A little over two years ago I had an experience that I’ve been turning over in my head lately. It has to do with a nerdy black t-shirt. I was teaching high school English at the time, and I bought the shirt in honor of my American Lit class. It is solid black and written on the front in white lettering are the words “Ishmael& Ahab& the Pequod& the Whale.” Each item is listed on its own line and at the bottom is a line drawing of a whale’s tail.
I was wearing the shirt when I went to pick up my Ranger at the Ford service department. When I walked in the door, there was another customer at the counter—a middle-aged white man. He had a graying beard, a ball cap, a flannel shirt, and jeans. He glanced at my shirt and then shot me a sharp look and demanded, “What does that mean?”
I was taken aback (and rightly so) by his rude tone. “This shirt,” I explained, “is a reference to Moby Dick by Herman Melville.”
He seemed a bit mollified by my answer and muttered, “Oh, okay.”
At that moment I surmised he had mistaken the shirt as an expression of my solidarity with Muslims, or ISIS, or Israel, or perhaps the environment. He found all these things objectionable.
I was offended by his peremptory tone, but I answered quietly. I knew then, as I know now, who that man had chosen as his king. He chose another white man—a man who is aggressive, dismissive of women, dismissive of minorities, loud, rude, and entitled. Since that day I have watched people I admire and love chose the same king. Some have done so with an uneasy and tacit silence. Others, not so much. I get why.
Choosing such a king can be fun. First, he is not boring. Almost everything he does is entertaining. More importantly, as king, he is the example to his followers. He empowers them to enjoy the same things he enjoys—making fun of those who disagree with him, being openly rude, telling those who are hurt by his words to “toughen up.” This king values money almost more than anything else, and so it’s fine if he is rude as long as his followers are making money as well. This king fears and hates strangers and immigrants, so his followers can feel free to express their own fears along the same lines. Best of all for those who admire him, this king has very few rules. He really asks for only one thing—loyalty to him.
He is nothing like my King. I made my choice a long time ago, during a time when I was more idealistic and impractical. My King chose a life of poverty. He wasn’t particularly handsome. He followed perfectly torturous rules and thereby set an impossible example. My King requires me to love others, and not just those who love me. I’m supposed to love my enemies. I’m supposed to bless those who curse me. I’m not supposed to be selfish or rude. I supposed to serve others and to make sacrifices. It’s crazy.
There is one big advantage my King has over the current imperial of the United States. My king is made of truth, not just circumstance, but T-R-U-T-H. He teaches love. Love God. Love others.
Having chosen my King, I spend a good deal of time asking for forgiveness for falling short of His great commission. I have to ask for mercy and help and grace all the time. I have to answer with patience and kindness when someone who wants to infringe on my God-given right to free expression makes rude inquiries of/and statements to me.
So be it.
I have a feeling some rough times are ahead for all of us in the dear old USA. I hope I can continue to love in the face of all that’s to come. I’ll need all the help I can get from my King.