Yesterday the Michigan state senate Majority Leader opened the floor session with a prayer. He prayed for the seeking of unity, for people to work together, for legislators to look to God when people “get off track.”
After he said “Amen,” he immediately turned away from the microphone and toward the Lieutenant Governor, to whom he began doubling-down on statements he’d made earlier that week. At a private gathering of like-minded Michiganders, he was unknowingly recorded when he said that the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was a “hoax” and “staged,” that he wanted to challenge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to a fistfight on the Capitol lawn, and that he had “spanked” her in legislative negotiations. Since someone turned on their iPhone and hit record, we all now know what the Senator says when he thinks he’s in good company. And since the mics he’d just been praying into on the Senate floor were still on, we all now know that he’s not sorry.
It’s not the last time that a Christian will embarrass me in the public square. It’s not the last time a Christian man will demean the dignity and threaten the safety of a woman he dislikes, publicly and without shame. It’s not the last time that I’ll feel the queasiness of sharing a faith with someone whose actions, unapologetically, seem to misalign so egregiously with the fruits of the spirit that are supposed to characterize the life of a disciple.
Not the last, but still perhaps a stunning first: the Christian nationalism barely had a chance to take a breath before it bumped into the trifecta of gratuitous violence, misogyny, and manipulative lies.
This week I’ve witnessed a lot of conversation about that Jeep ad from the Superbowl. The chapel featured in the ad was built long ago by a member of the Christian Reformed Church, who meant it to be a place for evangelism, for comfort, and for connecting with God. Those who are proud of the chapel’s story are incredulous that some can’t appreciate its moment in the spotlight. Those who found troubling that Christian symbols, draped in Americana, were used to sell Jeeps were incredulous that some were celebrating. It feels hard to do what Bruce is so earnestly asking us to do: “We need the middle. We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground so we can get there.”
I have to wonder, what is this middle that we seem to agree that we need? And is it our faith that calls us there? Senator Shirkey prayed that we’d look to God when we “get off track,” and I have to wonder what we’d see if we did.
It is the end of the season of Epiphany, when we look expectantly in the world for glimpses of God’s glory to appear. Long ago I learned something that’s deeply shaped my faith: that Scripture again and again teaches that our God can be glimpsed in the face of the stranger — the one who is not like me. Who doesn’t think, talk, believe, behave like me. This is what hospitality, philoxenia, means: we are called to love “the other.” I believe this is a call to love even the ones who scare us. Who disgust us. Who enrage us. Who embarrass us. This is what the Good Samaritan teaches, that it is the reviled “other” is the one who saves the vulnerable guy whose faithful friends left him for dead. This is what Abraham’s three guests teach, that God’s promises are revealed when we vulnerably welcome strangers who we fear may mean us harm.
I believe in this good news. And I believe the gospel has the power to break down our era’s dividing walls, too.
But I don’t believe that wall is broken down in “the middle.” And I don’t think it’s broken down through the power of the platitude. Jesus didn’t seem to be the master of fakery, and so let’s not expect that of one another, either. Maybe the Samaritan and the man he saved never did become friends. Maybe loving our neighbor means that even when we can’t stand our neighbor, we’ll still relentlessly pursue their good. We’ll give them the oil, the wine, the mule. We’ll bind the wounds and pay the bill.
We’ll grieve when they grieve. We’ll rejoice when they rejoice. We’ll advocate for policies that protect their dignity. We’ll notice when they get left behind. And we’ll vehemently disagree about Jeeps, and justice, and Jesus the whole time, because it matters.
Maybe we don’t have to like each other to love each other. To look for God in one another, even when it costs us something even to try. I’m terrible at this, and most days I don’t even know how to try. I still believe this is where Jesus leads. And I think that’s better than the middle after all.