The American Dream

I can see it, with one of my mind’s lenses: the world is going to Hell in a handbasket. When did it become OK that a young man make a mainstream music video that’s openly, unapologetically gay from beginning to end? Where did all these transgender people come from? It’s like they’re sprouting from the woodwork. This can’t be the new normal, can it? Wasn’t it better when men were men and women were glad of it? And if we allow these things that are reaching the surface now, what else is going to bubble up? And do they have to rub our faces in it? That can’t be right. There must be a path back to the halcyon days, there must. Those were sunny hours. That was when the world made sense.

Some people point back, pretty far back, nowadays, back to the 1950s as the idyllic age. This apparently was the American Eden. This was the Baby Boom, and the rise of the middle class. This was when television became popular (over half of American homes had one by 1954). And that showed us exactly what a perfect family was supposed to be, in glorious black and white… So what happened, exactly? If it was so perfect, what could possibly have come to ruin it? If this was Eden, what was the poisoned apple? One may ask, where did all the “freaks” come from? But was there no such thing as homosexuality in the American Eden? No one who was actually undergoing a crisis in gender identity? Was everyone actually perfectly happy then, when there was no “choice” to be gay or transgender, or whatever else? Was that it? Did giving all of us the “choice” mess it up for everyone?

How is that possible? Have you, if you are a heterosexual man, ever “tried” to be attracted to a man, sexually? And a woman, to a woman? Can you try right now? Because if it is indeed something we can will, we should be able to choose to be attracted and then choose to come back to normal, correct? If it is indeed as simple as a choice, we have nothing to fear from such an experiment. Similarly, being a man to choose to identify as a woman, and a woman to identify as a man. No problem, right? Switching back and forth should be a walk in the park.

Or are we saying that those kind of choices are agonizing affairs, weighing all factors as carefully as we possibly can look at things, and that, once we choose, we cannot go back? OK, heterosexuals, when exactly did you choose to be hetersexual? When did you make that agonizing choice? We are all equally equipped, are we not? Or did homosexuals get the choice but we did not? What would that mean? If homosexuality is “unnatural”, where does this choice come from? If you argue that it is from the images and role models from people who should stay in the closet, I ask again, when did you choose to be hetero? Because the complaints are that those images and examples are everywhere, that we can’t escape them. Having been so exposed, when did you choose?

One thing that the American Eden proponents ignore is that it was by and large a white people’s experience. And then, men more than women. The 50s were something quite different if you happened to be black. And not just in the South. In some parts of the North segregation continued through the 60s and even 70s. And racism continues to this day, all throughout our great land, however much some white people want everyone to believe that we live in a post-racial society (we elected a black President, right?). And an example of a mixed race couple, out in the open—that made people uncomfortable, like two men kissing now.

Can we not draw from that example? Can we not say that the American Eden had no black and white couple holding hands and walking unmolested through the town? They had their outrage back then, too, and their Bible verses (why do we always have to whip out our Bibles?). I can get in that mindset, in fact, though that’s not somewhere I want to stay long, how a black hand in a white hand could seem “wrong”. And you know what? There are people today that still subscribe to this mindset, not really doing anything to change the way they think, keeping it to themselves for the most part. They were on the wrong side of history, it is said. The world moved onto the next thing.

But some people still wax nostalgic. It was when children called you, “sir”, gas was pennies a gallon, women stayed at home and were the world’s best mom. One supposes it is easy to fall into this type of thinking, if one has idyllic memories of when all was right with the world. But do you want to know a secret, that anybody who is reasonable will agree with? It’s better now. Oh, I understand it’s nicer if you leave your bag in a public place and 10 minutes later you come back and it’s still there, but stuff like kids still calling grownups, “sir”, still happens. And a lot of the things that are now in the light may make you feel uncomfortable to see, or even know about, but the people you see coming out of the closet—they’re people too. And a lot of them, we’re for the first time letting them be who they are. And that’s America, for real, where all human beings are created equal. No exception.

Some people, and not just holders on to the past, haven’t taken stock of the state of the world. Its swing is inexorably to a greater technology, and more important, to a greater humanity. We have reached the point that, if we all wanted to, we could wipe out famine—from all the earth. Conceive of that. In the greater “developed” world, we no longer have rulers of random qualifications whose only requirement is that he was son of the previous ruler. The “civilized” world regards slavery as wrong, whomever is involved in the transaction. And anyone who wants to keep one section of the population down, for whatever “reason”: you’re wrong. Not only are you on the wrong side of history, you threaten to drag us all back to that side.

Sure, it may seem that giving the formerly unmentionable classes equality can seem to some as oppression of the rest. To the privileged class, really. But the dream of America is that there be no privileged class. Not only do we not have a king, we have no aristocracy, at least not formally. We do have the rich, the old money, but no dukes or barons. But ultimately, we can’t let money be what rules us, either. America is a grand experiment in this one idea: people will do the right thing when they see it. This is what our freedom means. Don’t be afraid of new ideas, they’re more afraid of you. We shouldn’t change everything all at once, but what is likely is that everything will change, given time…

We are entering an age where we are as if waking from a great sleep, and the reality of it all begins to dawn on us: to sense what is out there in the real world and what it is that we have done: and that the nightmares that we were responsible for were real. And as the prophets of old might say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Not to say that the world is ending—far from it—instead, that the Beginning is near. The beginning of a brand new day, limited only by the memory of hate that yet may linger from the previous, a new day in which we dismantle how the world worked when the game was rigged. We will finally be free to be truly human. All of us. Free. And that is the American Dream.

The Great Blasphemy

“All great truths begin as blasphemies.”
      – George Bernard

Did you not hear? Have you not been told? What was it in the testimony of Jesus Christ that the apostle Paul persecuted before he was the apostle? For what, exactly, did the Sanhedrin pronounce judgment on our Lord, that he himself supposedly admitted to? You know, you hear the story of Jesus Christ, and at least some of us we think, how gullible were the populace back then, believing in virgin births and people coming back to life. How quaint. But really, those two things were hard sells, back then. Most people were quite practical and pragmatic. Eratosthenes, back in 240 BC, he estimated the circumference of the earth: they knew that the earth was round even that far back. One imagines that people did not take stories about a virgin giving birth too seriously… but that, of course, was not the great blasphemy. You weren’t put to death for something like that.

We find in scholarship that the great blasphemy of old, the reason why Paul, then Saul, so enthusiastic did he persecute, was the idea that God came in the form of a man. Our own Jesus Christ: when he said to the crippled man, “Your sins are forgiven you,” some religious officials took offense, saying that only God can forgive sins. Indeed, our Lord was put to death supposedly for this blasphemy: “This man says he is God.” That he was literally the Son of God, and since there is only one God, the Son shares His nature—he is God in the form of a man. It is for this reason, among others, that practicing Jews deny Jesus is the Messiah, for they expected not a demigod, but a man like you or me. Certainly not Divinity itself. And anyone who now says, “But of course Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” these would undoubtedly have sided with the Pharisees, for they both are clinging to established doctrine. One might predict how they react to the great blasphemy of today, instead.

“The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore. He changes them into ‘nice people’.”
      – Mike Yaconelli

We have the Bible, these days. Notably, we have the New Testament. This is generally where Christians come from, but it wasn’t always like that. The earliest Christians really only had word of mouth, and two questions: “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, risen from death?” and “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” That’s it. No written material of any kind, not even a pamphlet. And note that nobody seems to ask the second question anymore, and it relates to the quote previous to this paragraph. “Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing.” Did you know that you can make an idol, a graven image, out of a book? You know, the thing they made a commandment of, not to do. We have the Bible, these days. And it has taken the place of the Holy Spirit in many of our lives, we believers.

Where has the Holy Spirit gone, then? You can still see it in people when it is there, I think: those who show uncommon kindness, seemingly even in the most difficult of circumstances. And I’m thinking more Doctors Without Borders, not some Christian missionary work. If Jesus Christ is indeed the universal Savior, why would he not have been with all of us, from our womb, to stay with us till we leave this place? Is he not, indeed, God? When the Lord struck Saul on the road to Damascus, was he not instantly converted, by divine fiat? Could not Jesus Christ instantly convert someone the instant before death, if he is indeed God, omnipresent? This then is the next great blasphemy. We don’t need to have found Jesus to be saved. Because if he can save us, we already have him with us. Think of it like the reverse of original sin. It is blasphemy because of what is in the Bible—where Jesus himself is told to say you need to believe in him to be saved.

What if we don’t believe in the literal Bible? That we regard it, yes, as holy, but not the ultimate decision maker in our lives? “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” How would we know? Maybe take this one phrase from it at face value, when the Scripture says, “God is love.” It says that if one does not love, one does not know God. But what about the inverse? That if one does love, then one does know God. And that means anyone. The spirit of love is the Spirit of God. But not just to claim it, but to believe in love, to put some stake in it, to stand up for it. Not just to feel some warm fuzzies. And so would they be known as children of God, for they have the same nature as God, which is love. Jesus gives us the prime example of what it means to love: to be able to surrender (all) for the good (of all). And to need to literally believe in some doctrine or else that God who is love will not save you? God is not an accountant. On the contrary: if we truly love, we are free from the rules.

If someone tells you that what you do is not according to the Bible, but you are going by what is deeply held by the dictates of your heart, as best as you know, ask them, “Which part of the Bible?” For we who declare that we don’t follow every part are accused by the fundamentalists as “cherry picking” this and that from it—but actually everyone does so, you see. Do we stone to death a child who curses their parents? No? Have you ever worn a garment made of two fabrics? The Bible says not to. The fundamentalist might say we should just follow what is common sense. But whose? Yours? Perhaps, as Walt Whitman said, “Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.” Even if it is from the Bible. Especially if it’s from the Bible. For that book is like a sledgehammer, and we would be well to make sure to swing it true, not by blind directive, not because some authority told us to. We do not want to lose ourselves to what is ultimately some words on some paper: it is not God, it is not God’s temple… Love, and be free. This is wisdom.

And now, we see that the first great blasphemy is now commonplace among the righteous, accepted sincerely by the masses. Now, as the world becomes one place instead of disconnected, far off lands, of different and strange faiths, the second great blasphemy we shall entertain, too, as the prevailing thought. Indeed, it is beginning to happen now. And actually, the second is the same as the first. If Jesus Christ is the universal God, God sovereign over all the earth, and therefore all the faiths in it, it is not just those who profess themselves to be “Christian” who are part of his flock. Like perhaps Saul, they just don’t know it yet. Jesus said that his followers would do greater things than he did, and these three words written after he was gone bear this out: “God is love.” If this is true, if the Most High is truly love (if a transcendent love), this is a third great blasphemy: that love is God.

C. S. Lewis said of that thought, “If Affection is made the absolute sovereign of a human life the seeds will germinate. Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.” I have read someone say that breaking the rules out of love, like in committing adultery, is certainly not the will of God. This is not what I mean at all. Love is not what we might say is only a great affection for someone or something, love is not the glow of feeling you have. In the context of this text, let us say that love is the Cross. Love is the Resurrection. It is sacrifice and resolve. Love is work! It is also transcendent: you can say it is one thing and then another and be right on all counts, and then you find that you have not captured its true essence at all. What is love? I don’t know what love is. God is love. And if it is not the love that transforms you into a “wild-eyed radical”, but merely one of the “nice people”, you have not received the Holy Spirit. You are not really a Christian. (Which is OK, though, as I have written above.)

Did you not hear? Have you not been told? Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, who saves all those who dare to love, whether they’ve heard of him or not. And do you know what love is? It is so simple we’ll never understand it. Do what is right because it is right—he told us that God will see every action. He will know whom to save in peering through your soul, every one of us. There is no outside beyond his sphere, no rule that prevents him from acting on anyone, for anyone. Did you not know? We are free! Not to be a slave to our animal appetites, but to live as an image of love, as God is love, and we are made in the image of God. Go ahead, you heathens, curse your maker because you do not understand. The Lord knows your secret light nonetheless. That no one knows. He will show us all the dreams we have forgotten, and the secret hope we once had and lost. For God so loved the world.