(Note: the pic above was commissioned just for this piece by my oldest daughter. Couldn’t be prouder of that kid!)
“You’re just like a frog in a kettle…swimming around in the water, not realizing the heat is being turned up on ya slowly.” An old friend of mine used to say this to me every time my stress level started running high, and my “temperature,” so to speak, was got up. I would laugh and tell him the reason we were having the conversation was precisely because I DID feel the heat! I wasn’t, in fact, unaware of the “temp.” I still think about this when I get stressed out and it always makes me smile.
Recently I’ve begun to think about the old frog in the kettle again. It seems to me the point is, quite simply, the frog wasn’t aware of the danger the kettle posed. That old frog thought he was just doing his thang, hanging in the water, enjoying a nice dip, but what he didn’t realize was the very water he was swimming in was slowly being heated up and would, eventually, boil him alive.
Frog legs all around.
I’ve thought about this much of late because we, as a people, are frogs in the kettle. We are being formed and shaped constantly by the “water” we’re in, the culture we’re a part of. We are swimming around apparently not giving much thought as to whether or not it’s good, whether or not it’s refreshing us or boiling us alive.
It’s not that we’re unaware of the culture. We are very aware of the culture out there, but out there isn’t the problem. The issue is the water we are in ourselves. And honestly, it shows most in the realm of politics, and especially in those places where politics and religion meet.
Still with me?
Please hang in there til the end.
A few disclaimers/qualifiers: I’ve lived in the “Bible Belt” my entire life. I grew up in the evangelical church. I taught at a Christian school and served on staff at a church for several years. I belong to a church now, and I consider myself to be someone attempting to follow in the footsteps of Jesus (failing, but trying). I say these things not to set myself up as an expert, not by any means, but perhaps to earn me your “ear” for a minute as someone who has been “in the kettle” for a good while.
I grew up in the Reagan era. I remember the Moral Majority, the Clinton scandal(s). Through it all I was taught, either directly or implicitly, one bedrock principle: we were one issue voters: right to life. Period. Nothing else mattered above this, and it seemed everything else stemmed from this.
What I never questioned was why right to life seemed to imply only to life in the womb, but seemed to stop mattering once the child was born. Sanctity of life should absolutely apply to the unborn, yes! However, it must also apply to all of life: the single mom struggling to provide for her kids; the refugee waiting at the border with three generations of family, hoping for a new start; the homeless man with head hung low asking for change; the elderly widow unable to work; the raft full of African migrants seeking asylum in Europe; the mentally ill, the cast aside, and the forgotten. Do they have right to life too? And what does that mean for us? The church? And the policies of the countries we live in?
What about the nationalistic tendencies of some branches of the evangelical tree? Are we taking time to stop and think “wait…does this sound like Jesus? Or like Caesar?” Whose kingdom are we talking about on Sunday morning? Or what about the eschatological line of thought that ends with “it’s all gonna burn,” i.e, this world doesn’t matter, only the next one does, so the environment doesn’t matter, social justice doesn’t matter (unless of course one of these areas happens to touch you personally). We have many one-liners and sayings surrounding these very topics, and they shape and form us, they heat up the water we’re in, if you’re following the analogy.
Stay with me…
I struggle because the water I swam in for years said, implicitly or actually, that all Jesus cared about was your soul, that this world was gonna burn, that we could do whatever to the land and it didn’t matter so long as “the gospel” (which I might add did not always sound like good news) was preached. It meant we didn’t have to do anything about poverty or hunger (though maybe we would from time to time to feel better about ourselves) so long as we “preached the word.” But that same word tells us “whatever you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me (Jesus)!” That same word tells us blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the broken-hearted not the proud, the violent, or be self-sufficient.
How about the simple truth that being called to care for creation (Genesis 1-3) is a part of our mandate as image-bearers? What good does right to life mean if a child can’t breathe the air, drink the water, or swim in the ocean? The very scriptures which champion the unborn (Jeremiah 1:5) also tell us stand up for the stranger and sojourner in our midst (we know them today as immigrants and refugees today).
Do you feel the dichotomy? To be honest, I didn’t until the last few years, but it has hit me time and time again as I read Scripture, have tough conversations with friends and family, while realizing “maybe this water ain’t fit to swim in?”
Let me ask it like, in perhaps a simpler way: does the outworking of your faith sound like love and hope and joy, or like fear and hate? What about where it touches your politics? And it always touches our politics, and every other aspect of our lives. When you quote scriptures about praying for your leaders, are your prayers different for the leaders of the opposition party? Or how about your fellow citizen with whom you happen to disagree with? How do you approach them? How do you engage them? With love? Or with vitriol?
I think the truth may be we have replaced/exchanged the vision of the Kingdom of God with the American Dream. Perhaps our desire to have our own kingdoms has come at the expense of seeking first the Kingdom of God. Have we worshipped the idol of comfort and safety over and above the call of God to care for the health and well-being of our neighbors, our fellow image-bearers, and while we’re at it, to remember Jesus’ definition of who is our neighbor (here’s a hint: it’s not the person exactly like you).
This post isn’t about voting Republican or Democrat. I’m writing as someone trying to follow Jesus, for those of who also want to be followers of Jesus, and challenging us all to see beyond the “water” we’re in to look at what our Lord calls us to. I think we truly need to ask “is my life and are my politics shaped more by the Gospel of Jesus, or are they shaped more by the platform of my preferred party?”
And lest you think I’m swinging one way or another, I’m not. Long documented are the errors of churches who have lost the message of the Gospel in their pursuit of social justice, but no less dangerous are those who have eschewed the care of the stranger and sojourner, the widow and the hungry in a, quite frankly, gnostic pursuit of only the spiritual.
Jesus didn’t make us choose. He bridged both sides. He is fully God, yet fully man. He brought the spiritual into the earthly. You can love the poor and care for their souls and their physical needs. You can preach the Gospel which tears down a spiritual wall of division between us and God while simultaneously working for racial equality and justice in our world right now.
I remember the Clinton scandals, and how the evangelical world rallied to the cry that morals mattered, that character counted. And yet, somehow, many of the same people were found championing a morally questionable businessman as the savior of American values. And maybe he is…because maybe America’s values don’t line up so neatly with the Kingdom of God after all?
Maybe God gave us just what we wanted, just like Saul in the OT.
Maybe financial prosperity at any cost is a bad thing and not the blessing of God?
Maybe we need to take some time to re-read the Sermon on the Mount instead of getting our marching orders from Fox News or CNN.
In 2016, I stood at the voting booth with a lifetime of rhetoric in my head, as well as the voices and fears of my friends in my ears, and my daughters hands inside my own. I stood at that booth struggling to choose wisely. And I chose. Well, was it a choice? I told my kids I’d never felt so frustrated at the poll, never felt like I couldn’t win, no matter who I selected.
And now, three years in, a booming economy and conservative judges on the Supreme Court, and a country (and dare I say church?) more divided than ever in the past 160 years, why do I feel like we lost something far greater than we gained?
Francis Schaffer wrote in The Great Evangelical Disaster: “When the Christian church only cares about personal peace and affluence (which means I’m happy and I have enough for those I care about) the church is fundamentally dead in the world.”
Why do I feel like we’re the frog in that kettle, enjoying a swim, completely unaware the water we thought was safe is actually killing us?