Losing my religion.
I pray a lot — about everything. My daily goal is to make my life a living prayer, doing the best I can to love my neighbor as myself, thus bringing God’s healing presence wherever I am. Mary Baker Eddy, 19th-century trailblazer in exploring the mind-body-spirit connection (and the founder of the Christian Science movement) advises us in her groundbreaking book Science and Health to “[s]tand porter at the door of thought. Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously. When the condition is present which you say induces disease, whether it be air, exercise, heredity, contagion, or accident, then perform your office as porter and shut out these unhealthy thoughts and fears. Exclude from mortal mind the offending errors; then the body cannot suffer from them. The issues of pain or pleasure must come through mind, and like a watchman forsaking his post, we admit the intruding belief, forgetting that through divine help we can forbid this entrance” (p. 392–393). I’ve been doing what Eddy calls “molding and chiseling thought” (see p. 248) since 1991, when I was healed of carpal tunnel syndrome just from reading her book. And in that time I’ve witnessed countless healings, even in cases thought to be chronic or hopeless.
But ever since a certain person started running for — and became — president, even though I pushed with all my might, I mostly failed at keeping that door of thought closed. During the campaign — this was way before I learned how to pace myself — I would wake up in the middle of the night with that despicable man’s voice in my head, condemning everything that makes sense. Like most people, I was traumatized by the election. We expected to be celebrating the first American woman president. Instead, we’re careening toward dystopia. The president of the United States spends sleepless nights spewing arbitrary hatred and vitriol on Twitter. It isn’t just the bigoted rhetoric, the reckless ignorance, the compulsive lying, and the nefarious international business entanglements; more troubling is his disdain for our democracy. He lashes out daily against freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion.
My outrage at the normalization of this juvenile-delinquent-in-chief has been met with stunning silence by my Christian Science teacher and by others I respect — spiritual leaders I used to look up to for guidance. I expressed my indignation to my teacher, begging for direction on how best to pray about this, and received only platitudes about standing strong, armed with Love. Of course, I know this is a very powerful thing to do. But unpredictably, it didn’t feel like enough anymore. Attending church, reading inspirational articles about spiritual healings, and studying the Scriptures began to feel almost empty. The last straw came in February, from an unlikely place — well, in this upside-down world, it’s one of our more reliable sources: John Oliver. Reviewing the president’s disconnect from reality and contempt for the press, Oliver included a clip of Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, saying “Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” This is an appalling statement in and of itself. But it hit me hard, because Mr. Smith is ostensibly a Christian Scientist. He’s been interviewed multiple times over the years, usually about effective prayers regarding honesty and bipartisanship in government. It’s been over a decade since we’ve heard from him in the field, however, and now I know why: He’s clearly been drinking the Kool-Aid.* “Getting your news directly from the leader,” as Oliver correctly pointed out, “is basically the philosophy of North Korea. And the notion that our leaders should be able to pass on mistruths with impunity should be alarming to absolutely everybody, regardless of politics.”
Traditionally, Christian Scientists are to remain nonpartisan — at least in public. We’re supposed to keep our mouths shut when it comes to political issues, and just keep praying about it. On the one hand, I get that. I do. Eddy was wise back in the day when she advised that it was better not to take sides, but rather through loving prayer to uncover common ground for healing. This open-minded strategy, if practiced regularly and sincerely, is indeed effective. Under normal circumstances. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Eddy didn’t hold back when it came to condemning slavery, supporting the temperance movement, and speaking up for a woman’s right to vote. After all, Eddy wrote, right there in her book: “Speak the truth to every form of error” (p. 418). Do you really think, if Eddy had been around during the rise of Hitler, she’d have said nothing? Absolutely not. She would’ve been out there every day, speaking out against Nazism. And if she were alive today, you bet your ass she’d be all over the Internet, condemning the burgeoning authoritarianism of this degenerate, wannabe dictator, and reminding people to reread 1984 right alongside the Beatitudes.
Fortunately, I’m finally past the profound grief and disappointment. What got the ball rolling? As a matter of fact, it was Medium that saved me. That’s why I’m here. First, I stumbled upon N. Ziehl’s concise piece on the indicators of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, “Coping with Chaos in the White House” Then came Umair Haque’s pithy primer, “How to Listen to Authoritarians (Without Losing Your Mind).” According to Haque, the crux of the matter is: Authoritarians “lie about the past, but tell the truth about the future.” After that sunk in, at long last, I could breathe for the first time in months. (Read here for more.)
Keeping the faith.
The uncomfortable fact is, there are always going to be hypocrites, charlatans, fundamentalists, and even terrorists in every single religion. So what can we do about it? When our religion lets us down — and inevitably it will — that doesn’t mean we cannot keep the faith. It doesn’t mean we should give up on God. Many people choose to be agnostics or atheists. But that’s not for me. Even on the darkest days, I know deep in my heart that God is right here, amidst the madness. We need only to turn to the reality of this Higher Power to experience transformation. I’ve witnessed too much answered prayer, even in seemingly impossible situations, to believe otherwise. So rather than being overwhelmed, I choose Love, I choose hope, I choose prayer.
For now, my door is reinforced again, with Truth holding steadfast against the battering rams of evil in its many forms. Ziehl ends his article on NPD with the directive, “We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.” I’ve been mulling that one over for too long now, allowing self-doubt to keep me from my responsibility (my ability to respond). So enough procrastinating. Here I am Lord, ready to lead, just as I am. “In this revolutionary period,” Eddy declared in Science and Health, “like the shepherd-boy with his sling, woman goes forth to battle with Goliath.” (p. 268) That was 1875. And the battle ain’t over yet.
Janis Hunt Johnson is an interfaith advocate and spiritual activist who wants to show you how scientific prayer can heal you, and anyone your life touches. Learn more about her book, Five Smooth Stones, here. Her upcoming second book is tentatively titled Seven Words to Freedom, Eight Days a Week: How Living Prayer Will Heal Our World. #LivingPrayer
*Since this article was first published, Lamar Smith has announced he is retiring.
In the early morning hours of October 26, 2016, James Otis, dressed as a construction worker, destroyed the Donald Trump star on the Hollywood walk of fame with a pickax — an act of disobedience to express his anger over a presidential nominee who’d become “the poster child for sexual violence.” Many of us cheered for Otis back then. We’d already learned about the 2005 video in which Mr. Trump was caught on a hot mic, bragging about sexual assault. “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything,” he’d said. “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it.” A Hollywood star. And a Hollywood star he continues to be for the people who voted him in, too, because even this outrage didn’t sway them, nor does every transgression since. So here we are, a year later, with our Degenerate-in-Chief, every day putting forth for the whole world to see, the opposite of what the proper male role model should be.
I try not to despair over this mess — watching all the progress we’ve made being systematically destroyed. But wait a minute! Isn’t that exactly what an abuser wants you to feel — so you’ll stay? So you won’t fight back? Helpless. Vulnerable. Powerless. But we are not any of those. We are already liberated. We cannot allow ourselves — as American citizens placed into this abusive situation — to take on a victim mentality, the same way any person in an abusive household is apt to do. We’re smarter than that now.
The #MeToo movement is just one of many signs that we can wake up from this nightmare. No longer will women and girls simply steel ourselves and hope for the best. We’ll bring men along with us. Let’s educate every man and boy in every way we can think of to reject Mr. Trump’s lead. “Locker room talk” is not OK. “Boys will be boys” is not OK. Pornography is not OK. Sexual harassment, exploitation, and violence — #notOK. We will not allow the president of the United States to codify misogyny. The Women’s March the day after the inauguration was worldwide — the largest in human history. We’ll keep standing up for ourselves, and for those who need our help. We will persist. And a bunch of selfish old anxious white men are not going to stop us.
What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?
Even though Mr. Trump is a bully, a braggart, and a narcissist, we aren’t fooled. He’s so awkward, so obviously insecure. His recent Oval office visit with children of the press corps for Halloween was exceptionally cringe-worthy. These kids weren’t impressed. The more tactless and arrogant he gets, the more obvious is his anguish. You can see it in his face, in every self-conscious gesture. And unless he’s reading from the TelePrompTer, basically everything he says is wildly inappropriate. What a frightened little boy he is, so unsure of himself. Why would we ever be afraid of that? What if we came across such little boy, today, crying in a corner? Wouldn’t we choose compassion? Wouldn’t we choose love? Wouldn’t we try to help?
We don’t have a time machine, so we can’t go back and comfort little Donnie. And you and I aren’t likely to meet the president any time soon. And I know, I know, I know. It feels impossible to send hugs to this despicable man. But we’ve got to try: one loving prayer a day to Donald Trump. Too difficult? Let’s do it anyway. More importantly, let’s get to work on expressing love right here, right now. We’re called by God — that is, by All That Is Good — to love our neighbors as ourselves. And that includes the ones we don’t like.
Love Your Enemies.
As Abraham Lincoln purportedly said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” That president got us to the other side of a Civil War.
The truth is, the fact that Mr. Trump is the president is a palpable symptom that we are ready to be healed as a nation. Our world teeters on the brink of destruction for so many reasons — yet at the same time we are poised for greatness. In this chaos, it’s going to take a lot more than indictments, impeachment, and voting out the Trump toadies. We are going to have to think in an utterly new way, or we’ll continue brooding in our corners, arguing, escalating, fighting. What about love?
Jesus, the cutting-edge rabbi who lived over two millennia ago, urges us not only to love our neighbor, as the Torah teaches (Leviticus 19:18), but even to love our enemies. In essence, he said, “You’re familiar with the written law, ‘Love your neighbor,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. God gives all the best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up. You’re God’s people. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (see Matthew 5:43–48). Enough said.
Over 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan have left the group after being befriended by blues musician Daryl Davis, a black man. “I didn’t convert anybody,” he says. “They saw the light and converted themselves.” When you’re armed with love and truth — instead of rage, hate, and lies — anything is possible.
When I was in college, one night walking home I saw a young man following me. Wherever I turned, he did the same. Wherever I crossed the street, so did he. I swallowed hard and walked confidently, staying close to the street lights as much as possible, and only slightly hastening my step. Coming down the home stretch to my dorm, although he was catching up, I was relieved to enter the lobby, where thankfully there were several other students. The young man was coming through the door behind me now, so I beckoned to them only with my eyes, placing myself in the middle of them. Nonchalant, I said, “Would you please help me?” as if I were asking directions. I didn’t want this guy to know I was afraid. They knew something was up, but they weren’t sure what. Then the strangest thing happened: The guy reached out and touched the back of my head. He stroked my hair. One person said, “Do you know this guy?” “No,” I answered, trying to show no fear, rolling my eyes. “Wow, that’sweird,” said another. And just like that, the guy ran off.
Years later, living in Chicago, I walked through dicey neighborhoods on a daily basis, but I’d learned from that incident that more often than not, when you decide you’re not going to be afraid, there will be a lot less to be afraid of. Whenever I’d give folks the benefit of the doubt, I could de-escalate a sticky situation. I’ve been fortunate enough never to have been assaulted. But a friend of mine came close. When a man groped her on the el platform, she stopped him cold when she looked him straight in the eye and scolded, “Does your mother know where you are? What would your mom say to you right now?” And without a word, he slunk away.
Comeuppance is Inescapable.
In Born a Crime, Trevor Noah relates many poignant — and often hilarious — stories about what it was like growing up in South Africa under apartheid and beyond. He tells of how his drunken stepfather sometimes hit his mother. Every time, Noah recalls, the police would side with the brute and say: “‘These women, you know how they are.’ No report was made. No charges were filed. Whenever he’d hit her or come after me, my mom would find me crying afterward and take me aside. She’d give me the same talk every time. ‘Pray for Abel,’ she’d say. ‘Because he doesn’t hate us. He hates himself.’ To a kid this makes no sense. ‘Well, if he hates himself,’ I’d say, ‘why doesn’t he kick himself?’” (p. 266).
Every evil deed unravels, in time. As Mary Baker Eddy explained, “Evil is self-assertive. It says: ‘I am a real entity, overmastering good.’ This falsehood should strip evil of all pretensions. The only power of evil is to destroy itself. It can never destroy one iota of good. Every attempt of evil to destroy good is a failure, and only aids in peremptorily punishing the evil-doer” (Science and Health, p. 186).
I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that the only way to get through this is together — loving each other and telling the truth. “Be brave and believe,” as the sublime Declan O’Rourke song goes. Whenever you find yourself losing your nerve, play it, and repeat. We’ve got this.
Janis Hunt Johnson is an interfaith advocate and spiritual activist who wants to show you how scientific prayer can heal you, and anyone your life touches. Learn more, and buy her book, Five Smooth Stones, here. Her upcoming second book is tentatively titled Seven Words to Freedom, Eight Days a Week: How Living Prayer Will Heal Our World. #LivingPrayer