Hemingway took me out for a walk this morning. The sun was up and while not really warm, it was at least bright. We walked the Dry Canyon, a walk that we don’t often do because it’s usually crowded. But we took the southernmost route today so we only ran into a few folks.
We had almost finished the walk when we happened upon a group of three women. Hemingway is used to having people comment on how cute he is. He, in truth, has come to expect it. A trait common to too many handsome people, I believe. It’s the dog version of staring at yourself in every window you walk past. He always slows down and grins big at those passing by, refusing to budge until they compliment him.
Of course, the three women did just that. “How cute,” one said. “He’s sure happy,” said another. Covid doesn’t really permit for small talk among strangers, so I just nodded and moved along. I was about five steps beyond them when one of them called out after me: “Is there something we can pray for you for?”
I was a bit startled and not sure I had heard her correctly. I stopped: “What?”
“Do you have something we could pray for you about?” she repeated.
“No,” I said. “Thank you, but no.”
There was a time in my life when I would have thought the gesture sweet. There was a time in my life when I might have offered the gesture myself.
I am long past such a time.
If anything, the gesture seemed intrusive. Why would I confide to a perfect stranger some area of my life that might need prayer? If I need prayer, I rarely tell my own pastor or my own church family. I don’t know if it’s because prayer to me is no longer the magical wand I once considered it, or whether it’s because I no longer believe in prayer of intervention, or whether it’s an off-shoot of just being completely disgusted with anything Evangelical in nature.
Or maybe it’s the combination of all three.
To be clear, I believe in prayer. I pray. It’s just that I believe less in the power of prayer to persuade God and more in the power of prayer to change us.
But after the past four years, I am loathe to participate in anything that reeks of Evangelism or Evangelicals. When I think of Evangelicals now, I immediately associate them with misogyny and racism. I know it’s not fair to paint any group with the same wide brush, but I also know if you lie down with dogs, you are likely to rise up with fleas and no one group has done more to lie down with dirty dogs lately than Evangelicals.
There was a time when I expected Evangelicals to be the people who showed up to help others. I remember being in NOLA in the months following Katrina and seeing church after church step up to help rebuild. Church groups from Michigan and Minnesota, from Georgia and California came with hammers and nails and bottles of water. Even former president Jimmy Carter showed up with his tool belt. It wasn’t the government who was rebuilding. It was the Body of Christ. The government was every bit as ineffective in the Gulf during Katrina as Republicans Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Louie Gohmert, Dan Crenshaw and Gov. Greg Abbott have been in Texas this week.
You know who has been effective in Texas?
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. The 31-year old Catholic from New York.
Speaking about her own faith, AOC says her first encounter with Jesus came through a cousin who had been imprisoned:
“Christ came to me emblazoned on the upper arm of my beloved cousin Marc. The blue-black ink danced between the bullet scars and stretch marks that graced my cousin’s upper body. Atop this crown-of-thorns depiction was a tattooed banner with the phrase ‘Only God Can Judge Me.'”
Faith isn’t something that AOC totes around like an AR-15, a means by which to intimidate and threaten others.
No. AOC believes that faith is about more than just spittle from a pulpit.
If Jesus came to transform us, then AOC is the living embodiment of what it means to be transformed by the personhood of Jesus. She isn’t into name-dropping her relationship with Christ. Instead, she has taken to heart the principles that Christ lived by and is doing her damndest to live by the example Christ set. Well, I don’t have to tell you. Listen to what she says about her own faith:
“By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.”
AOC believes faith should compel us toward caring for others. You know, the way Jesus did. And yet even as I type these words, I know there are those who will read them who mock AOC and her faith. During a week when Texans faced one of the worst disasters to ever hit their state, Governor Greg Abbott, Senators Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Louie Gohmert, and other leaders in the state abdicated their powers, while AOC used her voice and her faith to raise over $5 million to help Texans. While Ted Cruz was fielding phone calls trying to explain why it was he was vacationing in Cancun, AOC was loading bottles of water to deliver to the thousands and thousands of Texans without any.
And Texas isn’t even her state.
She didn’t go to Texas to raise money for her next election
She didn’t go to Texas because voters there will help elect her.
She went to Texas because people are hurting.
Some people run from the burning house. Some people run towards it. AOC belongs in the latter. She ran toward devastation in order to help, not away from it in order to protect herself.
Many of us, myself included, would not go into the homes of our enemies for fear of the wrath they would hurl our way. AOC is not most of us. She is in Texas helping at the Houston Food Bank. Meanwhile, many who claim to be “Christians” are taking to Social Media to hurl hate and insults her way:
“I don’t trust anything this fake female does”
“Has she turned off the gas in her own home yet? Since fossil fuels are so bad?”
“Her district is a giant shithole.”
“She is trying to get people to think she is a good person but really she is a joke and cruel.”
“She’s a communist.”
“Shut this bitch down.”
“I still don’t like the idiot woman.”
And those are some of the tame remarks made about her.
I have loved ones who have said vile things about AOC. Loved ones who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior who have made demeaning sexist remarks about a girl young enough to be my daughter, young enough to be their daughters. They barter in the misogyny perpetuated by religious traditions that have taught for far too long that men are to rule and women are to serve. Too many of my loved ones still hold fast to patriarchal traditions that allows them, even encourages them to demean women like AOC. Women like me.
These are the people who mourned the death of Rush Limbaugh while secretly, or not so secretly, wishing for the demise of AOC.
Many of them Evangelicals.
Some of whom I would have at one time considered close friends and family.
As I walked away from the praying women in the Dry Canyon, I wished I had suggested they really needed to be praying for the people in Texas, especially those whose loved ones froze to death, or the ones who burned up in homes trying to stay warm.
I hope one day I embody a faith as vibrant as the one that compels Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to minister to the brokenhearted and downtrodden.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Christian Bend: A Novel (Mercer Univ. Press).