In an earlier post, I flagged a point which I want to unpack a bit: having no good options. And the reason I want to dig into that is that’s how we live. We have no good choices. No matter what we do, we are in some way, contributing to the problem.
What problem? Pick one. (If you think there are no problems and everything is just peachy, please let me know what medication you are on.) Racism, climate change, rape culture, economic injustice, violence, political corruption… whatever you look at, it’s getting worse and we are all – you, me and everyone we know – making it worse.
I got on this because of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was faced with choosing between being involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler or not. Conspiring to murder someone is a grave sin – doing nothing while people are being murdered is also a sin. Bonhoeffer made a choice – Gandhi might have made a different one – and then he followed through until the platform on the gallows dropped out. And that is the best we can do.
And that is enough.
I think about climate change. Actually, I think about the environment. Some libertarian I used to know asked me once if I really believed that climate change was caused by humans. I said yes, because I’m not an idiot, and added that I was an environmentalist before climate change became the massive issue it is. I don’t actually need climate change to be opposed to anything that damages the environment. But I am clearly, blatantly, obviously and knowingly doing things that harm the environment and contribute to climate change. I drive. My vehicle – ’92 GMC Sonoma – is not as bad as some machines, but it ain’t great. I have solar panels on my roof, but I’m also pulling from the grid. I shop as much as possible at thrift stores – which is a form of recycling – so I’m not actively contributing to the produce/consume paradigm, but I’m not totally free of it. The only way I can stop participating in the degradation of the environment is to go out to the Nat’l Forest, die and become compost – but then I’d be abdicating my responsibility to make things better, which as a Christian, I am instructed to do. No win.
When I was a kid, I thought I was supposed to be good. I thought my behavior was a significant factor in whether or not I would win God’s love and get a spot in Heaven. I was constantly appalled, ashamed and addled by anxiety about my absolute inability to maintain even the barest morality. I was shoplifting, smoking cigarettes, committing random vandalism and lying my ass off when I was in second grade – worse behavior came later. At sixteen, I just gave up. I couldn’t continue as I was and I couldn’t be good, so I just accepted that I was not going to go to Heaven and got shitfaced.
My understanding has changed. I’m sure that the Brethren church of my childhood taught grace, but I didn’t understand it. Now I’m a Lutheran, and the concept of grace is something I can get my head around. I’ve been clean and sober for 21+ years, and I know I didn’t earn that. I did some stuff to get sober and I do some stuff to stay sober, but I am very aware that I am not able to do it without help. My experience has shown me that the more I lean on God, the better my life gets. And the huge material improvements are the least important.
I watched a documentary about eccentrics – people who live different – and it covered some guy who stopped using money. For decades, this guy has lived in caves in Utah, scavenging and dumpstering, and not using money. He seemed pretty happy. I was thinking about doing it myself – though not in Utah. Virginia has plenty of Nat’l Forest and I’m not completely ignorant about scavenging and dumpstering. I’d definitely want to begin in the spring – to give myself a bit of time to get shit together – but I could do that. And it doesn’t seem horrible. I certainly have forest hermit on my list of retirement options. But not yet. At present, I do very much enjoy the house and the little red truck and the comforts of being a member of society.
I got a second cat. I wanted the first one – Orange Boy, Herr Katzekopf – to have a friend. The second one showed up yesterday, and they’ve been circling each other and snarling and acting like they’re almost ready to fight since. Eventually, they’ll settle down, and become playmates. My house is cold in the winter, because I don’t turn the heat up more than I have to – so they’ll prob’ly resort to cuddling to stay warm, and that’ll be totes adorbs. This paragraph is a digression, but it’s also an example of how I live, pretty happily, in my house while following a Savior who had no place to lay His head.
While I was out, picking up the new cat, I saw a bumpersticker:
I actually believe that. I actually believe all the stuff Jesus said about not having possessions, not planning for tomorrow, sharing everything and being cool with it. I actually believe that people in the Stone Age – which was 99% of human existence on this planet – were living as God intended people to live and that’s why He didn’t start giving instructions until the rise of civilization. Mull on that. God didn’t start interfering until people started living in cities with hierarchal structures because He didn’t see any reason to. (An atheist would say people didn’t invent the idea of God until leaders needed a means to control the masses, but fuck a buncha atheists.)
1 Samuel 10 – God told us not to have hierarchal societies. We didn’t listen, so Trump is president. Paul said to obey the government, but he just meant there’s little point in getting arrested if you can avoid it. Paul also disobeyed the government and got arrested, so he musta felt like there were situations in which that was the least wrong thing to do.
Conspiracy to commit murder might, in some situations, seem like the least wrong thing to do. Notice I’m circling back to Bonhoeffer. I think he was right – you commit to a course of action, trusting that God’s grace will cover you even if you’re flat out fucking wrong, and then you see it through. If you get your neck snapped in a Nazi prison camp, well, that’s that. We are, after all, following a homeless guy who got crucified. And He did tell us that we should take up our crosses.
I’m not trying to get hanged today. Shit, I’m not trying to get off the sofa today. I am one lazy son of a biscuit eater. But I do have that awareness. I do know, and I have accepted, that following Christ might mean that. It is my expectation that the shelter will open in a few weeks and I’ll go back to hanging out with meth addicts and drunks and calling that “work”. I’ll finish up the gen eds I lack for my Bachelors degree and start seminary next year. I’ll plod through until I get my Masters and the ELCA adds me to the roster and then I’ll do something ministerly – I don’t know what yet. And I will continue to do less than I could to make the world a better place. I’ll continue to commit sins, even when it isn’t necessary. Or maybe something else will happen.
In any event, I have nothing to worry about. Death can’t touch me. I’m not a slave to the sins I commit. By God’s grace, I can righteously fuck shit up, knowing that He won’t hold it against me. Heck, I can go around proclaiming the forgiveness of sins with the expectation that what I loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven. And I can own a Walther PPK, in case I need to Kill Hitler. Luther said “It is for freedom that Christ set us free”, though he said it in German, and I actually believe that, too. What else did Luther say? “Go forth and sin boldly, but more boldly still, trust in the mercy of Jesus Christ.” He also said some pretty awful shit about Jews and revolting peasants, but I ignore that.
Speaking of, I’ve been running a joke with a friend about starting an anti-capitalist Christian queercore band and Revolting Peasants would be a good name for that project.
We can’t avoid sin and we don’t have to. We must, if we’re going to even try to make any difference, be for some things and against others. We must engage in some sort of conflict. Even that guy living in the desert in Utah is working for some things and against others. How that plays out will depend on factors beyond our control and we don’t have to worry about it.
I wrote this for me. I wrote this because I do think the way we’re going can’t work. It sure does look like a lotta problems that have been simmering are coming to a boil. I do actually believe that the US of A is headed toward a change and it will most likely not be smooth and painless. I do actually agree with the Situationists that “un seul week-end non révolutionnaire est infiniment plus sanglant qu’un mois de révolution permanente”*. And I struggle with it. I need to remember that God’s grace covers my impure thoughts and minor deceptions – and that it will cover whatever illegal and potentially harmful revolutionary shenanigans I may get myself into.
We are in a catch-22. There will be riots no matter which doddering, rich, white, male wins the presidency next month. There will be poverty no matter how much or how little we take or give – capitalism demands that some be poor. There will be racism, sexism and LGBTQ-phobia no matter how woke we wake.
We have to be okay with it and oppose it. See Matthew 19:26.
*”A single nonrevolutionary weekend is infinitely more bloody than a month of permanent revolution.”