There. Got your attention, didn’t I?
I apologize for the bad language, but I wanted you to know what you’re in for if you read any further. And I hope you do, because I feel like this is important. I’d apologize again, but sometimes there is only one word that works to make a point, and now is the time. But maybe I’m full of shit.
Seriously. Now is the time to stop reading if that word is too offensive for you. I’m not going to apologize again. I’m not Canadian.
Okay, good. You’re still with me.
A quick grammar lesson since you’re still here: you need to know the difference between “figuratively” and “literally”. Figuratively speaking, you can be full of shit. “Figuratively” means it’s an expression, a metaphor, an illustration; an exaggeration used to make a point. “Literally” means “exactly”, or that something is true or actually happened. Literally, you cannot be full of shit. That role is reserved for a few inches of icky twisty parts in your mid-section. I suppose, technically, you could be literally full of shit, but you wouldn’t be alive to talk about it.
And why am I talking about this?
Because, America, we need to get our shit together.
In this past year, and especially the handful of days since the election ended, we’ve lost our shit.
I see wailing and hair-pulling. Teeth-gnashing and nail-biting. I see petitions to have the West Coast merge with Canada or the Electoral College to refuse to vote in December for what the citizens of their state selected.
Get your shit together.
We’re not going to secede. We’re not going to have a mass exodus north. We’re going to figure this out. I don’t want to be a Canadian. I’m a lazy American that never learned the metric system and I can’t figure out how much cheese to order in a deli up there. A gram? A kilo? I don’t have a clue and I just know that I’ll end up with a really shitty sandwich.
I have a story for you that I think will help.
Twenty years ago I was a Chaplain’s Assistant in the Army. Most people don’t know what that job is, including the soldiers I was stationed with, so a brief explanation: A Chaplain Assistant is an enlisted person trained to assist Army Chaplains carry out their role of providing counseling and spiritual services to soldiers and their families. The word placement matters: the title is not “Assistant Chaplain”, because the Chaplain’s Assistant was not required to have a faith background or to directly provide the counseling or spiritual assistance. We ran the back office and drove the HumVees so they could do their jobs. Sometimes, in accordance with our own consciences, we did some of their jobs if they felt it appropriate.
Thursday mornings were set aside for training. We spent 3-4 hours each week focusing on some task or another to help us with our jobs. It could be map reading or first aid, but often times it was something directly related to church work.
One Thursday we had a panel discussion among the Chaplains to discuss something that has caused more fractures within Christianity than any other thing I can think of. This very topic has literally shaped the world (not figuratively – this actually happened) by causing schisms between East and West, and between all the various denominations that have grown out of that initial rift.
The topic was Communion.
Or, more accurately, what Jesus actually meant when He handed out bread and said “take, this is my body”.
Did He mean that figuratively or literally? This very question, in one form or another, has led to divisions all over Christianity. Is the bread actually the body of Christ, or is it a symbol? Is leavened bread okay, or must it be unleavened? Is the actual consumption important, or is it merely the act of participating in a shared event?
What I saw that day still impacts me. I watched 25 or 30 Chaplains of all sorts of denominations discuss this topic. We had the full range in that room, too: the Catholic priest, who teaches that the bread (the Eucharist) IS the body. The Lutheran who believes that the Body is present in the bread. The Baptist or Nazarene or Methodist who treats Communion as being more of a symbolic act. And all through the discussion I watched 30 or so highly-learned, faithful men and women state what their denomination believed and listened respectfully to their peers about their beliefs. There was no fighting. There was no shouting down. There was respect and understanding.
When it was over we all went back to work serving the soldiers and their families. Serving the people in our community. Serving our country. And we did it despite the differences in our beliefs. We supported each other to serve a greater mission.
We did it because we had a lot of shit to deal with, figuratively speaking, and it was important. You thought I was done with that word, didn’t you?
Oddly enough, just a month or two after I left the Army, I literally dealt with the most shit that I’ve ever had to manage. I cleaned out a barn waist-deep in manure with an octogenarian Trappist monk and a one-armed Quaker. But that’s a different story. I can tell you, though, that Quaker guy could sure manage a wheelbarrow even with just one arm!
I told you this story because I truly believe that we can all set aside our differences of opinion and work together, respectfully, as Americans.
I don’t believe this out of blind faith or just wishful optimism. I believe it because I know it to be true because I’ve seen it with my own eyes and lived the experience with many.
And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a bar of soap to chew on.
Get your shit together, America. We have work to do. Work for all of us.