On Finding Our Foundation

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,

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
16 comments
  1. Oh, Beth. How much I love and admire you … have for years! You have hit at the core of what God wants from us. He wants us to love no one above him — no megachurch, no sports heroes, no political party. Just Him. Then, there is the rightful order after him … family, neighbors … self last.

    As a newshound, I have been fascinated by this presidential election. It has been the perfect storm of data gathering, branding and appealing to the base fears of people. Each candidate has approached it differently based on his/her own core values.

    For years, I have found it difficult to select elected candidates (at most levels) in our country. No single party represents me as a Christ follower. God wants me to moral and upright and to follow Jesus’ example as he walked on this earth. But that example means I also extend grace and mercy to people who make others uncomfortable. That I hang out with people who seem “unlovely” or “uncool.”

    That while I am pro-life, I must extend love and grace to the mother facing the unplanned pregnancy — even welcoming her to stay in my home (which I have done when her pastor father kicked her out).

    Yep, the foundations are shaking, Beth. They have been for centuries. We are here for a brief moment only to experience the ride. Like you, I choose to take that ride with God. It’s the only ticket I want punched.

  2. Thank you for this. Love always wins.

  3. Well said, Beth. I think this exploration is one which many feel, perhaps many times throughout their lives, and especially now. Thanks for sharing

  4. I have nothing to add. I say this all the time. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. And Jesus so clearly illustrated just who our neighbors are. All else falls right into place.
    You are a blessing, Beth.

  5. Google “Hope Shifting”

  6. I built some of my foundation on my belief in education. When I went into teaching 23 years ago, it was safe to assume that things in American education would improve: my education was better than that of my parents, theirs was better than that of my grandparents, etc. Well, guess what? I feel the collapse of American education led to the rise in Trump-ism.

    As for the Church, I wasn’t brought up on it. But I can’t help noticing that there’s as much communion at Whiskey Wednesday at a local pub as in any church I’ve attended. “Whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name…”. And apparently Jesus knows where the good bourbon is.

  7. I love you, I love you, I LOVE you! I feel like you pulled this post straight from my heart. Unmoored, untethered. These are the words I use to describe myself today. I have recently lost my church in a very hurtful and dramatic way because I choose Love for all over any religious dogma. Like you, my faith in our country, our people, our ideals have all been shaken by this Trump thing. So, I find myself standing on shaking, quaking ground with you. But, it is going to be ok because I know I am not alone, and because LOVE. It will always, always be stronger. Thank you for continually speaking my heart thoughts. I really do love you!

    1. Standing there on the shaking, quaking ground with you as well. I, too, just lost the church I loved in a very hurtful way. I’m still losing it, in some ways. I haven’t lost the people who matter, though. (They ALL mattered, but the ones who have walked beside me for years are still walking with me. That doesn’t make it easier when I know that misconceptions are being spread about me.)

      One of the things said is that my God is too loving. To which I can only say, if I could not rest in the peace of knowing GOD = LOVE always, always, always…I would never have the strength to stand on the shaking ground.

  8. It can be so hard to realize that the world and the people in it and everything you always believed to be immutable fact just… isn’t.

    I was raised in a Quiverfull cult in Texas. I was the eldest of 9 children. We were almost completely isolated from the world for most of our lives, despite living in an urban south Dallas suburb.

    The bio’rents (TM) were the beginning and the end of everything. It was “The Universe as Defined by Us, All channels, all the time.”.

    Everything they told us came straight from the mouth of GOD HIMSELF. They would constantly remind us that since GOD gave us to them, ANYTHING they subsequently did could automatically be taken as HIS will. Even if they killed us, we would have to submit quietly and trust in his PLAN carried out through them.

    “ANYTHING” covered a LOT of shit. It included screaming at us, beating us, terrorizing us, molesting us – and as far as we knew, that was how the whole WORLD worked. It was the PLAN.

    The sole comfort we had to cling to was at least we were GODS CHOSEN and when everyone else went to hell we would be fine, because we were so much BETTER than anyone else.

    I finally escaped when I was 23 – almost 19 years ago now. I lost my baby siblings (who, as it turned out, were my REAL foundation – learning to be something OTHER than a surrogate mother to a bunch of little ones was the hardest thing I ever had to do.)

    Finding out the world didn’t revolve around the length of my hair (down to my knees) the length of my skirts and petticoats (yes I said petticoats), the height of my collar (buttoned to the chin), the expression on my face (always smiling and serene) and how much of the King James New Testament I could memorize (as it turns out, a helluva lot) was a… revelation.

    Breaking free of what you have been conditioned to believe is never easy. You forge onward with grace and kindness, never losing sight of the one thing that is ACTUALLY important, Beth, and even though I don’t share your faith, I wholeheartedly love how you live it. <3 <3

    1. I am so sorry that this happened to you. In the bible we see that the evil one knows scripture and uses it for his purposes. I think this happens in a lot of cases where religion is hurtful. And certainly has nothing at all to do with LOVE.

      Wishing you peace. And LOVE.

      1. Thanks so much for the sweet comment, Cathie!

        It took me a while, but I’m finally at the point where the mere mention of religion / Christianity doesn’t make me bare my teeth – and Beth has had a lot to do with that, thanks to her openness and her example. I still think religion’s a crock, y’all are all slightly mental, and I’d be just as well off believing in the tooth fairy, but I’ve managed to let go of a lot of the instinctive rage against faith as a concept 😀

        People who believe in LOVE are the best, and everyone who comments on this blog certainly seems to qualify!! <3

        1. Dear Grace,
          I first read this a couple days ago but couldn’t type back at the time because the baby had just fallen asleep on my arm! Since then you’ve been on my mind and in my prayers (sorry if that part makes you cringe) a lot. Like Cathie, I am so sorry for what your bio parents put you and your siblings through. I know that isn’t how God intended Himself to be shown, and I believe He gets angry when people treat precious little ones so horribly. I’m glad you have broken free. How strong and courageous you must be! You and Beth and the other commenters are right–LOVE WINS, and I’m really grateful for this blog as a wonderful reminder of that.

          May peace and healing envelop you! **gentle hugs if you want them**

          P.S. Still giggling over “y’all are slightly mental” and the tooth fairy bit. You cracked me up. And I will readily admit to being more than slightly mental. 😉

          1. You’re so kind to comment, Sarah! (That’s my first name, BTW – Grace is my middle name which I use as given.)

            Good thoughts, prayers, vibes and other forms of woo are always appreciated 😉 It doesn’t bother me a bit, I understand the dsentiment and know it comes form a place of kindness <3

            (In turn, I'll make a sacrifice to the rainbow unicorn and invoke Jibbers Crabst in your honor!! 😉 )

  9. Thank you. I’m scared, terrified, anxious, unsure of the world or my foundations – including God, at times, at the moment, and trying to work it all out with a baby and a toddler. It’s oh so hard, and pretty new territory for me – never done the anxious panicky thing before, that’s fun! – and it’s wonderful to hear others in a similar place still putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to give in to the despair. Because we do have Love, and if that’s not enough, nothing will be. Your posts have frequently been very prescient and are always beautiful, so thanks, and keep on doing you cos it’s fab!

  10. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and when I get too anxious or worried, I remember the lyrics from Show The Way, by David Wilcox:
    In this scene set in shadows
    Like the night is here to stay
    There is evil cast around us
    But it’s love that wrote the play
    For in this darkness love can show the way

    So now the stage is set
    Feel you own heart beating in your chest
    This life’s not over yet
    So we get up on our feet and do our best

    We play against the fear
    We play against the reasons not to try
    We’re playing for the tears
    Burning in the happy angel’s eyes, for it’s

    Love who makes the mortar
    And it’s love who stacked these stones
    And it’s love who made the stage here
    Although it looks like like we’re alone

  11. There is no better foundation than Love. “For God so loved the world…” It’s where it all started.

    Thanks for the beautiful post. Xoxo

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