Can we just take a step back and admit that things have spiraled wildly out of control? Protesting, rioting, physical violence, and Facebook rants are just a few of the things that are dominating the high seas of post-electoral insanity right now. When the waters calm down, what are we going to be left with?
It is clear to me that this country is very divided right now. Differences in race, gender, sexual identity, socio-economic status, religious affiliation and countless other issues have become a proverbial no man’s land; scorched earth riddled with craters and opposing sides deeply entrenched on either end, ready to annihilate anyone willing to to go “over the top”. Three years ago, I went over the top and you’d be surprised at what I discovered; but first, a little background.
I’m rather accustomed to trench warfare because the majority of my adult life has been lived out in the trench of evangelical conservative religion. Automatically, confirmation bias is beginning to work its magic on some of you: “Oh boy, here we go…” That’s fine. Don’t keep reading. For those of you who are willing to venture ahead with me into no man’s land, allow me to clarify. The trench of religion is very clean and comfortable. For the most part, it’s also very white, straight, temperate, and restrained. The uniforms are crisply pressed with heavy starch and everyone is ever so “nice”. When the “enemy” in the opposing trench is mentioned, everyone unites in a spirit of self-righteous indignation, “Thank the Good Lord that we’re not like those degenerates over there.”
It was a great surprise to me and to everyone else when, three years ago, I wandered out of my trench and into no man’s land. There is a much larger story here and as I continue writing, I have plans on sharing it with you, but not today. I left my evangelical conservative religious trench behind and was riddled with bullets in the process. The interesting thing was that the fire was coming from my own side. “How can he be defecting? I thought he was on our side? What a fake! Mow him down!” The opposing trench was dumbfounded by all of this and they didn’t fire at all because no one ever gets out of their trench, after all, that’s why it’s called no man’s land. Weak and wounded, I crawled into the “enemy” trench.
This trench looked different from mine. There was granola, fresh local vegetables, organic meat and good beer. There were atheists, people of different ethnic backgrounds, members of the LGBTQ community, and even Democrats! I bring a little levity to this allegory to illustrate the absurdity of my own opinions at the time; please don’t be offended. I couldn’t believe that I had spent most of life labeling people based on my caricatures of them. What I discovered was this: they were people, just like me, trying to get through the war of life.
After spending a while in this trench, I decided it was time to go back; not to my trench, but to no man’s land and I’ve been here ever since. I still miss my buddies from my old trench, even though they took shots at me. Sometimes I call out to both sides, and they come over the top to meet me in the middle for a chat. There’s swearing, laughter, tears, yelling, and whispering. In the end though, we are all better for it as we begin to understand each other. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t pretend to know how to reconcile the two sides. It would be rather arrogant to presume that I could do anything to affect a major change there at all. Oddly enough, no man’s land is more of a home than either trench ever was. I’m comfortable with the discomfort of not having an allegiance.
In the wake of the anger and vitriol swirling around us today, I encourage you today to do the same. Get the hell out of your trench. Be ready to get shot in the back as you go over the top. If you’re not ready for that, take a good look around and find the crusty soldiers with tattered uniforms and bloodied shirts. These men and women are usually pushed away from the front because they had the nerve to go over the top and come back. Talk to them. Listen to their stories. When the time is right, you will hear the whistle and you will go over the top too.
Some of us are meant to stay in no man’s land. Others of us are meant to defect and switch sides. You may even need to go out and come back to your trench, only to be sent away as a “failure”. That all sounds morose, but I can tell you from experience, my life is richer because I went over the top. You should too.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt, Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910