Essay

Dust and New Clothes

By November 10, 2016 15 Comments
Listen To Article

by Steven Rodriguez

What can I say after this election? So many people are already saying so many things, which makes me hesitant to add to the noise.

I’m weary, words feel weary, the world itself feels weary.Like the Gatherer at the end of Ecclesiastes, the world feels full of terrors, broken things, and dust. The sloganeering is as worn out as old bumper stickers on a Nalgene, and the cup we’re forced to drink tastes like the stale water sitting at the bottom of it. We are tempted, with Shakespeare’s Gloucester, to lament, “O ruin’d piece of nature! This great world / Shall so wear out to nought.”

Our political talk rubs the world raw, like the buttons on a broken car dashboard. We keep pushing them, but we don’t even know what they do anymore. Our political talk rubs the faces off of people, until they become masses of color pitted against each other. Our political talk beats words down, flattening them for crasser uses.Where once there was an ornate pruning hook, full of intricate detail, now there is a dented and soulless spear.

I sat staring at the election results late into the night on Tuesday, reflecting on how half of the country was voting for a man who has publicly put all Mexicans like me in the “rapists and criminals until proven otherwise” category. As someone who has experienced harassment and racial profiling from police, I wondered: what could happen now? I thought about Eisenhower’s mass deportation of Hispanics in the 1950s, and if it could happen again. I thought about the fact that as long as my children bear the last name “Rodriguez,” they will always be considered outsiders in this country. I sat and stared at the racism of the United States mapped out in primary colors.

I wondered: Is this a Bonhoeffer moment? Have we come to that point where the church has to go into full-on prophet mode? I wondered: Is this a Barth moment? As I tried to sleep, Barth’s words from the Barmen Declaration kept cutting into me, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.”

There is something to the Bonhoeffer moment, but my heart is in too much of a mess to say anything about it yet. There is something to the Barth moment, something we need to keep central.

But I wonder if there is a third moment worth trying. Maybe this is a time for a Gerard Manley Hopkins moment. Even though the world feels dusty, can we say, with him, that “for all this, nature is never spent”? It is still “charged with the grandeur of God.” Even as “the soil / Is bare now,” “the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Resist the decay of language. Witness to the enlivening breath of the Spirit. Resist the sanding down of reality. Carefully bend your spear back into a pruning hook. Attend to things in their particularity.

Every story you tell, every work of art, every careful observance into the inscape of things is an act of resistance against a culture that is desperately trying to suck up your identity into the meat grinder of us vs them. In Christ, there is no us vs. them. There is only God for us, God with us.

Resist binaries. Worship the Triune God. More people voted against a candidate they hated than for a candidate they loved. The two party system is the opposite of Christian unity. It is Manichean, dualistic, agonistic. It needs a dangerous, evil Other to justify its existence. We believe in one God, who created the world out of nothing. The world is a gift. There is no evil Other. There is only the sin in our hearts, a void that is swallowed up in victory by a bigger embrace, the enveloping cloud of the mystery of the Holy Spirit. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, who has torn down the dividing walls of hostility. Stand as the third between Egypt and Assyria. Resist polarization. Die, martyred, with a hand outstretched to both parties. Maybe one of the most faithful things we can do as a church is resist dichotomies, A and B, and declare instead that “Christ plays in ten thousand places.”

Take time to identify the beauty right in front of you. Stop identifying with your voting bloc, and start identifying with the hurting, scared, broken, sinful people around you. As I think about the horror of this election, and the very real possibility that I will experience new levels of racial discrimination, I also think about the beautiful elderly man in my congregation, lying on his deathbed, waiting for tomorrow, waiting for the end of his pain. I think about the way that old skin sags down over a human body, like a pile of rags. I pray for him, that like King Lear, he would find “in the heaviness of his sleep / We put fresh garments on him.” I pray that the empty void of his mortality would be clothed with the infinite grace of immortality.

As I think of his last days, I think of Emily Dickinson:

The World — feels Dusty
When We stop to Die —
We want the Dew — then —
Honors — taste dry —

Flags — vex a Dying face —
But the least Fan
Stirred by a friend’s Hand —
Cools — like the Rain —

Mine be the Ministry
When thy Thirst comes —

“Mine be the ministry.” Mine be the ministry when your thirst comes, and let me not give you the dregs of the world’s Nalgene, but offer you the living water of Jesus Christ. Mine be the ministry of reconciliation. Mine be the ministry of spiritual friendship, covenant faithfulness, and cruciform listening. Mine be the ministry of sitting with the dying, of paying attention to the slow growth of trees, of resurrecting old words. Mine be the ministry of trading colors for faces, data for stories, ideologies for gospel.

As the world wears out like a garment, put on Christ. Clothe yourselves with love.

Steven Rodriguez is a minister of the Reformed Church in America, serving as the pastor of Lakeview Community Church (RCA) in Greece, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @smarcorodriguez.

Steven Rodriguez

Steven Rodriguez pastors Lakeview Community Church in Greece, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @smarcorodriguez.

15 Comments

  • So much wisdom here. Thank you for writing.

  • debmechler says:

    There is noise, and there are also words. Thank you for your words today, written out of your pain.

  • Diana says:

    Profound thanks. I needed to read this today.

  • Abigail Norton says:

    Beautiful, thank you so much Steven.

  • Eric Barnes says:

    Thanks Steven.

  • Lisamare says:

    So much comfort in this, Steven. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  • The two party system isn’t the opposite of Christianity any more than two sports teams contending for victory is the opposite of Christianity. I know some Christians who want to stand aloof and separate and not get involved with the day to day fray, but it is through such day to day mundane involvement that we connect with the hurting, scared, broken, sinful people around us. I feel called by God to be involved. When you play a full contact sport everyone throws their passion into it. Passions run high. It is exhilarating and brings out excellence. Sometimes tempers run high. Sometimes there is even unsportsmanlike conduct, which can be ugly and is penalized – but does not stop the game. At the end everyone shakes hands and appreciates their opponent. Being a Christian is not about avoiding passionate participation.

    • Sharon Prinz says:

      I like your thoughts. I’m optimistic. We all have a choice to react or respond. I prefer responding & do what I can to fill a real need; a drink of water, a warm greeting, and being a good listener.

  • Please, what is Nalgene? There are no hits on Google unrelated to plastic, even when you exclude works like plastic, bottle, etc.

    • stevenmrodriguez says:

      Hello Christian,

      Sorry to confuse you with an obscure reference. A Nalgene is a kind of plastic bottle that was ubiquitous when I was in college a decade ago. I don’t know if they are still popular. I haven’t seen many around in a while. Anyway, I always hated the way that water tasted when it was kept in a Nalgene. It’s plasticky and gross. So yes, Google was right.

  • Karen Buck says:

    I love so much of this. But what do you mean by, “There is no evil Other. There is only the sin in our hearts…”? Do you not believe in Satan and the principalities of darkness?

    • stevenmrodriguez says:

      Karen, that’s a great question! Thanks for asking. My answer is a bit technical, but bear with me. I go with Augustine on this. Evil does not have being. Evil is nothing more than good things wrongly ordered. There is no evil Other because God created the world good, and there is nothing that God did not create. Even the most wicked people in the world do not cease to be created good. Because no one IS evil, and people only ACT evil, we can never demonize other people, writing them off as wholly evil. There is always hope for redemption. I still believe in sin (even total depravity!), judgment, powers and principalities. But I cannot believe in ontological evil. Otherwise there are two power/gods, one good, and one evil. That’s dualism, and it’s not Christian. Again, thanks for asking. I hope that helps.

Leave a Reply