend and visited the property where the dreams of my childhood unfolded. I saw that same tree and was brought into a brain process about roots and how they impact who we are and where we are going.
This is true at an individual level. Our roots - family of origin, socioeconomic status, race, class, and gender have a strong bearing on who we are today and where we are going.
This is also true at a national level. Our roots as individual pieces of a larger collective whole has an impact on who we are and where we are going as a nation.
The truth that many of us are afraid to admit is that the roots of our nation weren't always the prettiest. Now, before I keep going, let me put out this disclaimer: I am thankful to live in America, I enjoy religious freedom, safety, and security that would look different in other nations. I'm incredibly blessed. However, we need to own that the American legend that is taught to Elementary School students is, in many ways, an American Myth. A few quick hits: colonial genocide of Native Americans, the 3/5 compromise, and Native American boarding schools.
Native American boarding schools were established in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to educate Native American children and youths according to Euro-American standards. These boarding schools were first established by Christian missionaries of various denominations, who often started schools on reservations and founded boarding schools to provide opportunities for children who did not have schools nearby, especially in the lightly populated areas of the West. The government paid religious societies to provide education to Native American children on reservations.
Children were usually immersed in European-American culture through appearance changes with haircuts, were forbidden to speak their native languages, and traditional names were replaced by new European-American names (to both "civilize" and "Christianize"). The experience of the schools was often harsh, especially for the younger children who were separated from their families. In numerous ways, they were encouraged or forced to abandon their Native American identities and cultures. Investigations of the later twentieth century have revealed many documented cases of sexual, manual, physical and mental abuse occurring at such schools.
Those are just three examples of why the last year at a national level doesn't make sense to me. How can we make something great again that has only ever been "great" for a small percentage of white, land-owning, and (historically) slave-owning men?
Who is it great for?
And when is it great *again*?
Our roots will impact where we're going.
There are a lot of people saying "this is what Jesus followers need to do..." Some say live as active resistance, march in the streets, and fight systems of power. For others, they are declaring their excitement for these 4 years, rallying people to pray out of an obligation that God had something to do with appointing the leader of the free world, and their hope that this administration will be better than the prior.
Neither group is entirely right.
There are people of all races, classes, genders, sexual orientations, and traditional political party preferences on both sides of those distinctly different rallying cry statements.
In the recent election, 81% of white, evangelical people voted for Trump. The same percentage of minority, evangelical voters didn't vote for Trump.
We need to acknowledge that we have an identity crises on our hands. Our roots, in many ways, have led us to where we are now - a divided nation and a divided Church.
Walter Bruggemann says it this way: “The crisis in the U.S. Church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence”
People who are "Christian" by culture and not conviction might be the biggest problem facing Christianity today.
The question we need to ask is where are we going?
My invitation is that as citizens of the kingdom of God we need to listen first. Listen to people different than us. People of different races, genders, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, and traditional voting preferences. We need to listen well. Secondly, we need to be people that own our collective roots. Our shared history isn't pretty, and in many ways still isn't pretty. Thirdly we need to repent. Repentance isn't saying something differently, it's living differently.
We need to love our neighbor - the one next door and the one around the world - radically.
We need to love people that are different than us.
We need to spend the next four years (and the forty after that) celebrating and honoring the image of God in the person in front of us. We need to work for the flourishing of our neighbor.
Where will the roots we cultivate together lead us?