On the Christian calendar, yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the early church. The priest last night wore red, symbolizing the Spirit coming as a kind of holy fire upon the first Christian disciples.
Immediately thereafter these disciples began to speak in multiple languages, enabling a vast crowd of people from all over the world who were gathered in Jerusalem to understand the Gospel message in their own distinct languages. Many were saved that day, and the mission of the church was well and truly launched.
Holy Spirit, in a world of unholy spirits. Cleansing fire, in a world of destructive fire. Language that unites, in a world of language that divides. The contrast between Pentecost and everyday life, especially everyday life in election-year America, is staggering.
Current trends in American politics, culture, and religion are converging in ways so unholy, destructive, and divisive that I am having trouble fighting off cynicism and despair. And because, as a Christian, I do not think cynicism and despair are where I want to live, I am very troubled by the state of my own spirit at this particular moment, and feel the need of a change.
In my columns in this space over the past year, I have offered dozens of analyses mainly expressing profound concern about the state of our politics, culture, and religion:
- The rise of Donald Trump, and his continued surging popularity despite everything that is known about his character and everything offensive and bigoted that he has said;
- The vicious nature of this political campaign, with its moronic and hurtful name-calling and slandering;
- The bitter divisions not only in our politics but in our religious communities, including evangelicalism;
- Culture wars, culture wars, culture wars, in a thousand different incarnations, most recently as cake-decorating wars, marriage license wars, and bathroom wars;
- The brokenness of our national government and its inability to actually solve any problems;
- The coarseness of our entertainment culture, especially in its reality TV expressions, but everywhere, so bad that even the commercials for upcoming shows are too offensive to bear;
- The nature of our media, parasitic on conflict, constantly poking at our painful divisions, rushing like lemmings off the latest cliff.
Vulgarity, coarseness, meanness, conflict, division, bitterness, recrimination. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This is where we are, and those who write about the intersection of politics, religion, ethics, and culture daily receive full immersion in this toxic bath.
Where is the good, the true, and the beautiful? What is the impact on all of us of swimming around in the bad, the false, and the ugly on a daily basis? What will be the state of our national soul after six more months of swimming around in this political campaign, which has already reached such new lows? How low can we go?
I am speechless, dumbfounded, and disgusted. There are no words left.
I need more Holy Spirit, less Donald and Hillary, less CNN and Fox. I need more loveliness, and less ugliness. I need more love, and less hate. I need more of what is unequivocally true and less of intractable fractures of opinion and perception. I need an "inward emigration" into my spirit, and maybe even God's Spirit. I need renewal before I give in to despair.
Anyone else feel this way?
For this reason, I am going to unplug and go quiet for a month. Perhaps I will return to this space with a fresh word, a new angle of vision. Perhaps I will not.
Sometimes the best response to all the world's ugly noise is a retreat into silence.