In the world but not of it
I don’t talk about politics much. It’s not interesting to me as a topic, unlike religion, or space exploration, or birds. That doesn’t meant it’s not important to me, however. After yesterday’s election here in the United States, I am dismayed, I am angry, and I am afraid, not so much for myself as for friends who are more obviously not the white cis hetero norm than I am.
What has dominated my thoughts this morning, oddly enough, is a phrase from my Christian background, the phrase I chose for my title: In the world but not of it. By “the world” Christian theology properly means not nature, the created world, the cosmos, but the human-created world, society and its distorted values. Early Christians lived in a society that cherished very different values from their own, so much so that they were identified as atheists, dissidents, terrorists. A good deal of the ethical teaching in Paul’s letters is his reminding his audience of that, mixed with a certain amount of respectability politics.
The first two or three generations of Christians refused to identify themselves as Jews or Gentiles, slaves or masters, citizens or subjects of Rome. They called themselves citizens of that kingdom of heaven that Jesus had said was within each person; they imagined a new Jerusalem, a perfect city, an ideal community where their values were the norm.
That’s how I’m feeling this morning. I am in this nation, but not of it. I do not belong here. My black friends, my gay and lesbian friends, my queer and trans friends, my Jewish and polytheist and pagan friends don’t belong here. That’s what the election results say to me. Never mind that the very real problems of our country were caused not by any of them, not by Mexicans or Muslims, but by rich and still greedy white men like the one who was just elected, men who have nothing but contempt for women, for people of color, for people without wealth. We are in this nation, but not of it; our true citizenship is somewhere else, someplace we imagined was implied in the founding documents of the United States, however little the Founding Fathers may have realized it. Perhaps someday we can build our city here; I have not entirely given up hope.
In the meantime, I see my job as a writer as imagining alternatives. Other people can write the dystopias that now look like prophecies; my work will continue to celebrate possibilities. I’m calling my new Jerusalem, my kingdom of heaven, my true citizenship, Antinoopolis, the city that Hadrian built at the place where Antinous’ body was found. I am no longer pledging my allegiance to a divided nation where liberty and justice are available only to those who have the right gender, the right color of skin, and the requisite bank balance. I pledge my allegiance to Antinous and to the city where he is worshipped, a city open to all races, colors, creeds, genders, and sexualities where love, friendship, wisdom, and creative endeavor are cherished.