By Bill Mefford
The brokenness of our politics and the weakness in our political leaders is seen in the fact that Senators Corker and Flake only felt truly free to speak out strongly against donald trump once they realized that they cannot win against extreme right wing primary opponents. Thus, they have declined to run for re-election in 2018.
But what is positive is that they seem determined to not go quietly. In stepping down they have been liberated to voice what so many Republicans in the Senate are talking about with one another but who remained cowered in silence because of the political bullying by trump and his mindless followers. Corker and Flake are finally doing what the rest of us have been doing for two years: calling out trump for his incessant lying and sheer incompetence.
On Tuesday, both of these men spoke eloquently and directly of their disagreement with the leader of their party and they should be thanked. As I listened to Flake’s speech on the floor of the Senate and saw snippets of Senator Corker who talked to every news crew he could find, sounding off about the Liar-in-Chief, I resonated with their newfound sense of freedom. To no longer be bound to defend something (or in their case, someone) they no longer believe in, provides a sense of freedom that is almost intoxicating. Liberation from systems that bind us, that stifle innovation, and that force conformation to impersonal and institutional expectations is like oxygen to someone who is drowning.
I have felt that feeling of liberation from institutional repression when I left the United Methodist Institution. So, when I see others break out of systems that repress, bind, and stifle, I feel a great deal of joy and hope. I am reminded of my own process of liberation. It is contagious. I cannot help but feel that Corker and Flake have felt somewhat liberative as they have spoken out against not only trump, but his deleterious influence on the Republican Party and the nation as a whole.
So, here is my prayer for Senators Corkers and Flake, as well as my prayer for the many people who daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly are continuing to leave the United Methodist Institution, from which I have experienced my own liberation. Liberation is sweet, but it comes with a price and a responsibility.
Corker and Flake are now free to speak their mind, but they must acknowledge that liberation does not come without cost. In fact, if there is no cost, if there is no risk, there will be no liberation. Once January of 2019 rolls around Senators Flake and Corker will no longer have access to the kind of power and status they now have (though, don’t feel sorry for them; they will make LOTS of money through the connections they have collected through their time in office).
Fighting oppressive people like trump or oppressive systems like the institutional church demands that those who dare to do so pay a cost. For Flake and Corker, their costs will be slight. They will get some angry tweets pointed their way and they will lose their elected seat of power and the perks that go along with it (and there are lots of perks). They will lose their statuses, which mean a lot to people. In fact, these status positions, as I have seen working for the United Methodist Institution, often shape our identities, and in so doing, become binding on who we are, what we say, and what we do. But what is binding to some (like me) gives order and even meaning to others. As a result, being liberated from these status positions is frightening to a lot of people. But when our identities are shaped by our status positions then we are forever bound by those positions and the institutional expectations that govern them. Liberation sets us free to be who are called to be outside of prescribed, institutional identities. Liberation is frightening and overwhelming, but it is also an opportunity for tremendous depth; the depth to know who we are and who we are created to be beyond our title.
Further, I pray that both Corker and Flake and those leaving the United Methodist Institution as I have will have freedom to speak truth. Liberation does not mean the freedom to denounce for the sake of denunciation, or to lash out in anger. I have done that and it is not freeing to me nor to those who bother to listen. I have learned that liberation is emancipation only as it provides an opportunity for freeing others from that which binds them.
Now, I can almost hear people saying,"yes, we must speak truth in love." But what they are really saying is we must speak a greatly watered down, palatable form of almost-truth that perhaps slightly challenges us, but mostly encourages us and makes us feel good. For Corker and Flake, speaking the truth means not holding back naming trump's narcissistic, racist, misogynistic, serial lying that holds him (and the rest of us) captive. It is not enough to say we nicely disagree anymore. "Speaking the truth in love" has become the same thing as not speaking the truth. Speaking the truth is love. This is our responsibility.
So, for the many who are leaving the United Methodist Institution it means we have work to do. This means we must remind those held captive to a vertical, hierarchical institution that the movement that we are called by Jesus and shown by the New Testament church to follow and to model is actually meant to be a community characterized by egalitarianism, justice, love, and radical hospitality. Oh, how the UMC has strayed. We don't need to speak the truth in love. We love by speaking the truth.
As I said earlier, the cost of liberation means a loss of social and institutional status and that often results in the loss of one's identity. Liberation is often characterized, at least early on, as entering into a liminal state. Liminality is a space when people are in the midst of transition; where we have left a former life and we are entering into another, but we are not yet sure what our new status and identity will be. For instance, liminal spaces are experienced in cultures where young boys or young girls go through a rite of passage into becoming men and women.
Liminal spaces are filled with potential because they are times for exploration and wonder and though one can be sure that the liminal space will at some point end, one has no clear vision of what that ending will be or the changes that will be adopted. Liminal spaces free us up from having to depend on our previous titles or statuses - or be bound by those titles or statuses. We can try new innovations, we can think new thoughts, we can dream new dreams.
Institutions and institutionalists cannot fathom liminal spaces because they cannot control the outcome or even the liminal state itself. That is what makes it essentially liminal. There is a feeling of chaos, but there is order as well as we realize that liminality is set to a certain time and is not meant to be indefinite.
Choosing to leave behind one's status - or being forced out of one's status or title - presents the tremendous opportunity of an unforeseen and unknowable future; a future filled with potential and possibility, but also one that is frightening. This is the liberation of liminality.
I have lived through all of this. And in some ways, I live through it today. It is frightening and it is overwhelming. But liminal spaces - the process of liberation - is a space I would not trade for any other in my life because of the rich meaning, the process of discovery, and the possibility of innovation and creativity. And so my prayer for Mr. Corker and Mr.Flake (as they soon will be called) as well as for all of us who leave repressive institutions, is to embrace every possibility. Speak the truth of trump's racism, sexism, incompetence, lack of empathy and utter inability to tell the truth. For United Methodists, speak the truth of systemic oppression of LGBTQ people, of systemic repression to ministry dreams, and the institutional obsession with structural turf protection Speak the truth because that is love. Dream new dreams of what the Republican Party can be. Dream news dreams of what the Body of Christ can be.
Count the cost and be free. No title or status is worth the liberation of being a child of God in harmony with God's creation.