I tend to brake when the name Ta-Nehisi Coates flashes on the page. So I got to listen to him get into the “cancel culture” dialogue that President Obama entered a couple of weeks ago. You can read Coates’ thoughts in the NYTimes. He is thinking about how Colin Kaepernick got cancelled. Coates says,
“’Cancel culture’ has always existed — for the powerful, at least. Now, social media has democratized it.”
I have friends who are MUCH more into the Kaepernick drama than I am. And I am certain there are few who could tell me a lot I don’t know about Coates. So that’s just to say I am not writing to add to the drama or to fan the fan club.
Coates just resonated so eloquently with much of what we were revisiting last Saturday during our Thirtysomething Retreat! As if the spiritual stage of development that often occurs in the thirties was not hard enough, Coates lays out the challenges of our time that compound all the natural problems of gaining adult faith. He says,
The new cancel culture is the product of a generation born into a world without obscuring myth, where the great abuses, once only hinted at, suspected or uttered on street corners, are now tweeted out in full color. Nothing is sacred anymore, and, more important, nothing is legitimate — least of all those institutions charged with dispensing justice. And so, justice is seized by the crowd.
I think part of the anxiety we were talking about last Saturday has to do with the threat of our lives being “tweeted out in full color.” I think people, and I am primarily thinking of thirtysomethings — but they are not alone, feel like they aren’t sacred, either. And if we church people want to explore what is sacred, it takes a while for many people to recover the real story about Jesus and his people, a story that isn’t soiled by that debunked, “obscuring myth” that satisfied so many people before it got ripped away.
Coates says the new normal is
Suboptimal. The choice now would seem to be between building egalitarian institutions capable of withstanding public scrutiny, or further retreat into a dissembling fog.
We’ll see what everyone ends up doing. No one has any idea, right now, do they? And everyone feels the “dissembling fog.”
We actually discussed the thirtysomething challenge as including a choice whether to dissemble or assemble last Saturday. It is easier to dissemble things in the fog than to build with eternal materials. Trump may just naturally cause fog. His pal Putin does it on purpose. But all of us are finding our way through it.
For the Jesus follower, the fog of the world might be frustrating enough to push us into the proverbial “cloud of unknowing” where we give up our lust for power, control and god-like knowledge and surrender to the fact that God can be held fast by love, but never by thought. God has withered under “public scrutiny” for generations. Today’s thirtysomethings are so good at scrutiny they can’t marry someone imperfect and need hours of therapy to consider accepting themselves.
Coates ends with sympathy for Kaepernick (age 32) that most of my thirtysomething friends could use, especially those who follow Jesus in a world where the opposition feels strong, often inside, but certainly out:
Mr. Kaepernick is not fighting for a job. He is fighting against cancellation….This isn’t a fight for employment at any cost. It is a fight for a world where we are not shot, or shunned, because the masters of capital, or their agents, do not like our comportment, our attire or what we have to say.
Once again a black person, the most likely to feel the heel of the master’s boot, is angry enough, brave enough, and sensitive to the truth enough to tell it. I’m listening.
Purposely or not, Coates inspires American Jesus followers to take off the master’s boot, in fact or in their imagination, and feel it themselves. The fog of lies and the fall of the “obscuring myth” Christianity became is very clarifying for a thirtysomething seriously considering whether they want to end the decade with faith. The unmasking of the masters of capital should encourage us all to stop begging at their table or clawing for our rightful seat — at least allowed an accepted identity! That’s all beneath the dignity of freed people.
I am inspired by Kaepernick and Coates to never be shut up. But I am more inspired by them to open up to Jesus, to wait, worship and listen. I don’t need to join the oppressors or fight them in order to get a life, I have one. As I watched my thirtysomething friends struggling and succeeding to get an adult faith, I was encouraged once again to see Jesus leading people into their fullness, right through the fog.