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WORDS

August 1, 2012 |

The Basement Manifesto

BY Jen Hatmaker

For my money, Jesus’ use of parable and metaphor was his crowning glory as a teacher. (As long as I live, I will never, ever get over the story of The Prodigal Son. Never.) His parables were beautifully crafted, if not weirdly vague. Folks were constantly scratching their heads, unable to decode the story, finally resorting to high-class conclusions like, “He be crazy.”

For instance, Jesus once told this detailed, nuanced parable about a farmer sowing his seeds; some fell on rocky soil, others on shallow soil, some among the thorns, and a few on fertile soil. He gave all sorts of details, predicted the outcome, then sat back and said:

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

At this point, I envision the disciples turning to one another going:

“Pretty sure Jesus wants us to become farmers!”

“I don’t even know how to farm. I interpret tax code, for the love of Moses.”

“John, he’s talking about you, Mr. Shallow Soil. Stop talking about how you’re Jesus’ favorite all the time. We’re all sick of it, man.”

“I think you’re the thorn, Peter. Get a grip, dude. Take it down about ten zillion levels.”

“So are we the farmer? Or the birds? I’m confused.”

Jesus (clearly) sighed and said, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” and He then explained every metaphorical detail. (And then Matthew was probably like, “So when do we take agricultural classes?” and Jesus facepalmed.)

Metaphors are like that. We interpret them through the grid of our own experiences, assumptions, and worldviews. We read between the lines words that aren’t there and attach meaning where it doesn’t belong. They are super easy to misunderstand.

So it is with The Basement. While most readers absolutely dug it, got it, and holla’d back at it (Gwen Stefani is Brandon’s celebrity crush), some of you wrung your hands, told me and my friends to “get our heads out of the sand” (did you collaborate on this phrase in a secret meeting?), and assumed the basement dwellers were checking out of life altogether.

I thought I made this clear, but let me use plain words instead of allegory: The basement is a metaphor for our posture, not our position. The storm I am permanently retreating from involves name-calling, Facebook bombing, cliché parroting, and overgeneralizing. I’m leaving the paradigm that lets me cherry pick the sins that make me most uncomfortable for condemnation while conveniently leaving my personal struggles out of the public sphere. I suspect I’d find it unpleasant if folks picketed my house waving signs that screamed: “PRIDE IS OF THE DEVIL! GOSSIPS ARE GOING TO HELL! SELFISH WIVES WILL GET WHAT’S COMING TO THEM!”

I’m leaving the storm where listening is usurped for lecturing, and where people are “them” and the issue at hand “an agenda.” Not only is that an unsafe place for civil discussion, but it virtually accomplishes nothing, because everyone is yelling and no one is listening. No winners there. The tactics render the conversation impotent, no matter how vital or essential or sincere the issue at hand.

However.

Don’t imagine because I’m leaving the bloodbath, I’m also walking away from hard conversations altogether. We’re working stuff out in the basement. We’re neck deep down here. We’re putting civil discourse at the center and fighting for respect. We’re having tough conversations and battling injustices and staging round-table discussions and working through our differences.

But we are not going to murder each other doing it.

This isn’t some Christian commune. This is a way of representing the Gospel. It is about our hearts and words, reaching across party lines and believing that love is the most excellent way, even in the hard stuff. It’s about becoming a slave to everyone to win anyone to Christ – quite the opposite of “defending our rights” all the time. In the basement, people matter. All of them. And we’ve discovered that kindness and dignity do wonders for forging healthy dialogue, especially the difficult ones.

Storm:

“Repost if you support ______ and are ready to take back this country from the liberal agenda!” or conversely, “My flying monkey can kick your guardian angel’s a**!”

Basement:

Vote. Don’t be hateful and trite. Stop using catchphrases and reduced soundbytes. Belittling someone with a different viewpoint has worked never, nor is it the way of Jesus, Christ-followers. Your Facebook post isn’t actually going to deter the “liberal agenda,” whatever that is, nor will it change someone’s faith dear to them, nonbelievers. Real conversations between reasonable, considerate, living people belong in the basement. No need to shoot digital missives across an invisible bow.

Storm:

“All of you are…” “Everyone who agrees with…” “No one ever…” “They always…” These gross generalizations are unfair, untrue, and put folks immediately on the defensive. Conversation over. Your argument is instantly invalidated.

Basement:

Not every Christian who believes in “traditional marriage” is full of hate. Not every Christian who supports the civil rights of gay folks is a Bible-rejecting defector. Not every gay man wears glitter and drag in Pride Parades. We are not caricatures. We are people, and life is nuanced. Until we stop assigning stereotypes to each other and do the hard work of actually getting to know one another as friends, or at least human beings, we are going to sabotage every good, productive possibility in front of us. Gross generalities are lazy, and they don’t belong in the basement.

Storm (from my comment feed this week, but may I say that most replies on every side were basement worthy…I had to scrooooooll to find examples):

  • One position: “I once heard a preacher say that homosexuality was the final straw for a nation before it is destroyed. I am reminded of a song that tells us we need to get back to the basics of life and back to what the founding fathers of this nation intended in order to be blessed again. We didn’t have this problem until probably the last 10 years. It was kept very quiet before.”

According to this comment, homosexuality is predicating national destruction (according to “a pastor”…put another nail in the coffin between the faith and gay communities) and is responsible for the repealing of blessings in America (????????). Claiming “we” didn’t have this “problem” is extremely isolating and condescending, and there is absolutely no chance of further dialogue here, ever. This “us” and “them” mentality laced with judgment and hyperbole is exactly the sort of thing fueling the storm.

  • Another position: “What a load of twaddle. By disavowing any responsibility here and stepping out of the dialogue while supporting this business, you only *pretend* to wash your hands. That goes for each one of you. If you support tolerance so much as Jesus actually did, why would you still support an intolerant bigot? No prayers from anyone for Dan Christy to change his ways, I see, although I expect a few of you to pray for me. No shortage of hypocrisy here, ever. How sad, and what a good reason, on its own, for 50K people a week to leave the church.”

While exempting his comment that assumed I would never engage here (as this was a common misunderstanding on both sides), the rest of it is still accusatory, condescending, and over-generalized. So many other folks who shared his position wrote with intelligence, reasonableness, and earnestness. This is caustic, and there is little room for anything constructive to come.

Basement:

  • One position: “Hey Jen, can I ask an honest question? I appreciate the heart of what you said, and I think I understand where you’re coming from even though we’ve never met face to face. I have points where I may disagree but am not entirely sure because it is so easy to read a post and miss tone of voice and intent. I’m just kinda processing this out loud for a sec, and I’m on limited “nap time” minutes, if you know what I mean, so I apologize if this gets discombobulated. There were parts of your post that caused me to pause because I wanted to make sure I really understood you.”

Then she proceeded to explain the places she was uncertain (which is part of the reason for this clarifying blog). This is terribly disarming, basement-level conversation. If we treated one another like this, giving the benefit of the doubt and not assuming the worst, I cannot imagine where we would be as a society. So engaging.

  • Another position: “There are a number of things in the Biblical moral code that people no longer consider “sin.” Christians get tattoos. Women not only speak in church, but they are even ordained as pastors in many churches. Christians universally stand up against human slavery. Women can have short hair and men can have long hair, etc. But all of these were prohibited in the New Testament! If you take the very few passages about homosexuality in their historical contexts and original languages, they’re far less “black and white” than we think. Pro-gay Christians have many valid arguments. A nuanced approach to the Bible will reveal that the issue isn’t so cut and dry.”

This ↑ was in response to an opposing viewpoint. It was reasonable and intelligent, not charged with accusations and assumptions. I found it conciliatory, inviting the next round of conversation without putting the other person on the defensive or belittling her convictions. I’m taking notes.

Storm:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Basement:

“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Oh, Jesus. It is impossible for me not to love you.

The basement is no place for lecturing and soapboxes and picking up stones. Leave the polarizing phraseology and stereotypes on the first floor. If you just want to be heard but have no interest in listening, stay upstairs and weather the storm; I wish you well and pray that when the dust settles, everything isn’t laying in shambles.

You know what belongs in the basement? Hard issues, folks with different convictions, difficult theology, struggle. Bring your frustrations and concerns, your passions and positions. The basement doesn’t require unanimity. We’re on all sorts of frontlines down here. Real life is going on underground. This is no place to hide from legitimate concerns and injustices; rather, a safe place to engage them wholeheartedly. The basement is a way, not a place. No one’s head is in the sand down here. Trust me, precious little is actually getting accomplished up there in the storm. Conversations are dead in the water, battle lines are drawn and defended, enemies are declared. It’s a bloodbath, and everyone is losing.

Activist, citizen, disciple…come on down.

We have a mantra in the basement, and I leave you with it, immensely grateful for brothers and sisters and the grace of Jesus, who is working on transforming all us ragamuffins down here into His beautiful image:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.”