The Best Is Yet To Come

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

As a progressive Christian I have often operated in a love-hate relationship with the United States of America.  I have seen the greed in our financial sector and the racial animus of our culture and have not hesitated to voice my dissatisfaction.  As an individual of African-American descent, I remember with intermittent anguish what my ancestors had to endure in Slavery, what my grandparents had to endure during Jim Crow segregation, and what my parents had to endure during the civil rights movement.  But today, I was struck by an incontrovertible fact.  I as a person with a mental illness can live a normal life because some chemist at Alcon Labs or another pharmaceutical company developed a cocktail of drugs that can compensate for the neurological dysfunction that I was born with.

I do not approve of the inordinate gravity with which pharmaceutical companies influence politics in America or the way in which they inordinately profit from the suffering of others, but I am still very grateful that they exist and that they manufacture the 20 to 200 mg tablets that keep me functioning on a high level.  This epiphany surrounding my beneficial interdependence with Pharmaceutical companies gave rise to a few other insights.  We live in a society where you can talk with love one’s over the phone, over the internet, or via television, and in which you can be with love ones in a matter of hours by plane or train.  We live in a society where you can be a communist, a socialist, or an anarchist and trust that you are protected by the same freedom of speech principles that protect the KKK or the Third Reich.

Yes, we live in a society that accommodates more violence than most other so called advanced nations, but we also live in a society with much greater diversity and consequently much more potential for angst, frustration, and malice than most other industrialized nations.  Given its demographic and ideological diversity I believe that Americans do pretty well in maintaining peaceful relationships.  As Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East implode in a failed attempt to deal with their religious diversity, the contrasting ability of Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Christians, Hindus, and Quakers to live together in one country without shedding each other’s blood is inspiring.  We cannot change the massive blemishes on our nation’s history such as the occupation and usurpation of Native Land from this country’s indigenous peoples but we can celebrate a nation that allows us, even invites us, to criticize it for such a history.  We live in a society where our media is plagued by gratuitous exploitation and the constant bombardment of manipulative enterprise.  But it is possible through this very same media to get important guidance about healthcare or get closer to God through the messages that are provided. African Americans in this nation are being incarcerated at abnormal and suspicious rates, but I would still rather live here than most other polities.

Perhaps it is because we are too close to the phenomenon, but I wonder if we realize the truly historic nature of our times.  We as a country which once used race as a criteria to enslave, marginalize, and misuse mass numbers of people for the second time in recorded history elected a president with brown skin who is married to a descendent of slaves.  We as a nation, not only once but twice in a row chose progress over stagnancy and diversity over toxic homogeneity.  From a more spiritual perspective, imagine the very possible reality that as we journey toward the end of 2012, this country was faced with a cosmic choice in this last election to either move forward in the advancement of its freedoms or to retreat in fear toward reactionary forces of chauvinism and injustice.  Now imagine the very possible reality that this country the Rome of the 20th and 21st centuries CHOSE CORRECTLY.  Imagine that what we did in this election was make a choice to dispense with the rhetoric and praxis of empire and begin the hard work of forging a new future of equality and equanimity.  In my own marriage, as my wife asserts her right rather than privilege to shape our family’s future, I sometimes feel the urge to quote some bible verse as a way to assert my hegemony, but I realize that if I do that, then I will be condemning myself to the bondage of being a tyrant.  It is my belief that in this last election we as a country chose the path of the servant rather than tyrant and that is truly historic.

While I suppose that I have always been proud to be an American in some dimension of myself, now I find myself more ready to say that I am proud to be an American from a source of true sincerity.  And so I conclude with the enthusiastic revelation and proclamation that I am proud to be a citizen of this great nation and the best is yet to come.

The Post Election Blues

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

As a progressive democrat with bordering on Socialist allegiances I saw this year’s election as one of utmost importance.  Affordable access to healthcare, a likely Supreme Court seat, and the war in Afghanistan were just a few of the major policy issues that were at stake.  For the past 3 months I have been praying every day for Barack Obama to win the presidency and for democrats to take control in the Senate and the House of Representatives.  This was unusual for me, for normally I would have prayed a general prayer like, “Lord God, please bless the candidate who is best for our country to win this election,” but this election was so important to me that I deviated from proper prayer protocol and asked for a specific result.

As a person who has been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder politics is a very dangerous road.  Given the capricious nature of politics in general, having definite allegiances to candidates just increases the stress on one’s psyche.  So needless to say, I have been very stressed out in recent weeks over the developments of the election.  In addition to praying about the outcome, I would say mantras to myself over and over again.  I would chant, “No matter who wins this election, I and my family are going to be alright.  No matter who wins this election, the sun will still rise and the night will still come.  No matter who wins this election, Jesus is still on the throne.”  But deep down, I believe that I may have invested just a little too much of my soul in this year’s contest.  I believe that I may have invested a bit too much, because with the exception of the elation that I felt on Tuesday night when the election was called, I have been experiencing acute depression in the days which followed.

Depression is a very mysterious experience.  For those of us that suffer from severe and persistent mental illness, depression can come upon us without warning and can seem to have no apparent cause.  But in this instance, I believe that my depression may have stemmed from a fundamental confusion concerning my relationship with God.  As an African-American politics is very important to my welfare.  Most of the strides toward African-Americans having equal rights in our society have come about as a result of political activism.  From the voting rights acts of 1964-1965 to the desegregation of public schools and public places, to the end of slavery, to equal access to employment, African-Americans have utilized the tools of civic protest and political engagement to fight for our rights.  This legacy is in stark contrast to for instance the legacy of Native-Americans in this country for whom political activism has been less fruitful in securing national rights for Indians and Indian Nations.  But perhaps the lack of success of Native-Americans in the political spectrum might produce a better attitude among Natives when historic elections such as this past election arise.

It seems that during this election, despite my mantras to the contrary, I explicitly connected my welfare as a person directly to the outcome of this past political contest.  The truth is that for me, God is the center of my existence and my strength flows from my ability to rely upon God as a source of sustenance.  Unlike some other people, I cannot count on my moods to be stable or my mind to accurately assess reality at all times.  Rather, I rely on medications and fervent prayer and seeking god as a way to fulfill my duties as a father, husband, citizen, and servant of Christ.  And unfortunately, medication while useful in helping me avoid catastrophic happenings such as a psychotic break, rarely works to stabilize my mood or keep me from social paranoia and agoraphobia.  No instead of my meds, it is the 45 minute prayer regimens that I pray on a daily basis that keep me focused and productive.  For me, as a person that lives with severe and persistent mental illness, God is often literally and explicitly the difference between death and life, darkness and light, and depression and stability. I realize that philosophically, this is true for all people, but for me, my dependence on God manifests in my life as a much more visceral reality given my challenges.

So, in this election, I sacrificed my usual center of God, for the external reality of the election. I dovetailed all of my hopes and dreams into the election outcome.  Unfortunately, politics, while important for a variety of reasons rarely directly informs or dictates my spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and circumstantial welfare.  I readily admit and assert that my life would be different if I did not have Barack Obama’s healthcare stipulations on my side as I deal with chronic illnesses like Schizoaffective, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, but in terms of my level of hope, my level of functionality, and my level of mental stability, politics is for the most part not a pertinent variable.

So in this election cycle, I made the mistake of relinquishing my karma yoga attitude about life and putting all of my existential eggs into the election basket.  The problem with this approach is that it creates somewhat of a psychic catch 22, in which if one does not obtain one’s desired outcome one might be devastated and if one does receive one’s desired outcome one must then contend with the reality that such an outcome pales in comparison to the Universal Source of God as a cause for our well being.  Today, I really tried to regain my center by reminding myself that I am in the same species as I am sure discouraged Republicans and that I need to pray for their adjustment to the political reality that emerged.  Today, I attempted to regain my center by recommitting my allegiance to God more so than a political ideology.  I am not trying to suggest that voting is not part of our civic duty, that advocating for justice is not part of righteousness, or that we should all put our heads in the sand and wait for God to solve all of our problems without our active struggle and participation.  But I am suggesting that as we advocate and that as we fulfill our duty as citizens in a democracy to pursue the end that we have decided to be best for the country, that we need to realize that God is ultimately our source of strength and happiness more so than any circumstance that we experience or political reality that we desire.

So, as I pull myself out of the post-election blues, I am sober in my understanding that God is and must be my center and that I need to revisit my duty as a Christian to love other Christians and other citizens of this country who do not agree with my vision for a better America.  As I pull myself out of the post-election blues I am sober in my remembrance that this world is not my ultimate home and that I advocate for justice out of my devotion to God more so than a desperate and fearful allegiance to any political outcome.  So thank you God for in your infinite mercy allowing the election to unfold as it did, but more importantly thank you God for being the center of my life and the source of my ultimate joy.

Destination Love

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

Recently, I reconnected with a dear friend of mine to whom I had not spoken in 2 years. In the process of sharing our experiences since we had last talked, she intimated to me that recently, she had a near death experience.  During this near death experience, she said that she met Jesus and experienced what she described as “eternity” in which there was “no time” but rather past, present, and future were all simultaneously occurring.  She intimated that being in the presence of the Lord was beyond any experience of love that she had ever had.  She said that Jesus’ love completed her in a way such that she could not think of anyone else in his presence.  She said that in the “eternity” in which she operated, that Jesus was huge and was the center of all activity.  Her authority in communicating this was mesmerizing as she spoke with a confidence that I have scarcely encountered.  I told her that she seemed “transfigured” and that I believed that she had actually met the Lord.  Ironically, another friend of mine was recently telling me about a book that she was reading called, The Prince of Heaven by Eben Alexander, in which an unbeliever had a near death experience and recounted going to a place of infinite love.  Similarly, Wayne Dyer the spiritual teacher and PBS personality had a woman on one of his telecasts who had a near death experience and spoke of a state of being where worry, anxiety, and fear had absolutely no place and were completely muted by the unconditional love that surrounded and infused her.

As a Universalist, these accounts are very affirming of my conviction that all human beings, from the worst of us to the best of us, are eventually destined to bliss, wholeness, and the unconditional love of God.  Even given the idea of hell that some people who have had near death experiences recount visiting, this hell is surely not eternal and is a place of remediation where much needed lessons are learned.  Revisiting the first near death account of encountering an existential condition wherein Jesus is the center of reality and his love is all consuming makes me think of Phillipians 2:5-11 wherein Paul describes our savior as “being in very nature God” and yet humbling himself to be born as a human being and live a life of sadness and loneliness for the greater redemption of all things.  When one considers how big Jesus is in the afterlife, his humility in deciding to live among a people who in many ways did not value his gifts of love and compassion is dumbfounding.  While Jesus had a considerable following in Israel at times in his ministry, he was a relative unknown compared to historical characters like Julius Cesar or even Herod Antipas.  In fact, Jesus was such an unknown to most people that finding historical confirmation of his life is difficult.

There is something about this earthly and natural realm of existence that creates a profound temptation to devalue things that are important to eternity and value things that in the scheme of the cosmos have very little true significance.  It seems that there is something about this experience of human life that inappropriately puts great weight on relatively meaningless criteria such as worldly accomplishment, worldly notoriety, and material gain and that underestimates the truly eternal significance of love, justice, mercy, compassion, empathy, and gratitude.  This world’s problematic value system can sometimes be frustrating if we forget that one day, one fine day, we will be in the presence of unconditional love and the learning experiences, trials, and difficulties of this life will be over.

Some claim that a worldview that seriously integrates the notion of a beautiful and wondrous afterlife will cause the believer in such a hope to neglect practical matters and to become so spiritually minded that they are “no earthly good.” But in my experience, it is my understanding of a wondrous destiny for us all that motivates me to make this earth better and to make people’s lives better.  The confidence that Jesus truly got the victory over hatred, greed, malice, and contempt on the cross and that in some profound mystery secured the destinies of all human beings in that moment of sacrifice helps me work through discouragement and hold fast to hope.  I truly believe that understanding love as our ultimate destination helps one to advocate for justice with more rather than less fervor because one operates in the unflinching belief that righteousness, equality, and love are not just destined to win, but have in many senses already won.  This kind of awareness helps us to persevere when it seems like circumstances in our earthly journey are untenable.  To know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this earth will one day resemble that wondrous afterlife where fear and hatred have absolutely no place, is so empowering that it will one day make real what is already real to the angels.  Because love has already won, it will surely win.

No matter how bleak things seem in reference to the mass incarceration of the poor or lingering racism or homophobia or worldwide violence or ethnic cleansing we have an existential guarantee that evil and suffering must and will fade to be replaced by the perfect love that is all around us but often times not acknowledged.  The truth is that misery, suffering, and pain are ephemeral and it is joy, love, and peace that are eternal.  The truth is that this earth’s destiny has already been decided and in spite of global warming, over-population, and the unconscionable hoarding of wealth that seem to be defining our reality that this planet’s destiny is ultimately good.  We who stand for love truly cannot fail and those who stand against love will soon be converted.  For our journey is blessed and our destination is love and no worry, pain, anguish, sorrow, bad choice, or adversity can ever change that.