She sped through the Chicago Avenue Red Line crowd in that space between the turnstiles and the stairs, weaving around this person then in front of that one in an important dash to get somewhere, probably work in a Gold Coast office judging by her suit and slick shoes. On her arm she carried a paper bag from one of the department stores down here. It bounced off commuters as she slipped in between them. Strangers exchanged quizzical looks as she dashed past and disappeared up the steps like fog.
I stepped off the top stair and onto the sun-soaked morning street to begin my own resolved march to work. The first obstacle is always the crowd gathered in front of the McDonald’s, a daily collective handing out flyers and talking loudly, shaking cups with change and seated with signs on the drive-thru adjacent walkway. I never have anything for anyone.
I’m halfway through the gaggle when a novel obstacle presents itself: a person, crouched mid-sidewalk. It takes seven steps for it to register that this is the mad dash woman with the department store bag. She is face-to-face now with one of the sign holders, lifting a takeout food container from that bag to hand to him with a deliberate smile and earnest wish for a good day. I hear it all in a quick stroll past. The shame pops first in my stomach.
When multiple major news stories about the policy of child separation at the US/Mexico border contains the casual and, by now, well-worn, observation that officials in the administration are making “false” claims–that it’s Democratic legislators’ fault, that it isn’t a policy, that it isn’t happening at all–then you know that we have strategic problem on our hands as it relates to truth and falsehood. Calling lies lies doesn’t seem to work. Fact-checking isn’t cutting it. Because the lies* only repeat themselves, even multiply, in the face of mounting evidence to disprove them presented forcefully and with clear documentation.
One major network anchor put the problem clearly enough on Sunday when he asked, “How can we believe a President who routinely says things that are provably false?”
I think the “how?” in that question is growing in urgency by the day. How? is a strategy question.
It no longer seems obvious to me that proving the untruth of a lie is effective. It’s not like there’s some referee waiting to weigh the evidence and call “foul” on people repeating things for public consumption that are demonstrably false. If you care about honesty and truth in public discourse, regardless of your party affiliation, this moment presents a crisis of strategy: how do we combat falsehood?
I’ll be working this out for some time, and I will begin with this hunch: the antidote to falsehood is not evidence, it’s love. Enacting love in public life is the most powerful strategy we have for resisting lies. Love cares for weak and marginalized. Love listens. Love gives. Love casts out fear.
This is the beginning, then, of my strategy for combating a growing culture of lies. Look for and commit to acts of love amidst falsehood. It’s a start.
*It feels important to distinguish between the spin that we have become so accustomed to from lies. Spin cherry picks facts in a way that benefits your position while ignoring those that don’t. It’s disingenuous. It’s dishonest. But it falls short of a straight up lie. A lie contradicts verifiable reality and has no basis in actual fact.
I have found it easy to lose sight of reporting is the media climate we’re living in, and I’m afraid that has skewed my sense of what is happening in the world and why it matters. Trying to engage meaningfully in the issue unfolding along the US/Mexico border has sharpened, for me, the difference between information sources that are adding value to the citizenry and those that are playing to an audience.
It seems to be all about reporting.
Without naming particular outlets, here is the dynamic I see. Some news organizations are reporting on the situation, with reporters writing and filming stories that describe events and quote sources, while others are producing a combination of commentary and criticism of other organizations’ reporting.
The question I am most interested in now, as I try to parse everything that’s happening, is this: is what I am reading/watching/listening to the work of a reporter or a commentator? Commentary is valuable, but in moments of heightened confusion it seems to me the most important contribution is being made by the women and men who are actually there, asking those basic What-Where-When-Who-Why questions.
The sources that are most worth consuming (and paying for) are the ones investing in reporting.
[For your benefit, here is one of the best examples of reporting I’ve seen this weekend.]
Confirming the hypocrisy of your opponent feels really good. When you catch them out in a contradiction of values, championing the same conviction today that they condemned only yesterday, when you and your team believed in it–man, that’s video-worthy.
Watch it and let that intoxicating cocktail of anger and vindication tingle all the way down.
Then get to work.
It is one of the more painful realizations of our era that hypocrisy doesn’t matter. Establishing that it’s all a double standard and that the impassioned virtue of these people is nothing but self-serving performance isn’t changing anything. They still have their platform. They still have their audience, who, it seems, don’t care.
Lament the injustice of it. Pity the deception of it. Then get to work.
People will pay for hypocrisy when enough of their audience, enough of their constituents, care about the same things we care about (we’re hypocrites too) and when their lies begin to cost more than polling points. So let’s get to work articulating and embodying a virtuous citizenship, a virtuous democracy, that is rooted in convictions that don’t change with party politics: respect for human dignity, care for children, honesty among leadership.
Resisting this nightmare is a good place to start.
My wife and I have watched 11 seasons of Top Chef, beginning with season four and continuing in an unbroken streak through season 15. We’ve lived in southern California and Chicago during that time, which has allowed us to actually visit the restaurants of several of the contestants. We pick one out, then save for weeks to pay for it as a birthday or anniversary dinner. It’s our nerdy little tradition.
We did it again yesterday, and in-between the pasta and meat courses we tried to recall every Top Chef contestant restaurant we’ve been to and decide which was our favorite (we settled on nine).
Two things about this hobby of ours.
- I always feel like I don’t belong. The food is always so meticulous and the service so fussy. The clientele is always so attractive, sometimes even famous. I spend the whole meal feeling like an imposter, like some Joe who snuck in through the alley door left open by the sous chef on her smoke break.
- I usually end up embarrassed at the way in which I clearly belong in these places. Everybody there looks like me. Everybody but the staff, that is. I looked around the dining room last night and could not deny the obvious, that there wasn’t a single person of color seated at a table.
You can’t have it both ways, can you? You can’t both cling to an outsider’s inferiority complex and enjoy the spoils of the insider’s privilege at the same time. If you’re there, you’re not that different than everybody else who is there. You inhabit a space that lots of other people simply can’t, for reasons that are not hard to discover.
Let that bother you. Enjoy the beurre blanc, but let that bother you.
As I walked to the car I left parked on a neighborhood street, it occurred to me that evenings like this are why people choose to live in this city. Warm, lush, the avenues humming with foot traffic and chatter from cafes and bistros while the side streets quietly light up through living room windows. You pass strangers on the sidewalk on nights like this and can’t avoid smiling and nodding in recognition of the secret you’re both in on, that practically no place on earth has it as good as this. That it takes months of a winter Hellscape to get to this doesn’t matter now. It’s here.
- Write a blog post.
- Read the daily lectionary texts.
- Read the news.
These are the three activities I want to fill the morning before my family gets up and preparation must begin for getting out the door. Not in this order necessarily; it’s different every day. Entire seasons pass with one (or more) of them not happening at all.
When I was in my early 20’s I felt tremendous urgency every day to do the second one first. In my 30’s, under the influence of Seth Godin, the first. After the 2016 election, the third. It changes all the time (today I have already done 2 and won’t have much time for 3).
The only constant is the time.
There was a moment during worship yesterday that made a mark in my memory that is going to last. There is a baptism happening, a baby, and two teenage twins are leaning over the side balcony to see. The side balconies in our sanctuary run about a quarter of the way back, beginning above the chancel. These two are in the balcony above the baptismal font. They could fall into it from where they’re standing.
Everyone in the room is watching the baptism, as they should be. It’s a watershed moment: an identity is being imparted–beloved child of God. Yet I can’t take my eyes off the two eighth graders. Their baptismal identity was confirmed in this space just weeks ago, and now here they are taking part in the church’s work of naming that reality for someone else, saying “yes” we will nurture and care for this child, a total stranger to them, yet now a sibling in Christ.
It’s their faces, both of them. They’re eager to be here, to be part of this.
This is why youth should be in worship.
Friday night may the a youth ministry opportunity hiding in plain sight. I’ve spent most of my career religiously avoiding programming on weeknights, as both students and parents in the contexts I’ve worked have affirmed repeatedly that there is just too much going on, what with school work, band practice, soccer, and all the rest, not to mention time families want to spend together.
So it’s been Sunday. It has also, though, been Friday and Saturday with some regularity, right? What else is a retreat? What else is a lock in?
Somebody asked why we don’t invite students to gather on Friday nights, and I didn’t have a good answer.
If you’re not inviting youth into decision-making roles, you’re missing out. The two students on our Committee on Youth Ministry practically drove our meeting last night. We came away energized by an idea for a new experiment that was proposed by one student and meaningfully shaped by the other. I was kind of magic.
Students’ schedules and relative inexperience with participating in decision-making with adults means that sticking a youth on committee is not, by itself, a recipe for meaningful engagement. In fact, I attribute last night’s magic to there being two students in the room, not just one; it’s a rare group of adults who know how to draw out the confidence of the lone teenager at the table. They draw it out of one another, though.
What else? The agenda isn’t particularly youth-friendly, only clear and specific. Maybe just pay attention to how students are reacting to what’s being discussed and invite them to express themselves. One committee member last night pointed out that a youth member was putting off strong non-verbal cues at one point and made sure the rest of us noticed, stopped talking, and then listened.
The adults in the room have to want input from young people, not merely tolerate it.