Peace has been elusive for Diana Butler Bass in a hostile presidential election season, a disturbing Supreme Court confirmation process and the general mean spiritedness of social media.
It’s not that the author of books like Grateful, Broken We Kneel and Christianity for the Rest of Us hasn’t tried.
“It is really tough to find any kind of spiritual practice right now that is healing and helps us to make it through each day,” she said during the Oct. 13 installment of “Ruining Dinner with Diana Butler Bass & Tripp Fuller,” a weekly Zoom conversation streamed live on Facebook.
“It is really tough to find any kind of spiritual practice right now that is healing and helps us to make it through each day.”
Fuller, a Baptist minister whose “Homebrewed Christianity” podcast draws tens of thousands of listeners, is an American postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom.
“Ruining Dinner” features the pair tapping into a shared passion for religion, theology, history, politics and pop culture in talks structured by viewer-submitted questions and current events.
‘My anger is a gift’
It was a submitted question about finding gratitude amid political tension that induced Bass to reflect on why it has been difficult to find balance in the runup to the general election.
For herself and others, a myriad of distractions divert attention away from practices that provide solace. Spare moments of the day previously spent in exercise or devotion become consumed by watching news or waging fights on social media, she said.
“I wake up in the morning and think, oh, I should meditate. But then I turn on ‘Morning Joe.’ That is not meditation.”
Bass urged a return to better spiritual practices. But she also recommended seeing gratitude from a different perspective.
“We tend to think about gratitude in terms of economic exchange. So, you get something and then you’re thankful for what you get,” she said. “That’s a very Western way of looking at gratitude.”
The challenge is to consider how this issue is presented in Scripture, she added. “The biblical vision is that all of us have already been given everything, and we live lives that are part of a gifted universe. God is constantly in the action of giving — always the creative giver.”
From that viewpoint, even the intense anger generated by social and political injustice can be viewed as something to be grateful about, she said. “I can say my anger is a gift, or my doubt is a gift. They prove I am human in the midst of a situation that is wearing at our dignity as human beings. That means my soul has not been worn away by the events of the last four years.”
“Anger is a gift. See the good around you. Love without trying to control.”
This practice also requires acceptance of what is, she continued. “These are terrible times. Embrace the whole of your life. God loves you. Anger is a gift. See the good around you. Love without trying to control.”
‘Makes me nuts’
Bass said she has had plenty to be mad about lately, including a recent Twitter exchange with evangelicals unhappy at her posting a Pew Research Center graphic documenting the decline of conservative churches as well as liberal ones.
“I said some sharp things about it,” she said. “I’m tired of being bashed over the head by conservatives about liberal churches declining because they are liberal.”
She also referenced huge losses in the Southern Baptist Convention, which fell from 16 million members in 2006 to 14.5 million in 2019.
“The idea that only conservative churches grow, and only liberal churches decline, is just a big pile of crap,” she said.
Given those statistics, Fuller commented on the irony that Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, claimed his father has “literally saved Christianity.”
Bass said that news “makes me nuts because politicians are wooing white evangelicals while white evangelicals are running out the door with their hair on fire.”
Fuller suggested news of church declines may have an upside: “I’m not sure Christianity is built to be in charge of empires. I’d much rather us be faithful and lean, than culturally dominant.”
“I’d much rather us be faithful and lean, than culturally dominant.”
But the dominance of religious conservatives is on full display in the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, the pair agreed.
If appointed, Coney Barrett would be one of six Catholic justices, which moves the court closer to a single religious and legal viewpoint, Bass said.
“Any institution that’s a broad public institution has to have a variety of traditions that can come into the public space and contend for what is good for the whole of society,” she said.
Also troubling is Barrett’s apparent inclination to let Catholic legal tradition influence her judicial reasoning, Bass said. “What I’ve read from her, she takes the idea of punitive consequences pretty darn seriously. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of treating the Supreme Court like it’s the adjudication of canon law.”
Barrett’s nomination also can be seen as part of the rise of conservative Protestantism that began in the 1970s and 1980s, Bass said. “Evangelicals and Catholics didn’t get along until they found they could increase their political power together” around the issue of abortion.
Bass said she has been frustrated by the nominee’s unwillingness to admit she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
But she sees herself in Barrett’s “performance” before the Senate, she confessed. “I felt like this whole election season has been a huge mirror. I’ve often seen the kind of person I don’t want to be, and I have tried to live differently and to speak differently into the moment.”
Her goal is not to give in to the kind of behavior she finds objectionable, Bass said. “It would be so easy to join the chorus of outrage and talking points and all those kinds of things. But I’m really struggling and striving to put things into the world that help people to think. Because I’m on some sort of quixotic mission to believe that critical thinking still matters.”