On Finding Our Foundation
May 12 2016
My foundations are a little shaky these days. A little crumbly and in need of shoring up. Or in need of discarding, maybe; in need of abandoning as foundations at all and building anew, since I feel like I’m mixing sand and mud into concrete as fast as I can and throwing the muddled mess at the foundations of my politics… and the foundations of my religion… and the foundations of my religious politics… and it’s not sticking like I’d hoped.
Yes; my foundations are a little shaky these days. A little crumbly and in need of reconsideration, because, I suspect, they were built on shifting ground. Or over moving water. Or smack dab on a sinkhole, and WHOOSH, one day the ground moved. Trembled. Dropped out from underneath me. So I wondered where I’d built my life and how to find stability. How to be sure of my footing. Where I might find a solid base.
It’s just… they seemed like such good foundations. America! The Church! They said such pretty things. And they meant well. I just know they did. I was told they were worthy of my trust, and they sure seemed to be. They worked so well for so long. Or they didn’t, but I didn’t notice because I believed what they said about themselves, which amounted to the same thing for me.
Give us your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you;
you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
Please understand I feel ridiculous saying this, but the whole Donald Trump thing had me feeling adrift and bewildered, a little hopeless and kind of unnerved, not to mention weary and wary and afraid. Not because of Mr. Trump himself, necessarily. Not really. Even Optimistic, Pollyanna, “Practice Gratitude” Me understands there are Trumps in this world who will make false promises, bully and belittle the marginalized, take advantage of people who are hurt and angry, and then use those emotions to rally vocal masses to spread hatred and exclusion as though those are solutions and not the Very Core of the Original Problem. Yes, I know there are people like Trump in this world and in our country; there always have been and always will be and they will try forever to find public footing and to be in fashion. So no, it’s not Trump himself who made me feel jittery and queasy and on edge. It’s the fact that I thought America was better than this. More open. More welcoming. More likely to Triumph over Terror than to buy into it. More interested in extending a hand than closing the golden door. More eager to seek solutions based on loving our neighbors as ourselves and more likely to understand, in the end, that everyone is our neighbor.
My foundations are a little shaky these days. A little crumbly and in need of shoring up. And I’m embarrassed to admit that one of my foundations was apparently the Way I Perceived America to Be. To be shaken by a Trump type, after all, makes this Uncomfortable Truth clear; I built a part of my life and a part of my understanding and a part of my world on the idea that America is on a constant, upward trajectory toward Inclusion and Equality and Justice for All — and that even the leaders I disagree with are at least well intentioned — instead of accepting and practicing my responsibility to Beckon the Huddled Masses and Practice Global Citizenship, to Welcome the Stranger and move us on that trajectory with whatever Small Engine I possess.
America as a Savior! America as a Redeemer! America as a Comforter and Healer, I thought. Maybe not consciously, but thought it, I did.
I was wrong.
In God we trust, we say, but it was America herself in whom I trusted.
Instead of Love.
And I was wrong.
Yes, my foundations are a little shaky these days. A little crumbly and in need of a fresh start. Everything is a jumble and a mix and a muddle, and I’ve had a little trouble knowing where, exactly, to plant my stakes and my feet. Turns out, it’s not politics or nationalism. That’s not the foundation. And it disappoints me to tell you as a Good Christian Girl it’s not the Church, either.
No, it’s not.
Sadly, the foundation isn’t the Church; though, as someone who loves Jesus, I once thought it was, and I idolized her in the manner I was taught. Worshiped the Church. Believed everything she told me, including that she should be my ultimate authority and I subject to her each and every whim, whether or not it matched what Love Incarnate had lived and breathed and etched on my heart.
The Church, though, is made of humans. And humans are made of mud and broken ribs and divinity and magic and mess. We are quick to anger and slow to forgive and unspeakably kind and generous. We are transcendent and terrible. Shaky and stable. As likely to be territorial and vicious as we are to be welcoming and warm, and God knows we’re unlikely to tell you truthfully which we’ll be on any given day since we don’t always know ourselves.
The Church, it turns out, is like a family. Some of us have great ones. Unbelievable! Wonderful! We couldn’t imagine life without them! And some of us have to escape horrific abuse. Most of us live somewhere in the middle where our churches and families are filled to the brim with people who mean well and don’t, who are charitable and cruel, sometimes simultaneously because they’re complex and complicated and unfathomable in method and motive, and beautiful and brutal, too.
And so the Church cannot be our foundation. It simply can’t. There are too many shifting tides and moving trajectories and muddy motives. Too much determining Who’s In and Who’s Out, as it’s always been for time immemorial. Too many endorsements of the Crusaders and the Trump types. Too much focus on yoga pants. Like any structure that wields power, we can participate in it; we can value beautiful bits and precious pieces; we can allow that it’s worthy of our time and investment because, when used well, it spreads compassion and kindness. And it’s still not foundational. Which means when it Screws Up Royally, it doesn’t need to shake us. Because our foundation comes from someplace deeper. Someplace stronger. Someplace less likely to pulse and sway and collapse with every tremor, every storm.
It’s true that my foundations have been a little shaky these days. A little crumbly and in need of reevaluation.
And the more I live with that, the more I think… isn’t this great, friends? ISN’T THIS FANTASTIC? To learn that our foundations are crumbly and broken? To learn in time to build someplace stronger? THIS IS WONDERFUL. This is AMAZING. That we have this chance to discard the chaff and grasp the wheat; to let go of what does us No Good and find Sustenance.
We get to dig deeper. We get to find truer truth. We get to suss out what Makes Us Real like the Velveteen Rabbit before us. We get to look for Kindness, and learn Gentleness, and seek Faithfulness, and practice Patience (which is the worst), and learn to our bones that, at the end, these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love. But, friends, the greatest of these is love. The greatest of these is Love.
This is our foundation. That we love each other. Deeply. Wildly. Wonderfully. Well. Love made flesh and dwelling, still, among us.
I am neither leaving America nor the Church. I am simply recognizing they are no longer my foundations. They are no longer my sources. They are no longer my idols, worthy of worship or blinding loyalty, and I will push them and question them and challenge them as such, standing on a firmer, deeper, broader foundation which is all that’s left when the other foundations fall.
My foundation is Love. My foundation is in the God who goes by the same name. My foundation is in loving my neighbors as myself, and recognizing that everyone is my neighbor. My foundation lies in sitting in the mud. My foundation lies in living honestly. My foundation lies in waving in the dark. And in holding hands when we’re lost and alone and cold and afraid. And my foundation lies in waiting for the dawn with you. Waiting, always, for the dawn which is coming which is the same to me as Love itself.
Sending love to you, friends, from the new foundation, firmer and free,