Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My hope returns: A letter to Karl

I've been pretty sick the past couple of days. Caught a stomach bug and have a terrific headache but this morning, despite the pain in my body, my heart is light. My four year old son found me crying as I watched Obama's victory speech on YouTube. With his sweet little voice he asked, "Did Barack Obama win?" I answered him "Yes, what do you think?" "Good!" was his response.

It is indeed good. I wrote a letter this morning to my dear friend, Karl, expressing my feelings of last night and this morning. I do not think he will mind if I share it here. With some minor editing for the sake of privacy, my letter follows:


I told my children this morning that Obama won the election. My daughter squealed, "He did?! He did?!" and she jumped up and ran around in celebration. My eleven year old son said, "I am so proud of that guy!"

Last night I lay on the couch as the results came in, occasionally dozing as the pundits droned on. But I was awake when they called the election and I watched the crowds, thousands of people, screaming, and weeping with joy and relief. I saw Jesse Jackson standing there silently with tears streaming down his face. I cried too. But it wasn't until I went into the bathroom to get some tissue to blow my nose that it hit me hard. I looked in the mirror and saw my face, tear-streaked and pale, my hair all awry and thought, very selfishly, how hard these past eight years have been on me and my family. How we lost so much. How our access to health care was eroded and how our kids suffered for that. I thought of how we had to scrape by on beans and rice at several low points. How we accumulated outrageous debt just to pay for our medical bills, groceries and educations but couldn't find decent jobs to pay those bills. I thought of how we lost our home. Most devastatingly, we lost our hope. The nightmare years of my depression coincided with the nightmare years of Bush's administration. I was furious at the hopelessness of the world my children were inheriting and I felt my impotence keenly. It was all just so insane.

So when I looked in the mirror and saw an older face, a more tired and lined face there, I was thinking that maybe now it is over. Maybe now it is finally over and I can dare to hope again. And I kept thinking, I have my country back. I have my country back!

I think the spectacular and momentous reality that we have just elected a black man as president of the United States must be coupled with the reality that most of the people who voted for him were white. We voted for him not to prove a point that the nation was no longer a nation of racists. We didn't vote for him to show how far we've come since Dr. King spoke of reaching the mountaintop. We voted for him because we are weary of the politics of fear. Because all of us have suffered and we are tired of suffering. I know that Obama is a moderate and that I will likely be disappointed many times with his policies and politics. But that's OK. I just hope all the Democrats elected remember their liberal base and give us a way to live out our passion and calling. Let us finally use our gifts without being ridiculed, belittled, and dismissed. Let us serve in a way denied to us for so long. It has been too long.

So now the hard work begins in earnest.

From the blue state of New York to the blue state of Florida, I send you love.

Am I a Christian?

Am I a Christian? I honestly don't know. In the past months I've begun and abandoned multiple posts attempting to answer the question so today I'm just going to recount a story from my girlhood to see where it leads.

My father was a Congregationalist minister. His library was full of bibles and concordances, histories, philosophies, and theological treatises. As a teenager I took to pouring over some of these texts. I must have been reading a book that took a more skeptical approach to Christianity because I found myself in a conversation with my father about whether or not Jesus was real.

He told me that the first thing they told him at seminary was that there was insufficient evidence to indicate the historical reality of Jesus and that even if he did exist, it was almost certainly not in the form now familiar to us through tradition. I remember he used the phrase, "they pulled the rug out from underneath us." Why would they do that, I wondered?

He told me that it was to help the students, who had committed themselves to a life of Christian service, find what they really believed beyond the literalistic idolatry of fundamentalist belief. My father, who always said that doubt was as important as faith, said that a literalistic faith is weak. Because it demands a literal truth, it is easily destroyed by evidence to the contrary. And then he told me that in the end, it did not matter to him whether or not Christ ever lived. The story and the Truth it contained was enough. It is enough to believe that Tenderness, Joy, Mercy, Humility, Passion, and Peace will save the world.

So what if Jesus did not exist? Or what if he did live and teach but his message was not so uncompromisingly beautiful? What if it was all just a hopeful story dreamed up by his sorrowing people long after his death? Dad said it just didn't matter. He said the hope in that story was worth living.

Since that conversation there have been many injuries and disappointments for us within the Church. We came to find in our Protestant tradition a dysfunctional home in which too often a literalist interpretation of the bible led people toward arrogance, intolerance, and even hatred- all in the name of Christ. Twenty years after that conversation, neither Dad nor I call ourselves Christian. I call myself a Pagan and he calls himself an atheist, but when we talk about love, and justice, and joy, the word we most often use to mean all those things is still "Christ-like."

And we still believe.