In J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, it is Thorin who offers young dwarves this bit of wisdom:
There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. . . You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.
After witnessing the buffoonery that took place in Washington D. C. this week, these words struck me fresh. Donald Trump went looking for a way to maintain his grip on power. Instead, he awakened a Leviathan and further diminished his power in the process. His coalition will not be the same.
I’m still not fully and completely sure what the events on Thursday mean, or what they will mean. But I do know these events are significant.
I’ve paid more attention to American politics this year than I ever have before. Most of my effort, in years past, has been spent studying politically theology, or the ways in which religious claims play themselves out within the human sphere, how they shape individuals within a society and the rules of governance that are then subsequently enacted and embodied by a people. I’ve thought a great deal about Christian truth claims and ecclesial identity, and how such claims (and how such an identity) can be reconciled with the idea of citizenship in a modern nation. It is not a straightforward matter.
I take solace in knowing these are not new questions. In Scripture, Paul invoked his Roman citizenship when it was to his advantage. He was also accused as a seditionist who proclaimed a king other than Casear. Augustine famously considered heavenly and earthly citizenship in The City of God, and Martin Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms wrestled with the tension that is so obviously present between citizenship in this world and citizenship in heaven.
Other examples include Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth’s theological convictions, which led them to oppose Nazism. Walter Rauschenbusch, an American theologian and Baptist minister, was a key figure in the social gospel movement in America, and Reinhold Neibuhr, a theologian who commented widely on the intersection of religion and politics, had and still has great influence among Mainline Christians. His books Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man continue to be important works. Martin Luther King, Jr., though he is often remembered in our national discourse as an activist and reformer, should also always be remembered first as a preacher. The civil rights movement was not only a political movement, but a religious awakening.
I’ll think we’ll be hearing about the events of January 6, 2021 for years to come. And I do not think that solutions to these problems will be easy in discerning or in enacting. America is geographically enormous, regionally diverse, and culturally pluralistic. It is also, at present, politically fractured and narrowly divided. Nevertheless, America is still one nation.
Joe Biden, in an address given Thursday, said, “The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.” He is wrong. The scenes at the Capitol do represent who we are. It may not represent all of who we are as a nation, but it does reflect a significant portion of the population, a constituency, that live in this one America. Thursday was a partial reflection of the national character.
And despite divisive rhetoric to the contrary, I will again emphasize there is one America. We do not always have to think the same or act the same to be one. We may not be united in all things, but we are one. Whatever the utopians among us might think, factionalism has always been present in our history—at least in degrees. Federalism, and the institutions that hold the American system together, are meant to mitigate dynamic tensions that emerge in any society, with human nature being what it is, as the Founders well understood.
We would do well, I think, to embrace the aspect of the American experiment that allows for difference—of thought, conviction, religious belief, etc. In other words, I think we should embrace freedom within a democratic order, including the freedom to disagree.
As a Christian who lives in America, and who loves this country, my task is simple and straightfoward. My task is to seek first the kingdom of God. Any other pursuit is idolatry.
In looking for that kingdom, and in seeking the will of God, I will ask for the grace needed to cultivate individual, personal virtue, and contribute my words, work, and witness to the life of a shared community, who represent an alternative politics—life together under God’s reign—within our world. I will pray that God, through the church, will glorify his name in all the earth, and that our shared way of life together, and our love for one another, might demonstrate an eternal way of being in this world and in the world to come, extending an invitation to all people to likewise walk in truth.
I’m reading Donald Worster’s A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir and C. J. Sansom’s Tombland. The more I read about John Muir the more I appreciate the man. I think Worster does a poor job of framing the various Christian influences that came to bear on Muir, including the Campbellite movement and Calvinism.
Thanks to Colby Jones for bringing the Shardlake mysteries to mind. I had read the first six novels in the series. Tombland is the seventh. And I’m loving it.
Sights and Sounds
I saw Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters, and spoofed a scene here. At home, the kids and I are entering the Marvel Universe. We’ve watched Iron Man and Thor. They liked both movies. I’m partial to Thor.
I’m watching season five of The Expanse on Amazon. There are several good characters on this show. My favorite is James Holden, with Bobbie Draper coming in second. I really enjoy science fiction.
As for music, I’ve enjoyed listening to John Scofield’s Swallow Tales.
Before I go, standard copy.
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That's the business.
Be well this week. Bless others.
P. S. - I took pictures in the sanctuary at First Methodist Downtown last Sunday. Above is an image from a panel that depicts the temptation of Jesus. Also on display, a very cut Jesus bursting forth from the tomb on resurrection Sunday, ready for business.