I made it a few skims into the NYT Book Review yesterday before slinging the paper away and declaring I was so weary of progressivism and their better-ness peppered through every article. Every chance to bash the Other and slip in names having nothing to do with the subject at hand, but everything to do with making selves feel better about themselves. I did not vote for this current administration, am not a Republican, and have about as little tolerance for populism as for its counterpart, elitism.
All that to say I made my way through one article, not ironically a piece on how progressives are optimistic (and conservatives are fear-mongers) which I suppose depends on your point of view any which way you look at it. (I know some pretty heady conservatives who are wildly more optimistic and less screechy than some rattled progressives who always seem to be wringing their hands about something.) My point is, when you're so far left that anything to the right looks terrifying or so far to the right that anything to the left looks horrifying, of course you're going to disagree on whether you're the optimist or the pessimist. Somewhere in the middle is harder to be and see and stay. From that vantage point it's harder to tell who is the real -ist about anything because they all just look like regular people trying to figure out living and life and religion and family and finances and food and jobs and dreams and doing their best with what they have today.
But it all has me thinking about optimism and in particular, my own.
March, they say, comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and, I say, takes a certain type of constitution. Up north March is bipolar, a foot of snow followed by a spate of 60 degree days followed by another foot of snow. It is muddy and chilly and breezy and its scent is dirt and earth and a distinct one which you cannot describe but which everyone knows to be Spring. It has always been one of my least favorite months because I suppose I am probably a pessimist at heart. But March for the past three years has brought some sweet gifts (Our first date in 2015. Harper's birth in 2016. Moving back to Texas in 2017.) and I don't want to get into the habit of hoping for a bumper crop of goodness every March.
I, like most middling sorts, waver between ever getting too optimistic or too pessimistic about anything. I don't want to be the sort who begins to expect good things around every corner (disappointment is a brutal beast), but neither do I want to be the sort who braces for bad things just because. An old pastor of mine used to say, "Expectations are resentments waiting to happen," and I've found that goes either way. If it's not good enough or if it's worse than I thought, resentment can surface. Better to hold it all loosely, mustering the belief that I have all I need anyway. And I do. But also, we are human, made to want.
My friend Jen Pollock Michel in her book Teach Us to Want says,
"The fluency of holy desire can be learned: it can even be learned by praying the Lord's Prayer again and again—although, to what may be our surprise, the Lord's Prayer does not levitate us into some dimension where earthly concerns cease to matter. The Lord's Prayer is a prayer for us, here and now. It teaches us to reenter our lives with greater allegiance to Christ and his kingdom while allowing us to pray for everyday, earthly desires."
It seems to me the main problem in progressivism and conservatism and elitism and populism is not that we want too much or too little, expect too much or too little, but that our lives are too little arranged around the "other world for which we were made," to paraphrase a quote from Lewis (136), and too much arranged around this one.
But also, this "greater allegiance to Christ and his kingdom" lets us "pray for our everyday, earthly desires." Instead of our earthly desires dictating the terms of the kingdom, the kingdom of God makes space for those earthly—but good—desires to root, surface, grow, and bear fruit.
I have a lot of earthly desires, and many for our country right now, many for my church, my family, my home, my own body—the earthly temple in which the Spirit dwells. But all those desires terminate on themselves or turn themselves into some convoluted confused upside-down kingdom (like the Academy Awards last night—simultaneously decrying an inappropriate sexual culture while showering awards on films with beastiality and a sexual relationship between a 24 and 17 year old) when they are not within the generous bounds of a created order—which, by its nature, means we do not make the rules.
My desires must be for something higher, God himself and his kingdom.
This is why I glad to not be a registered anything or pledge allegiance to anything on this earth. My allegiance is to God, to his order of things, and my optimism is rooted in the coming kingdom, not in the fruition of all my "disordered loves." The world is in disarray: children slaughtered in schools by people with guns made for slaughtering, mental gymnastics abound by barely clad women talking about objectification, wars and rumors of wars, and everyone thinks they're the real optimist, the ones with the real solutions. But God's kingdom gives us permission to grieve at what is while hoping for what is to come at the same time—to be true eternal optimists.
It might be on the picket lines that our points are made, but it's at the tables where progress is made. It's there where we can be honest about what is terribly, terribly wrong, but also true about what is beautifully, achingly good.