I was away last week, taking some study leave to complete a couple writing projects. I was holed up in a little farm house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. My colleagues and I awoke the first morning to three inches of fresh snow. This fertile land was silenced in white, a gray steam rising off the Choptank River, which crawled underneath the lifeless cold a hundred feet away.
The world was silent around, the house quiet within, the sound of words being born on tinkling keys our only distraction. This little patch of ground isn’t yet defiled with wifi, so it’s rich and ripe with the goodness of a natural beauty which will outlive our global madness.
But as the late, great boxer Joe Lewis once said, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
There’s no escaping the madness. News seeps in, even into our pristine escape: the airport protests around the world, the angry twitter feeds, the defiant judicial rulings, all those “fake” congressional tears, and the growing international tensions. They are all real.
I’m afraid they’re all here to stay.
You can’t keep this kind of turmoil at bay, even on this sleepy stretch of the Delmarva Peninsula. There is news, even here, of confusion and chaos, conflict and concern, heartache and heart break around the world. A partial ban on immigration into the country is causing a furor. Even though this world is big, it is round, and what goes around will keep coming around. We’re going to feel these ripples for a very long time.
Before the President issued his executive order I wish he’d listened to the deep wisdom of some prescient words:
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
It’s not political wisdom Robert Frost was offering, however, so we shouldn’t be surprised no one read it in the Oval Office. The question the poet would “ask to know” wasn’t about diplomacy or military strategy or partisan loyalty. The poet’s immortal words are much deeper than that. Frost was offering spiritual wisdom, which transcends time and place, party and platform.
I don’t expect a president to know it. But the followers of Jesus should understand.
My anguish at our current national moment lies here. We can expect presidents of both parties to erect walls (Trump) or deport the undocumented (Obama). All modern presidents have rattled sabers to threaten enemies and played with tax policies to coddle donors. These are just the rules of the game.
But they are not the rules of Jesus’ game.
I completely understand the political and nationalistic and monetary and militaristic rationales that say, to quote the poet again, “good fences make good neighbors.”
But Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” I understand the fear that drives many political decisions, but biblical wisdom says there is no fear in love. I understand the rationale that says we need to ban people who aren’t like us – but there are no immigrant bans in the Bible, just a counter-cultural command, driven by a very un-conventional, spiritual wisdom that says, “Welcome the stranger in your midst.”
The rules of spiritual wisdom are supposed to be different. That’s what’s supposed to set apart the “faithful.”
This isn’t an angry tirade. It is not an in-your-face put down, a counter punch in the self-destructive argument that our un-social media loves so much. There’s no clever rhetoric here, and no “politically-correct” twisting of scripture. But the biblical word is clear, and the example of Jesus is still powerful — even if we don’t have the courage to live it.
We all have to base our assumptions and our convictions on something, and this moment gives us a chance to show where our allegiance really lies.
I’m not surprised by our President. He’s doing what he promised. And he’s playing by the rules.
It’s just that people of faith are just supposed to live by different rules. As GK Chesterton once observed, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
The snow is gone, and a light breeze is blowing over the Choptank. All is at peace – and that peace is possible everywhere. I really believe it.
All we need is enough courage to stand up and play by a different set of rules.