After our great sunrise meeting in the park on Easter I ate all sorts of delectable things I had missed for a long time. It seemed like a good time to exercise off a few pieces of candy, so Gwen and I took off for our nearby forest path. On the last leg, we went by Treetop Quest, the zipline and ropes course fun that opened not too long ago. I wondered what all the cars were doing parked along Chamonix Dr. on Easter Sunday. Treetop Quest was not closed for Easter.
I think you need to be a pretty old Christian to be surprised at what is open on Easter Sunday. My grandson kept looking at his father’s watch to see if the family brunch was going to end in time for him to make his soccer practice…on Easter Sunday.
The end of Christian supremacy
I had a job titled “youth director” for much of my twenties. Just for a reference point, Ronald Reagan ousted Jimmy Carter as president in 1981 when I was 27. Not long before then, I had an unforgettable conversation with a high school girl about the resurrection of Jesus. She had never heard of it. She literally did not know what the word “resurrection” meant, for sure. I remember going home to Gwen and talking about this experience, after I changed a couple of diapers. I told her this was the first rivulet of a flood of newness coming upon us who were used to our environment being saturated with Christianity. Jimmy Carter, the real Christian, who later went on to prove it, was replaced by Ronald Reagan, who’s soulmate, Nancy, consulted astrologers for auspicious times for Ronnie to do things. Reagan beget Bush who beget Trump.
I should not be surprised about Treetop Quest being open on Easter or that atheists and Muslims often protest when the government persists in putting up Christmas trees and, even worse, Nativity scenes in December. The big news in the social scientist sphere last month was that the regular census of religious adherents in the U.S. showed for the first time that over half the country are not church members.
Let’s be clear, Gallup has been measuring “church membership” for 80 years and plenty of megachurches do not even have a way to be a member, formally. One’s attendance is their membership; being on the mailing list or fundraising list is one’s membership. But plenty of long-lived churches have seen a decline in their membership; it is minus 25% in Philadelphia’s region in the last decade. Non-college graduates and unmarried individuals showed the greatest decline. Declines were proportionately smaller among political conservatives, Republicans, married adults and college graduates. Those groups have the highest rates of church membership, along with Southern residents and non-Hispanic Black adults.
All this data might be more about how people do not affiliate than about the prevalence of Christianity. It might be about how people are freeing themselves from heretical American theology and fraudulent church systems rather than deserting Jesus. But my anecdotal experiences of a rivulet of unbelief among high school students in the 80’s became a river among Gen Xers in Philadelphia in the 90’s. It feels like a sea change in the 2020’s. Christian supremacy is dying in the United States. It died a long time ago elsewhere.
Resurrection in post-Christian culture
My historical heroes are Desert Fathers and Mothers, Benedictines, Franciscans, Anabaptists, Wesleyans and others who always took the Jesus way between church factions fighting for or submitting to political power. Even when fighting for social justice I never thought winning the fight was anyone’s final solution. So I remember sitting in the front yard with my buddies back in my twenties, plotting what we should do now that Ronald Reagan was ushering in a new godless era – how’s that for prophecy! The part of the church that decided to defend Christian supremacy eventually helped elect Donald Trump! As Dr. King taught us, it is good to be on the “right side of history” – that is, to keep making history in collaboration with Jesus. I still find great joy in being on that quest.
I am happy the church is finally more like a minority group in the United States. For one reason, it is very clarifying. You can’t assume someone even knows it is Easter. “Christmas” is fully superseded by “holiday” and thinking Sunday is a day of rest, or special (besides being the weekend) makes one weird. I forgot about my cell meeting one time after it became another TV show last year — and I was in charge of it! Suddenly, being an actual Christian takes some effort when it is uncommon to be one. That effort is so good for us.
Parents now need to nurture faithful children rather than just send them to church. My parents were early adopters of post-Christianity. They probably would have been great modestly-believing church members if they had been able to get along with hypocrites. I could “go to church” as an act of differentiation. But no one would just send a kid to church these days; who knows what might happen to them? The children won’t hear about the resurrection in school, so they’ll need a parent. Our situation already sounds more like the Bible, doesn’t it?
The writers of the New Testament represent a tiny minority from a tiny part of the Roman Empire. They are not going along with what was going along. Jesus calls his way “narrow.” The broad way is leading to destruction, as in global warming and the cultural captivity of the church, among other things. Their message leads off with the incarnation of God and ends up with his resurrection. They never talk about going to church or taking over the government — they are the church and eventually undermine the government. Their message is so strong it keeps rising from the dead. American slaves get it, toss the faulty vessel in which it arrives and come up with their own improvement — they are still the most Christian element of the U.S. population! The liveliest parts of the 21st century church are in all the places European Christians brutally colonized the world in service to their idols. Jesus overcomes the world.
Being in the treetops on Sunday has a lot of merit and running around after a soccer ball could be a good thing. People have decided to follow Jesus under worse circumstances. Like I said, their master might not let them learn how to read or their colonizers might organize conflict between the people groups you just spent generations to reconcile. Jeff Bezos might spend his billions figuring out how to get more out of you. Another pandemic is not unlikely. In the face of all that, Jesus followers keep saying, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again,” echoing that first minority group writing the Bible:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5
I suspect Valentine was a wizened elder, old and comfortable in his ways and position, when the authorities made their new law and thrust him into his new, secret obedience to Love.
He once handed off his cross to the younger ones. But it quickly came around the track to him again. He was no longer the future but the now — the eternal now he knew so well beckoned him Home.
And he brought that Home to his home. He brought that Now to now. He lived Eternally in the face of the powers who pretend to have the power of death.
I know my Valentine is a wizened elder, old and comfortable in her ways and position. Yet the authorities still make their laws and thrust the young into choices which question all their love.
What will You have us do with this baton we see, coming quickly to us across the melting glaciers in an age of lies when the evil go free and the machines bind the hearts and minds of the children?
We must bring our Home to our home
and bring our Now to now, and love Eternally in the face of the powers — prove they do not have the power of death over those who listen to the Spirit’s voice and follow.
You and I could blame all the troubles we face on Trump, and many do, but I think he is just the wicked weed flourishing in the garden of post-Christian philosophies that have been ascendant for a long time. The unholy alliance between Trump and the Evangelicals, fronted in the media by Jerry Falwell Jr., may have sealed the deal on the demise of influence Christians have long had in the public square of the U.S. [Read Jonny Rashid]. We’ll see. But what my generation has contributed to the next is resulting in some very unchristian skills that may wreck their spiritual growth. People are polishing two self-destructive skills, if my blog stats make any difference: 1) power struggle, 2) relationship cut-off. The two often go together and they are rarely, if ever, associated with the way of Jesus.
A student exemplifies what is happening
A student in one of my classes posted something so indicative about the next generation’s feelings about the church, these days, I want to paraphrase it for you. I don’t know their personal situation, and their identity is confidential, anyway. I only reference them at all because of the pathos and eloquence of their entry, which I paraphrase:
2020 has been full of pandemic issues, maybe it caused my feelings. Maybe it was the political climate and how it related so much to religious alignments/movements. When the class provided place for me to reflect I realized just how much I have changed this year and just how much I differed from many of my fellow classmates and evangelicals.
My journey was gray and chillingly clear, empty. I saw a lack of God where I would’ve expected to see consolation. I saw inauthenticity in so many believers — so many attempts to assuage fear, guilt, anxiety, political failures; by using spiritual phrases and religious words.
I wish I could say I believe the spirit has “guided me or met me” this year, but it feels a lot more accurate to say that I found guidance outside of evangelical institutions and circles way more than in them. I found the spirit in the BLM movement. I found the spirit in political candidates who are striving for change to bring justice to the citizens of this country. I found the spirit in the freedom that deconstruction has brought me — freedom from the conservative/fundamentalist ideals that kept a veil between myself and the reality of life on Earth.
I’m not sure what the spirit is anymore, but I didn’t find it/him/her/them in spiritual and religious practices or studies this year. I found the spirit in stepping out of those places and joining the rest of the world in what they are going through. I found the spirit of Jesus in being extremely honest with myself about what I think, believe, desire, and who I am in general.
I’ve seen and met with many people in the last four years who could write a similar report.
It’s not as if every twentysomething in every era doesn’t have a lot to face; I did. And it’s not as if everyone, in all parts of the globe are not exploring new places inside and out — humanity is a creative, searching bunch; the Chinese planted their flag on the moon last week! But even though life always presents a lot to face, this time in the life of the church in our fracturing nation seems uniquely difficult to most of us.
I admire the student’s courage and openness in the middle of their turmoil. I also lament how they got caught in the power struggle and how they cut-off relationships.
We can live and act according to a “third way”
Our pastors are always talking about these aspects of society and the church:
power and division,
demands for agreement and dismissals of love.
Sometimes they are tempted into power struggles themselves and some of our members and even pastors have cut us off. It is a generally painful time to be alive. I spoke to the pastors about one aspect of the person’s story to highlight how it is sort of a parable calling us to follow the “third way” Christianity that is emerging all over the word. Here is the gist of what I said.
The student is on an increasingly typical ex-evangelical path, aren’t they? I think there will be many more of these refugees and, while they are unlikely to pile into churches, they will have a narrative that will continue to undermine churches and the way of Jesus, itself. Cutting off is a common trait these days, so ex-anything probably applies here, including ex-Third-Way and ex-Circle-of-Hope.
Everyone in the U.S. tends to have an American-privileged way of seeing the world. The student looks at the church through the lens of that privilege, I think. They can’t imagine Christianity according to the “third way” of the early church before it was co-opted by the Roman Empire (or before it adopted a place of power as preferable to its earlier Jesus-reliant condition).
Many authors have written about the revival of this third way of love — not owning the empire yet fully influencing it with a unique message and with the signs and actions to back that message up. The student is offended by the corrupt church so they cut it off. They find their community in emergent institutions free of the past narrative and supplying a new one. This ever-changing of the guard, the ascendancy of the new power structure, is the predictable way of the world we can trace throughout history. What the student missed was an honest third way that is not the either/or of the ever-warring world.
The third way was, and is, Jesus centered, community based, discipleship oriented, generously connected but not subject to the ways of the world, in awe of the goodness in people and the planet but not idolizing them or it — all the things our pastors regularly teach. The third way just does not claim the privilege of fighting for power, because, for one reason, it does not have it. For another reason, it is generally despised as a rival to most institutions. And, for the main reason, it has eschewed power as a means it deserves to have under the Lordship of Jesus. (People write books about this, so I won’t keep going).
I think the student is probably on a good path. They are learning, just like all our twentysomething friends are learning in similar ways. We are all learning what to do in a divided world in which people cut off their loved ones if they fall on the wrong side of politics, in which we wake up to a power struggle every day. I think perfecting, describing and discipling for our successful “third way” approach in our relatively hostile spiritual environment as Circle of Hope is a great service to people jumping ship as well as to those discovering they are drowning.
A few days ago I was talking to Eliza Griswold. She is writing a book about Circle of Hope — along with other churches on our wavelength and the future of the Church in general. She was recording me.
When we got to the part about turmoil in our church (there is a little), which makes for a better book, after all, and turmoil in the larger Church (there is quite a bit), I looked at the phone for a second. “Am I going to say something dumb?”
I took a deep breath. Our turmoil is all for the best. Most of the controversies we face are about causes that should cause turmoil. Some of them are either over the tipping point or about to go over the tipping point into full scale change, which would be worth a lot of trouble. For instance, a school in Virginia just got a name change from Robert E. Lee to John Lewis last week – so things could be looking up (and I mean looking “as God sees things” in the case of that school, not IMO).
Eliza lamented in her inquisitive way about some of the strident discourse she was hearing in our church. It scared her, since she is well acquainted with church controversy. She tagged the young ones as responsible for most of it, I think (I didn’t record her). And the phrase “social justice warriors” seems like it was used, although I’m not sure either of us said it. The angry-sounding, division-threatening dialogue made her wonder if we would even survive! So she wanted to hear what an old head like me would say about it.
I told her (I guess she could check the tape about this) I thought old people should be the last to judge the young. My job is to help everyone get into a sustainable stage in their faith so they are not run over by the deceitful world – otherwise, what is the point of walking with Jesus for 50 years — so young people can look dumb in comparison? People don’t start where they end up, even if they think where they are now is a fine achievement. I want to affirm their achievements and help them get into what is next, since none of us is going to stop developing, in one way or another. It was something like that.
Janet Hagberg and her inspiring books
Janet Hagberg is all about development and she has been influencing me again, lately.
When I was in my twenties I heard Janet Hagberg speak. As I recall, she was testing out some material she was collecting for how to implement James Fowler’s seminal work on the Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Later on I read Hagberg’s book Real Powerand it made so much difference to me, I basically installed it in Circle of Hope. I was so impressed with Real Power, I went back and read James Fowler, the basis, which was tough but productive sledding. After that, I laced the “stages of faith” into most of my thinking about growing in faith: I put it in workshops, I blogged about it, and I engineered a version of it, with the pastors, that became the outline for the Way of Jesus site – when you go to it you’ll see me ready to talk about the stages of faith right there on the intro page.
Just lately, I found a book that had been languishing on my selves for a long time, undiscovered, until I took it out of a packing box to reshelve it. It was Hagberg’s book The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith. God drew her into a deeper rendition of Real Power later on in life. Real Power was for the corporate world; and though spirituality is present, it isn’t focused on Jesus, per se. The Critical Journey is for Jesus followers (and anyone who wants to follow along with them). I think she might say this book “ruined her life” – at least it “ruined” the previous life that was headed for success in the corporate world.
Instead, Hagberg became a spiritual director and a mentor to many disciples. Last week I wrote to her with a question about the spiritual stages inventory in her book and she wrote back! That was unexpected, as it always is for me when a hero notices me. (That desire to be seen might be why I always get so choked up when cast members in the Disney parade break ranks to come over and wish my grandchild a “magical birthday”). I am pondering whether to accept her invitation to travel with a small group she is forming for next year as a means for spiritual development.
Time to grow and time for social action
I was fresh from reading The Critical Journey when I sat in the heat with Eliza (who has a Wikipedia page BTW). And she was wondering about what twentysomethings would do to the church. I started formulating my feelings into a theory in their defense.
I think young people should get involved with the power struggles of the world to express their undeserved powerlessness (stage one) and fully explore the energizing experiences of exercising power in stage two. Many derisively-labeled “social justice warriors” are criticized for being one-way know-it-alls who will cancel someone who does not agree with them. People do dumb stuff at every stage of life. I think stage two people often act like they know it all because they just learned a huge amount of meaningful material that is forming their future. Unlike a lot of burned out old people, they think life is important and they are going to make something out of it. Any twenty-something who is not on some bandwagon in the name of great causes should catch up. Their cohort is fueling some wonderful development in themselves and the world, whether they know what they are doing or not!
The observations of the stages of faith usually place most twentysomethings in stage two of their adult development, as humans, but also as people of faith.
One of the main characteristics of people in stage two (whenever they get there) is finding meaning in belonging. They may like a denominational way of being the church, but they are more likely to attach to a local church, and even within that church they are most likely to find a small group of people to whom they belong. Pastors may not like this, but that’s how people are. The group shapes our identity, we find power in association with others.
No one comes out fully formed, so in stage two people connect to a leader, a system or a cause, sometimes many before they zero in. The sense of enlightenment from sharing the leader’s/author’s/system’s wisdom is intoxicating. The same experience can be found by having a cause be the leader and not a person. A sense of being right, now that they have found the right stuff, often breeds a feeling of security –- which can sometimes come off as too secure, and exclusive of others who aren’t at the same place, or stage.
Calling something a stage implies that we are moving through it. Thus Hagberg calls our development a critical “journey.” People can get stuck in stage two for a number of reasons. The major reasons are
They get rigid: legalistic and moralistic. When someone complains about getting taken out by a “my way or the highway” SJW I can acknowledge the danger of people acting that way, but I am just so happy they have gotten far enough in life to find something outside themselves to care about! Audacity is underrated.
A sense of belonging can end up with being part of a closed, paranoid, “us against them” group. America, in general seems to have regressed into this trap,
A group can end up not being as attractive as expected so people can keep switching groups and doing the same thing over and over. They don’t move forward, just move around.
People who have been injured in groups, especially in churches, can spend a lifetime searching for a group that won’t hurt them. They need to move inward — that was the invitation when the leader, group or theory proved faulty, instead they blame the group and move on to have a similar experience, quite often, in the next one.
How does one avoid getting stuck in stage 2 or get unstuck? Moving on usually means becoming a producer instead of a product. When it comes to life in Christ, that movement is sort of inevitable. People joke that if you have a good idea in Circle of Hope, you’ll probably end up in charge of it. That’s not necessarily so, but maybe it should be. We formed cells and teams so people could be in charge of something and grow up in faith. Jesus wants friends, not slaves who only do what they’re told. In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us not to be infants, but grow up into Christ!
A lot of us find this need for development satisfied at work and in our own family. That’s where we take on responsibility and produce something – like offspring, a mortgage and profits for the company. The movement from Stage 2 to 3 in the Spirit is deeper. Women risk to be valuable. So-called minorities insist they matter and deserve a voice in the dialogue. Young people seek responsibility the old guard thinks they don’t deserve. We discover our gifts and are moved to enact them. We rejoice in the fact that we can develop and become all we are called to be.
I rejoice. I vividly remember being in stage two. At that time in my life, a 70something elder in the church I was serving took me aside one day and said, “Rod, you have great ideas, but you have terrible PR.” He went on. I listened to him. But I essentially thought, “The hell with PR! I don’t see Jesus taking cues from his media advisors!” I was right, but I later realized that I wanted to build something, not spend my life rebelling against what someone else built. I got some new skills, eventually. I’m still grateful for people like Janet Hagberg and that fed-up elder who cared enough to open up the possibility of development in critical ways — in both the positive and negative senses of that word.
We are thrilled with the possibilities of police reform and a new (hopefully effective) awareness of the scourge of racism. The chart above is thrilling to a guy like me who has been waiting for the tipping point for a long time. May all our years of work bear fruit.
Our excitement tempts us to live on the “second tier” of life in Christ, the practical, relational interchange with the world around us — especially when our hope for change is activated. As a result, we can miss the deeper, “first tier” of relating to God in a transcendent and transformative way. Since so many people have thrown God out of reality, it is tempting to relate to them according to the worldview for which they are fighting, rather than joining with them in social action as our true selves in Christ.
Paul and the first church definitely did social action. The first churches, though they were a tiny, sometimes persecuted minority within the Roman Empire, started a movement that eventually overran it. Much of the church’s favorable reputation grew out of their alternativity: how they shared, how they loved, and how they managed to accept people of all classes and backgrounds into a dynamic whole.
But I don’t think they were doing “social action” in the way most of us think of it. Paul does not have an idea of “social” or “action” in the way we do. For one thing, he did not know about the conceptual frameworks of the Enlightenment that spawned Hobbes and Rousseau arguing about the essence of the social contract and the state of nature without God. And I don’t think he had any democratic sense of his rights or responsibility to influence society as a whole.
Paul’s idea of social action, like all his ideas, started with his faith in Jesus. His motivation came from the Holy Spirit. His hope came from his trust that he lived “in Christ” which defined his present and guaranteed his future. He certainly does not have a theory of social action under which his faith is subsumed. I don’t think he ever imagined reforming the Roman Empire. His only power resides in the apparently powerless love of Jesus.
As Circle of Hope, we are sometimes unclear about the source of our action when we operate according to a sense of society donated by European rationalists and all their followers since their heyday. We sometimes start in tier two, even forget tier one altogether, when we relate to others and try to make a difference in the world. I think we should be more serious about our faith and about the revelation in the Bible whether it seems to “work well” or not. We should hold on to Jesus and revelation whether people label it as unacceptable speech or not. What Paul has going works a lot better than what we usually do. And what he builds will last a lot longer than the results of the latest power struggle.
The two tiers of our present social action
Our Doing Theology team is still mulling over the rich dialogue we had about our approach to the coming election, so you’ll probably hear more about that before long. Until then, my mind has been drawn toward mulling over a previous dialogue we shared about Paul’s two-tiered outlook, as you can see by what I just said. In case you haven’t heard about this piece of theology, we reported on it and saved the material at the Way of Jesus site.
David Brooks, of all people (my strange new “friend” from the conservatives), got me thinking about how we are engaging in the present transformation of the police, in particular. He wrote another interesting piece in the New York Times last week. In it, he crystallizes a view of the social justice “religion” that is quite alluring to many of us. You can see it all over our mapping material this year, and also see people questioning it. Brooks says one of the five crises the U.S. is facing right now is:
“Fourth, a quasi-religion is seeking control of America’s cultural institutions. The acolytes of this quasi-religion, Social Justice, hew to a simplifying ideology: History is essentially a power struggle between groups, some of which are oppressors and others of which are oppressed. Viewpoints are not explorations of truth; they are weapons that dominant groups use to maintain their place in the power structure. Words can thus be a form of violence that has to be regulated.”
I don’t feel like I need to agree with David Brooks’ reduction or not. But I can accept his sound bite of a viewpoint and listen to it. He might be on to something.
In tier two, I think Jesus followers are out on the street demanding real reform of the oppressive institutions that have grown up since Ronald Reagan, an end to half-measures regarding systemic racism, and economic justice that rightsizes the rich and their corporations. But I hope we all come to that social action from tier one, where we know Jesus is the way to the real revolution and know these power struggles are not the deepest response we have to what torments humanity. We come to society with the humility not to impose the latest ideological purity but to trust God in others to bring things to right.
Many people in the church have been damaged by powerful teachers handing down provisional solutions to sinful conditions as if they were mandates from God (like women needing to wear head coverings, or the Bible coming to a final form in 1611, or priests needing to be celibate, or America being a haven for righteousness – the list goes on). They make tier two into tier one. In the ultimate example of that grab for power, the church lost the miraculous influence it had in the beginning by taking over the rights and structure of the Roman Empire.
I want to be part of the church where it is not an outpost of the Empire, where it does not reference the Empire when it thinks of itself – for it or against it as if the nation or society is the ultimate context. Being free of that world would be authentic tier one living. To be free like that requires a preoccupation with listening to God and others. One thing I always love about our mapping process is how it brings up the need for discernment as a way of life. We need to listen to the voice of our Savior like sheep listening for their shepherd so we can find our way through perilous times and foment transformation along the way. Such discernment comes to us in many ways, not least of all in the voices of our partners in Christ, both present and gone before, so it is readily available.
The discernment we gain as we make our map, rarely gets boiled down to an ideology or something that seems simple. Love for God has an eternal “open end” to it. Love for others has a provisional sense of creating what is best together. So our listening is never shallow enough to merely win an argument or take power in the establishment. Besides, the resurrection of Jesus won the argument and “Who’s in power?” wasn’t the question, it was already a given.
While we were collecting input for the church’s mapping process in one of my cells last week, we got to talking about racism. We noted everyone who showed up was of the dominant “race.” And though we were all firmly committed to stomping out the sin of racism, we all remembered times when we did not do what we could do to do the stomping personally.
We had to admit we could not fully escape accusations like the ones Dahleen Glanton piled up in the Chicago Tribune on May 31. Here’s part of what she said:
“White people don’t like watching hardcore racism…. And while the stories make their way through the news cycle, you and your friends lament how awful racism is.
Then before you know it, your drive-by rage is over.
You conclude that the terrible incident doesn’t affect you directly. So you drift back into oblivion, convinced there’s nothing you can do about racist cops or the racist society that breeds them.
But you are wrong. White people, you are the problem.
Regardless of how much you say you detest racism, you are the sole reason it has flourished for centuries. And you are the only ones who can stop it…
Too many white people are satisfied doing nothing to bring about substantive change…. You should talk among yourselves and figure it out. In the midst of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, you managed to put a man on the moon. You could make the same commitment to stomping out racism….
Racists are counting on you to continue doing nothing. They are certain that before long, you will return to your blissful state of denial, where racism is somebody else’s problem. And you will not disappoint them.
Racists know some of you better than you know yourselves.”
We do know ourselves and each other rather well in our cell. So we don’t shy away from confessing. Last week we had to admit that doing the “little things “ when it comes to the big thing of racism makes more of a difference than we wish. We had to confess how easy it is not to get into it with people who threaten us or just disturb us with their racist behavior.
One of us started us off with a story. One time a man was getting raccoons out of our friend’s house. He asked the man what he did with the animals after he caught them. The man said he took them to a black neighborhood and let them go. Our friend confessed he did not confront him.
Another of us told the story about his neighbor in Fishtown. He had a nice relationship with the old man. A few weeks ago the man challenged him to get his bat and join him in protecting Fishtown, assuming he would go along. Our cell mate told his neighbor he was “not that way” and the man went ahead without him. The neighbor has not spoken to him since. We prodded our friend to follow up.
Another of us talked about his daughter spending her first year away at college. She realized her Philadelphia experience, including African American history education, was unique among her peers who lived segregated/sheltered lives (and who have trouble relating to aggrieved people of color). As he reflects on his privilege and considers how to be a better ally, he is learning from his kids.
I personally went way back to my birth family, which was run by a genuine racist from Oklahoma. My father would have thought Tulsa was a huge city even in his day. He was born out on the panhandle a year after the massacre. My memory is that I never let one of his racist remarks go unprotested. I even wrote a short story in the seventh grade about the variety of names he had to slur every race and ethnicity under the sun. But the fact is, I only periodically had the courage to protest. In fact, the whole family codependently turned his hate speech into a joke, an odd trait of our otherwise useful breadwinner. My antiracism eventually became something others in the family would not confront. But I certainly know what it is like to take a pass because I can.
Like Dahleen Glanton says, we so-called “white people,” who can protest being lumped into a race because we have the privilege associated with that race, should talk among ourselves and figure stuff out. Christians, in particular, have an even deeper responsibility to risk what it takes to overcome evil with good, so we need to learn how to have a good dialogue, not just an argument. Even if the workman mocks us, if the neighbor cuts us off, if the school chums label us, or if the family is disrupted, we need to trust God and risk following Jesus, who not only loves everyone, but transforms them into his own likeness.
Racists are counting on people like me doing nothing – at least nothing that costs me too much, nothing that will cause conflict, nothing that will take too much energy. They are certain that before long, the streets will return to the homeostasis of the dominant culture and racism only be a problem the next time it explodes out of the fragile box of denial and apathy in which it is vainly kept.
Right now our church is having an appropriate eruption of righteous anger along with much of the rest of the United States. We’ll see what happens. Some angry people will run over others until their anger subsides. Some resistant people will cut others off and retain their privilege to let it all be about somebody else. We might get divided and need to regroup. People could lose their faith because influential people follow politics and not Jesus. Regardless, “white” people stuck in the U.S. need to figure this out, or die trying — especially people who say they follow Jesus.
Cornel West often inspires me. He is a man with prophetic imagination and he doesn’t mind speaking Jesus into the Jesus-resisting box of American media. The other day I tuned into a segment he made with Anderson Cooper on CNN. I was so encouraged by it, I decided to make a transcript for you.
I hope you will catch the Jesus West appreciates in the George Floyd funeral. I hope you will applaud the wonderful example of Floyd’s extended family and their church as they resolutely follow Jesus and choose love like the black church has done so well throughout its difficult history. I hope you will note the alternativity West highlights and suggests as the way to the future.
Circle of Hope has been agreeing with him since its inception. But West may say our thoughts spontaneously better than we say them after a lot of thought!
Here’s the interview:
Cooper: [At the funeral of George Floyd] what was going through your mind and heart?
West: It was a heavy day my brother, and yet I was buoyed up. Because I saw in the hearts and minds and souls, not just of the Floyd Family, but of the church, of the music, the preaching, a love. Not one reference to hatred or revenge, it was all about love and justice. It’s in the great tradition of the best of black people, a people who have been hated chronically, systemically, for 400 years but have taught the world so much about love and how to love. You saw John Coltrane’s Love Supreme in that church service. You saw the love of the children in Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?, in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. You saw Mama, Raisin in the Sun, a Lorraine Hansberry.
White people ought to give black people a standing ovation that after 400 years of being terrorized we refuse to create a black version of the Ku Klux Klan. After 400 years of being traumatized, we want to dish out healers. That’s Frederick Douglass, that’s Martin King, that’s Curtis Mayfield, that’s Fanny Lou Hamer. What is it about these black people, so thoroughly subjugated but want freedom for everybody? That’s a grand gift to the whole world, right at the bowels at the center of an American Empire that has enslaved, Jim Crowed, Jane Crowed, lynched them, still dishing out these love warriors.
That’s what I saw in the Floyd Family and I was buoyed up. It reminded me of the West family; it reminded me of Irene and Cliff and Cynthia and Sharol. That’s where we come from: Shiloh Baptist Church. You can put us down but you are not going to put us down in such a way that we are going to hate you because you become the point of reference. No, we are going to put a smile on Larcenia’s face. That’s his Mama. That’s where he is right now. He’s lying right next to Sister Larcenia, whose way of engaging the world was embracing it with all of the love.
Now I’m not saying we don’t have black thugs and gangsters. I’m talking about the best of our tradition. Because brother, brother, brother, if we had created a black version of the Ku Klux Klan there’d been a civil war every generation with terrorist cells in every hood. And that’s what Brother Trump needs to understand because it looks like he’s trying to push us to the race war. But the good news is if there was a race war, we’ve got a whole lot of white brothers and sisters on our side now. That makes a big difference. And we’ve got black folk and red folk and indigenous people and Asians and so forth. This is a matter of integrity and honesty, a matter of justice and love. They kept it on the high ground. That was a beautiful thing.
But I did break, though, brother, when I saw those brothers marching in, like the ushers in Shiloh Baptist Church and pick up that coffin and go and walk out. My daughter was there. Couldn’t take it man. I’ve been at this for over fifty years. And yet I got to bounce back. And I will bounce back. Because we’ve got a love the world can’t take away. The world, white supremacy may make being black a crime. But we refuse to get in the gutter. We’re going to go down swinging like Ella Fitzgerald, Muhammad Ali in the name of love and justice. We’re doing it for brother Wyatt, we’re doing it for my daughter, we’re doing it for the Asians, we’re doing it for the whole world because that’s the only hope of the world. And that kind of love is always tragic-comic and cruciform. You’ve got to get ready to get crucified with that kind of love, and yet you’ve got to keep dishing it out generation after generation after generation.
The Floyd Family lifted up that spiritual moral banner in the midst of a moment when we’ve got all these lies and crimes, be it Pentagon, or Wall Street, or White House, or even congress itself. We know they don’t represent the best of this country. It’s just that the best of this country right now seems to be so powerless. But in the streets of our nation we see this multiracial, multicultural, multigender, different sexual orientations, different religions – Jewish brothers and sisters holding up the Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Catholics holding up Dorothy Day, the Protestants holding up William Coffin and Lydia Maria Child and the agnostics and the others holding up the Norman Thomases and the Edward Saids and others. That was my mixed wrestling with what I saw today, my brother. And I think we’ve got hope in the form of motion but we’ve got to get ready for the backlash. Got to get ready for the neo-Fascist clampdown. Because it’s coming. It is coming.
Cooper: yeah. I’ve had the, um. I’ve got to say your…I’ve never had the honor of taking one of your classes. But, uh, I feel like I’m a student of yours. And I learn lessons every time you speak. And, um [sigh] I just think it’s [breaks down]
West: No. We’re in it together brother. And the beautiful thing about tears: Socrates never cries, but Jeremiah does and so does Jesus. We cries because we care; we’re concerned. It’s not about political correctness. It’s not about self-righteousness. We cry because we are not numb on the inside. We don’t have a chilliness of soul and a coldness of mind and heart. We cry because we connect. But then we must have a vision that includes all of us and we must have an analysis of power that’s honest. In terms of the greed especially at the top, in terms of the hatred running amok, in terms of the corruption – not just White House and congress, it’s in too many churches, too many mosques, too many synagogues, too many universities, too many civic associations and then the greed in us. You and I talk about this all the time, right? The gangster in us. Because we’re wrestling with this day, by saying that’s why we need each other brother.
Cooper: You know, you said something…I follow you when you aren’t on my program, I follow you wherever you go and I read what you have to say. And you said something a couple of days ago on somebody else’s program. You said, “Can we hold on to integrity, honesty and decency?” and it seems to me, as you’ve said, that there are a lot of people who have remained silent and have just been watching this. And as you said, there’s going to be a backlash and that’s something to be prepared for. Because I think there are a lot of people just waiting on the sidelines, waiting to kind of to start to chip away at this and cause doubt and divide people. But I think that is so important that at its core, this is about integrity. and honesty and decency and fortitude and courage which are two other things you’ve spoken a lot about.
West: Absolutely, especially the fortitude and courage. We must have the integrity, honesty and decency — not purity, no one of us is pure or pristine, we all have our spots and our wrinkles as it were. But it’s the courage and the fortitude. That’s what’s necessary, the backbone. We don’t need lukewarm folk, we don’t need summer soldiers. We need all seasoned love warriors. That’s the tradition that we saw represented in that church at the spiritual level. And my dear Brother Sharpton, I love Sharpton, we come out of the same black church tradition, and we fight all the time, but we come together and so forth. He was powerful.
But I always want to connect the police power and the police crimes with the Wall Street power and the Wall Street crimes. We live in a culture in which people feel as if they can do and say anything and get away with it with no accountability, no answerability, and no responsibility. We saw on Wall Street in terms of all that insider trading, market manipulation and fraudulent activity and predatory lending. How many people went to jail? Zero. Trump will say anything, do anything, thinks he will get away with it. Pentagon can drop drones on precious folk in Yemen, Pakistan and others and think they can get away with it. We have to have accountability. Our politician will seemingly tell us anything in front of our faces and we know what’s going on behind closed doors with their tie to big money. Just be honest. That’s what integrity is.
Malcolm X used to say, “Sincerity is my only credentials.” That’s why we love Malcolm. We did not always agree with Malcolm. But he said what he meant and he meant what he said. You see what I mean? That’s what we need. We need that in our lives. We need that in our communities. We need that in our civilization. And we need that as a critique of the worst of the American empire, the worst of American white supremacy, the worst of American predatory capitalism, the worst of American patriarchy and the worst of American homophobic and transphobic, any ideology that loses sight of the humanity of folk. I don’t care if they’re Arab, Muslim, Palestinian, Jewish or whatever, it’s got to be all the way down. You know, the English word human comes from the Latin word humando which mean burial. And that’s what we saw today. We saw the humanity. Because they were ascribing significance to this precious person made in the image of God whose body was now undergoing extinction and his soul ascending.
I am buoyed up, as well, by the thought of all the good people I know personally who are waking up, changing their minds, and changing their behavior. I am buoyed up by our church, full of people eager to make a difference and foment transformation. I am buoyed up by the thought the evils of the American way of life might have a collective knee on their necks, even while I prepare for the backlash – like Trump trying to go to Tulsa on Juneteenth. Lord help us join the Floyds and their church and demonstrate an alternative, an example of which we have the best of the black church to thank.
Way back in the 90’s I took my first MCC immersion trip to El Salvador and Honduras. It was before cell phones worked well, so I had one scratchy phone call to Gwen in two weeks – that was a first. I remember the trip as my baptism by fire into the reality of white supremacy and empire thinking. This week that memory has seemed important.
When our group took off for San Salvador, I thought I was a rather “with it,” comparatively-activist kind of guy. I wanted to go to El Salvador before the war was over. I was already upset that the U.S. was complicit in all sorts of evil deeds and had hidden a titanic military base at Soto Cano. I felt a lot of love for people in Central America, especially since I came from Southern California where Spanish speakers were childhood friends. I soon found out I was less with it and loving than I thought, but that’s how I started.
We talked to Army officials, U.S. Embassy reps, church leaders, activists, and MCC workers. We met Jon Sobrino, were forced off our bus by eighteen-year-old soldiers with automatic weapons, and took a ride out into the far reaches of Honduras, almost to Nicaragua, where a village had waited up into the night under the one, public lightbulb to greet us. It was a very educational trip. But the most lasting memory has to be of Andres.
My upending memory of Andres
I admit that this incident is one of those that may have a lot more meaning than the facts deserve. I was having an “aha” moment, so who knows what really happened? We were in a refugee camp in Honduras for Salvadorans who had been driven out of their homes by the war. They expected to be gone until the soldiers passed on, but that never happened. Many years later they were still stuck in a strange limbo. Some had come as children, literally naked. One person who had fled with nothing but the clothes on his back was Andres. In his imprisonment, he had become a Christian and the catechist for the camp. We were meeting him because he was one of the leading people who should be seeing a group of well-dressed “dignitaries” from the United States.
He was very kind and very hospitable. We sat in his house made of cast-off scraps of wood. I still remember being fascinated as I watched chickens walking in and out of the walls. This sweet, godly, respectable man kept enlightening me as they pecked about. We might as well had come from the moon, as far as Andres was concerned. He had never been to San Salvador, the capital, from which we had just driven. I think I asked him if he ever wanted to own a car. He said he had not considered that, since he had never been in one. (That is one of my memories that makes me wonder if this really happened. Did he actually say that? You’ve never been in a car?). The longer I got to be with Andres, the more I loved him. My preconceptions about him began to fade into the background the more he talked – preconceptions like, “Surely he would want a car” and, “Surely he would like to go to the capitol city”). He was happy with his house and honored to be the catechist. Unlike all his visitors from the U.S. that day, he was content. He did not have big ideas about how to make everything better, and made me a bit ashamed of myself for cluttering up his honest, simple life with my expensive sandals.
Eventually, we were finished with our overwhelming two weeks and sitting in room in Tegucigalpa for the final debrief. At that point in my life I was especially not a crier. But when it came time for me to share, I uncharacteristically burst into tears. “I feel so helpless,” is what I remember saying. Maybe I was just feeling, “I can’t do anything.” I had come to Central America equipped with health, energy and assurance that I could be a part of something great. I would end the war, figure out rural poverty and go back to the U.S. equipped to organize great things to resettle refugees and effect reconciliation. Instead, I was sitting beside the road in Teguci-whatever crying out to Jesus. When He called to me, I told him I wanted to see. The scales of my “imperial gaze” were not removed, as of yet, but I certainly felt blind.
A few, certainly not all, of the lessons I need to learn
As we were in the middle of the always-overdue crisis over racism and police brutality in the United States last week (white supremacy, imperialism, militarism, inequality, etc. etc.), my mind turned to Andres and the things he began to teach me about being powerless and changing things, way back when.
1) People get along fine without western culture
I had never seen just how huge my list of assumptions about reality actually were until that trip. I thought I was a Christian – and I had been in trouble for how radical I was! But the Bible looked a lot more like Andres than like me. Whenever invisible people become visible to the rulers, it is always disturbing. Andres still disturbs me. I never really knew I was a ruler until I sat on a three-legged stool he made out of firewood in his house and realized he was getting along fine without me and my late-capitalist culture, or whatever it is that’s happening.
2) Not everyone wants to trade community for commodities
How in the world can one be so wise and content with a chicken walking through one’s walls? I could not keep my eyes off that chicken! Later that day another refugee family invited several of us to dinner. We shared a soup featuring their one potato as they happily watched us eat it. We investigated to see just how coerced they were to do this, but we were assured they really thought it would be a hoot to entertain us. Is it more amazing that we were flabbergasted or that they shared their potato? Even as a Christian, I am still tempted to have an economic answer for everything.
3) “Poor” people often have ways to get along in the shadow of the monsters that rule them just fine and don’t need instruction from the monsters when they finally deign to see them.
The world has always been full of monsters. Jesus announced their doom when he rose from the dead after they killed him. I was so full of power, I really wanted to fight those monsters. But after that debrief, I began to think that witnessing to their doom by embracing resurrection in their shadow was my best hope at having a life in a world where Bill Barr is Attorney General. Ever since, I keep trying to find a way to live an alternative in Christ in the shadow of the doomed monsters. They are passing away, after all, and what they thought was the Lord’s powerlessness will upend them forever. Plus, even they need a place to which to escape after they have killed and raped and despoiled the earth. I sat with Andres and felt like I deserved to die from my complicity with the monster from the north, but his gentle ignorance of my political plight and deep wisdom of our common spiritual future comforted and directed me.
4) Fighting it out for justice as if it amounted to percentages of a limited pie doesn’t make sense unless you want the pie.
We’ve been having the endless argument again this week after the looters smashed up corporate windows and messed up too many small businesspeople, too. “Thou shalt not steal” vs. “It’s not stealing; it’s just a bit of reparations for what was stolen.” Everyone is stealing, as usual, because in our society we live in a capitalist box. It seems to me that God is knocking on the box like (decidedly white, admittedly) Jesus in the famous painting, standing at the door. Behold, if there is not a better life than succeeding in the capitalist free-for-all, the vortex of injustice, that’s sad. Andres couldn’t have cared less about my car. How did he get so happy without a car? How did he seem so wise without knowing about my 401K? How could he know anything if he was not prepared to fight off the monster lurking in Soto Cano?
I take heart that the protests seemed to get free of the violence this weekend and turn into the morality that is uniting people around the world. But economic inequality is not going away any time soon, if ever. I’m glad I’ve met people all over the world, who don’t follow that inequality around, but follow Jesus instead.
5) There is an alternative that Anabaptists like to talk about but rarely find in North America.
I am happy we talk about the Third Way, and we (I mainly know about Circle of Hope) represent an alternative in a lot of ways. But we spend an awful lot of time sorting out the first and second ways, or whatever binary the media loves to amplify. I admit, I love to fire up my computer and read all the news every day. I might spend more time on that than time in meditation most days! I know an awful lot about the awful Trump, tromping across the street to run humanity-loving Episcopalians off their own porch. I suspect Andres never had a computer. He missed the endless arguing; he missed the moralizing about moralizing, fury about fury and, exclusion over excluding. Maybe I am over-idealizing him, but I remember him as being strangely at peace. I not only want that peace, I want to make it.
I know I am making “points” as I go along telling these little stories. I’m not trying to tidy up my experience or yours – not really. It’s more of a confession. If you are a so-called white person, you probably have some of your own confession to make. So I am not trying to whitesplain anything, just trying to learn old lessons better. My lessons are not final and it would not be surprising if they aren’t the ones you want or need to hear. So let’s be friends. I just thought I’d tell you about a good man in the middle of nowhere who was driven out of his home and ended up in a refugee camp. He learned faith and it made him remarkable to me. Maybe he had an easier situation in which to learn faith at that point than we have in the belly of this beast – good for him. But maybe we can do it, too, instead of biting and devouring one another in reflection of the monster.
I think MCC made a decent investment by baptizing me. I certainly became better friends with the refugees of the world and with a lot of other people I probably would have continued to otherize. We are so preoccupied with stealing in the U.S., the country has ended up with a lot of stuff. When we ship it off to people with one potato periodically, I feel like some justice is done. Even better, when we get to know them and figure out our whole way of looking at things may not have much of a Jesus lens, love gets a chance to bloom. Then I feel we might be able to see a little bit.
Tarot has been having a “moment” for a few years. I wandered into the moment when I watched an episode of something in which an old, dying woman read the cards for her new, young friend. It was a movie moment reflecting the present tarot moment — watching an old story using the old deck-full of stories to draw us into the drama of a life unfolding — and normalizing the latest emergence of this mystical method for finding guidance.
I hope this is where the tarot moment is leading. According to Liz Worth, a Toronto card reader and astrologer, “The point of tarot isn’t to use tarot forever. The point is to use it for a little while, until you’ve learned you don’t need it anymore, because that means you’ve learned to listen to yourself…It’s about creating a sense of empowerment and independence in people: helping them find their way back to themselves.” Hopefully, it is like a mirror that can lead to deeper reflection which opens up clogged or burned spiritual pathways so people can ultimately see Jesus for who he is.
There are many Christians who are sure meeting Jesus is not what is going to happen if someone gets into tarot. The practice is associated with divination—unlocking the secrets of the future by occult, supernatural means. Divination is prohibited in the Bible, even when people in the Bible are doing it! Paul exorcised a woman used for divination!
Tarot cards were originally just a deck of cards, but some mystics, psychics, and occultists began to use the cards for divination. Many people still use them this way, and that is how they are popularly understood. You can meet diviners on YouTube. They promise to access spirit beings to find out things about one’s life or future. Usually, the practice of reading tarot cards starts with the questioner cutting the pack of cards or sometimes just touching it. The psychic or card reader then deals out some cards, face down, into a pattern, called a “spread,” on the table. As the cards are overturned, the psychic or reader constructs a narrative based on the cards’ meanings and their position on the table. The narrative has always placed heavy emphasis on fate and “hidden knowledge.” Jesus has a better way.
Writing a new story
People are looking for a new story, their own story, in an age when making new stories from old ones is a primary industry – at least in the dying Western empire. So tarot is very intriguing, since each tarot card is a story in itself. The experience of a reading is like connecting one’s story to one in progress. And reflecting on or telling about the experience is an interesting story in itself.
There are so many apps for tarot! Using them results in many stories. One woman downloaded Galaxy Tarot and casually got to know the esoteric deck by virtually pulling a daily card and reading up on its symbolism. One day she was killing time before a phone interview for a job and flipped over the Two of Pentacles: a portrait of a man dancing on the balls of his feet, juggling two large coins in the air, forming a swirling infinity sign between them. “It’s all about adaptability, change and nimble movement. What really jumped out at me was the bit at the end of the interpretation on this app that said: ‘This card may be telling you to follow the money. You may need to travel or even move house to take advantage of material opportunities.’” She went into her interview feeling confident, and when she got the job, she didn’t hesitate to say yes. “It definitely took some nimble movement and adaptability to make it work, but I just pictured that character on the card juggling his two pentacles, and it kind of gave me that confidence I needed.”
The apps meet a need — and people will pay to have it addressed. The “metaphysical services” industry, which includes tarot reading, was estimated to be worth $2.2 billion in 2018. Cartomancy (fortune-telling using decks of cards) has entered the swirl of influences that create culture, according to Goop, #wellness.
Another woman said, “I’m 32, and I caught the bug a few years ago from a Californian friend who was raised on the stuff. I kept it up because I like anything that involves stories and because my basic state is one of being desperate for advice. But I don’t really know what I’m doing with tarot, by which I mean I’m an amateur and I only partially understand the nature of my own interest. I’m actually a pretty skeptical person—I just apply that skepticism so widely that it can look a lot like credulity (makes sense; I’m a Libra). I was raised faithless, with a general distrust of dogma, and plenty of what passes for virtuous or rational or normal looks totally bananas to me: capitalism, organized religion, air travel. Ask me if I ‘believe’ in tarot cards, and I’ll tell you, truthfully, that I don’t know what that means. In the case of tarot, I think the more apt question isn’t so much about the belief as the habit: Does the practice feel meaningful or useful? Does performing the ritual bring you closer to being a better version of yourself?”
Another said: “I feel like I have trained myself not to listen to my intuition over a lifetime. It feels so refreshing to tune back in.” Another said tarot helps her access “things I may already know intuitively but which haven’t made their way to the surface of my brain yet.” If you’ve been socialized to believe your experience has no purchase, it takes work to reappraise the value of what you already know—to learn how to hear yourself think. Some see it as empowering for traditionally disempowered Christian women. Which is why it can feel both personal and political to turn to something as frivolous-seeming as tarot cards.
The Guardian notes the increased popularity of tarot is part of a wider trend towards mindfulness. “There’s a real sense of community in using it, particularly among younger women. People think it’s about predicting the future, but it isn’t. It’s about the present, and it can be very empowering. It’s no surprise that a lot of the online communities are driven by queer people or people from minorities, segments of society where people feel as though they’re not seen or heard, because tarot allows you to consider a problem, give a voice to it, work it through and see where the blocks might be. It can give voice to problems or fears.”
A brief history of tarot
Tarot didn’t start out as an occult thing. The cards can be traced back to late-14th-century Italy and a card game called tarocchi, played with suits of swords, cups, coins and batons, likely images copied from playing cards that originated with the Mamluks (slaves who became sultans) and made their way into Europe by way of Turkey. The Italian aristocracy would soup up their basic four-suit decks by commissioning artists to create additional sets of “triumph” cards featuring elaborate allegorical illustrations and figures of people you’d likely see in a Mardi Gras celebration..
Sometime between 1750 and 1800, French occultists reimagined the cards as holy relics from Egyptian priests. For them, the cards combined multiple belief systems: base notes of medieval Italian allegory and Mamluk, an infusion from ancient Egypt, light layers of Greco-Roman and Celtic, with a strong top note related to the Kabbalah. These decks were the first tarot decks designed for divination rather than play.
When you think of tarot cards, what you probably have in mind is the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which was published in 1910 by Anglo mystics, who were inspired by their earlier French counterparts (above). The cards are divided into two sections: the 56 cards of the Minor Arcana in suits of wands, cups, pentacles and swords, and the 22 Major Arcana, which include the familiar cards: Death, the Wheel of Fortune and the Fool. Instagram is full of beautifully shot tarot spreads, with cards showing the High Priestess or the Wheel of Fortune often prominent.
The power of this mash-up of the ancient, modern and fanciful isn’t so much in the unlikely mystical origins as it is in the cards’ ability to wallop you with elemental symbols. Each card is like a scene ripped from a fairy tale, with fragments of allegory, history, drama and myth. The cards are crowded with detailed, eclectic references and allusions. They elicit stories that are dense and theatrical but also suggestive and fine-grained, begging interpretation. The characters and stories in the tarot are both familiar and strange. The archetypes are primed for remixing, and there are now literally hundreds of varieties. The classic decks have been reimagined and updated again and again, turning up with different social, political and pop-cultural inflections. You can find intersectional feminist tarot, flora-and-fauna eco-tarot and tarot featuring The Simpsons, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Game of Thrones. Young Adult author, Maggie Stiefvater, has created her own tarot deck, the Raven’s Prophecy Tarot, which references her bestselling Raven Cycle YA novels.
How does the church relate?
“I don’t believe the cards themselves are inherently magical tools,” says Liz Worth. “Over centuries, people reinvented it as something we can use to find answers, to divine, to connect with some kind of higher power or whatever name you want to call it. But tarot is still an invention, and we can read patterns and elements in it the same way we can read them in anything.”
This truth does not mean people will use tarot in a mature way and not be drawn into harmful connections with spirits who hate them. But it does mean people can find ways of discernment in a myriad of ways. We (meaning Circle of Hope) affirm seekers of all kinds, coming from all the corners of the earth and have a wide view of how we each find the truth and our personal way along the Way.
“The internet explains how millennials have turned to the occult – but not why”, says Amelia Tate. “My reading came at a time of uncertainty when I was making big life decisions. Millennials’ economic, professional, domestic and romantic lives are so far removed from those experienced by baby boomers that we can no longer look to older generations for advice (avocados weren’t even invented back then, right?). Where else do we go? We’re the most secular generation yet. “ She quotes an expert saying, “’Older generations are more likely to seek consolation and a sense of order through religion,’ says Stuart Vyse, a behavioural scientist and author of Believing in Magic: the Psychology of Superstition. Vyse has found that liberal millennials in particular are drawn to divination.”
People who feel they are alone in the world to find their way have an even more anxiety-provoking path ahead than everyone else. If they are separated from family and the church, or the past in general, then practices that promise a spiritual moment and some mystical direction which don’t require too much thinking or relating can be very attractive. Jesus offers an immediate connection, too, but it is not as controllable as tarot can be. A connection with Jesus, though filled with wonderful moments, also requires an ongoing relationship with God and his people and a lifelong openness to spiritual growth and service. So it might seem very demanding, if immeasurably deeper. It is possible that people are drawn to divination because they never met a Jesus-follower who loves them and is not the stereotype they fear. Our cells have repeatedly been easygoing places to make relationships that undo their prejudice and make a difference.
Amelia Tate ended with, “Yet despite my scepticism and cynicism, I can’t deny that lighting a candle and reading the tarot cards was comforting. It was enjoyable to hand over a big life decision, however fleetingly, to some ancient illustrations. I recommend it. And I don’t believe the answers are true – but I believe in them nonetheless.”
I can feel what Amelia is saying. And I can imagine how she would feel totally out of place anywhere she can imagine as Christian. I do not have a conclusion that can encompass everyone who is navigating the perilous seas of our time like she is. But I think a lot of them are alone on a raft of their own making. Our community, loving and accepting, is a safe place to explore their yearnings. A lot of people are permanently skeptical, or so they feel. Hopefully, our teaching maintains our dialogical character and our love provides an invitation to imagine with us, not withdraw into suspicion.
For some, tarot is a comfort and a way to know themselves and their direction better. For most it is a moment, a stepping stone into what is their deepest and truest self. I think it would be better to skip it altogether, especially if you are prone to depression, anxiety or other illness – you’ll get a better “reading” from your therapist or cell group. What’s more, the practice could be dangerous, since it has been connected to divinization for centuries; delusions abide there, as well as spirits who are out to harm us. People have recovered from such entanglements, but it is probably best to avoid being entangled to begin with, since we all have a path laid out for us by Jesus.
I was surprised by how much is out there about this subject! Maybe the fad is already waning, since even I am aware of it. My exploration encouraged me nonetheless, since I uncovered many good-hearted people searching for love and meaning as well as many people trying to provide wisdom for starving people. I don’t think the cards have easy or clear answers for them. But neither do I, as a Jesus follower. I tried to think of some “card” from the Bible for all the seekers I uncovered that might inform their search. I landed here:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:14-17).
The greatest truth and love are found in the Father’s lap. Life is not revealed in the cards. If you use them to meditate on your journey or to find direction, listen for the Spirit bearing witness that you are God’s beloved child with Jesus leading your way through whatever you face.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) says: “One thing that I love so much about mill — this new generation is the radical acceptance that I see from so many and they actually take time to read and understand our history, the history of the labor movement, civil rights, history of racial struggles, history of economics, history of the United States, history of colonialism.”
I know those people she loves. Many of them are members of Circle of Hope forming the next generation of the church. Many of those members go so far as to see themselves as “transhistorical.” They not only know the history of things, they are part of an eternal now with their ancestors in the faith (like the real Valentine). They keep making history with all those faithful people from the past. I love them at least as much as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does.
I think I feel about Circle of hope like Paul did about the church in Rome, planted as it was in the first century’s facsimile of a megalopolis: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:8ff).
But what about those who have lost history?
However, I experienced a jarring collision between my Headspace trial and Jane Pauley on the DVR last night. It did not make me happy about the way history is going and being lost.
The Headspace app I spoke about in my speech last night taught me and many, many others to shut out the world and live in the present moment. The app provides a cartoon version of Buddhist practice for anxious millennials, especially. Their withdrawal reflects “the Buddhist way,” which includes this kind of teaching: “Buddhists reject identity by saying the self is empty Anatman. They reject reality because they do not believe in external reality. They reject presence because their goal is absence, absence of suffering.”
Buddhism is a pretty big tent, these days. But pop Bushism on apps fits right into the fearfulness that leads people to find ways to shut things out and just be in the moment, history included.
When I got home from the meeting at West Tulpehocken, I sat down to watch the rest of CBS Sunday Morning. It spent a lot of time on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Here’s the best story.
The people who have spent their whole lives and millions of dollars preserving Auschwitz, so no one forgets what happened there, are frightened. As each remaining survivor dies, there is a bit more slippage in society’s grasp of the history. The CBS reporters lifted a paragraph out of the Wikipedia page about Millennials to make that point:
A February 2018 survey of 1,350 individuals found that 66% of the American millennials (and 41% of all U.S. adults) surveyed did not know what Auschwitz was, while 41% incorrectly claimed that 2 million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust, and 22% said that they had never heard of the Holocaust. Over 95% of American millennials were unaware that a portion of the Holocaust occurred in the Baltic states, which lost over 90% of their pre-war Jewish population, and 49% were not able to name a single Nazi concentration camp or ghetto in German-occupied Europe.
Meanwhile, reported hate crimes are on the rise (see this WP story about kids!). The Brookings Institute collected data to show how Trump’s persistent racist and xenophobic rhetoric increases hate crimes. For instance:
Another study, based on data collected by the Anti-Defamation League, shows that counties that hosted a Trump campaign rally in 2016 saw hate crime rates more than double compared to similar counties that did not host a rally.
It is disheartening to anyone who knows what Auschwitz is to think that world leaders can find followers willing to scapegoat despised people groups and unleash hate in their direction.
Don’t gasp, act
Maybe more people will “tsk” than gasp when they read about the sorry state of the world. Thank God Rep. Ocasio-Cortez can find hope in the good people rising up in her generation. I am encouraged by the people of our church who keep hope alive.
But I don’t think any of us should be surprised that people are so wicked. I have a B.A. in history and quite a few years of personal history, now. It would take quite an effort for me to overlook how people keep inventing new ways to express the same old evil. Evil is redundant. When i saw the evil portrayed in Parasite, my first response was, “This movie is so redundant!” It was almost like people who love Bong Joon-ho’s “fresh look” have forgotten the 1930’s, or 1880’s, or 1780’s or Nebuchadnezzar. Bong hasn’t. One of his favorite movies is How Green Was My Valley, which is the same old story of cruel capitalists and their throwaway slaves.
Jesus-followers apply the same old hope to the same old wickedness and keep the possibilities of forever alive. We have to keep our ability to be appalled intact as Trump and Bloomberg corrupt the populace swimming in the mud of their mudslinging. The people least capable of enduring the same kind of evil that could build an Auschwitz are the ones who will commit more hate crimes and scare people enough to barricade themselves in their countries, homes or minds. I hope we are not afraid to face these poor people and save them. First we need to make a real relationship with God, especially now that we really need one. And we need to let that love build us into a community of others who share it. From that authentic community, we need to act with all we’ve got, to answer every piece of hate with the power behind the love that transforms it. We need to gasp. Even more, we need to keep acting.