The Fault Line of Woke

There are some serious, if not dangerous, fault lines in American discourse these days.  Some have been around for decades – notably attitudes toward guns and abortion;  and we take care to avoid these issues or tread lightly around them in conversation with people who come at them from the other side.  But a new crevasse has cracked into our culture in the past several years:  being woke.  And more and more people seem to have something to say about it.  For some, being woke is a badge of honor, in that one is open (awakened) to new ideas, insights and perspectives.  For others, woke is regarded as an ideological hammer, brought down on people who hold onto traditional notions of patriotism, religion and history.  In her response to the State of the Union address last week, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas derided the President’s “woke fantasies”, suggesting that Mr. Biden does not live in the real world, and refuses to adequately honor the legacy of those who have fought for freedom.

The woke and non-woke are digging in and doubling down — and hurling nastiness across the growing divide.

There are many days when I pride myself on being woke.  That I am enlightened, and open – and can see that the country we live in does not provide a level playing field.  And there are occasional moments on those days when I diminish – or dismiss, people who are unable – or unwilling, to see the inequities that are baked into our society.  And when I do that (and I know I am not alone in this), the fault line deepens and becomes ever wider.

A friend and colleague reminded me recently of the faith and brilliance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).  A  German theologian, Bonhoeffer came to this country for a short time in 1939 to teach, but returned to his homeland after a few weeks to offer his wisdom and commitment to thwart the advancing menace of the Third Reich.  In a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, who was then America’s most prominent theologian, Bonhoeffer explained his decision to return to Germany:

  “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people … Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” 

Committed to nonviolence and peaceful protest, he nevertheless participated in a plot to kill Hitler.  He was arrested in 1943 and was hanged just a few weeks before Germany surrendered.

Bonhoeffer challenged people to be awake, which for him meant to live without illusion.  He encouraged people to open their eyes to the stark reality of a murderous machine, and to confess a faith that was committed to justice, rather than acquiesce to the dictates of a totalitarian state.  For Bonhoeffer, being awake involved engaged in a discipline of removing illusions.  Nearly eighty years later, as “wokeness” becomes another issue in an expanding culture war, those who claim to be woke need to recognize the illusion of having “arrived” – of claiming moral superiority; and those who denounce wokeness need to recognize the illusion of airbrushing out moments of history and denying examples of injustice that are not aligned with one’s preferred world view.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer could have remained in the United States.  He would have been safe.  But he recognized that his need for security would blind him to the stark reality of the world.  He worked at confronting, naming, and then discarding, his illusions. He followed the call to be awake, which for Bonhoeffer — and for us, is an ongoing exercise.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              





Scams: Preying on Vulnerability and Violating Trust

I fell for a scam last week.  My computer froze, a pop up alarm appeared and said needed to call Microsoft immediately to protect all that was stored on my desktop, lest foreign hackers steal my data, documents and identity.  The Microsoft number was prominently...

Easter: Breaking Through a Contraining System

He broke out.  He got up.  In faith Christians proclaim that Jesus rose from the grave:  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.  What follows are hymns of praise, expressions of joy, a profusion of flowers – all offered to gatherings that are double the size of a normal Sunday...

Ep 11 – “Passion and Patience” with The Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler

Amy shares about her journey of faith, path to ordination as an Episcopal priest, passion for and vocation of studying scripture, and the blessings and challenges she has experienced along the way.

Fake News, Misinformation, and Truth

When I arrived in Japan in late August, 1973, for a two year fellowship, the country was preparing to honor the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo earthquake, which upended the city for four minutes on September 1, 1923.  140,000 people were killed, many by the 7.9...

Reflections on Christian Nationalism

“The opposite of faith is not doubt”, a wise mentor once said to me, recalling a line from Christian writer Anne Lamott; “the opposite of faith is certainty.”  Religious claims of certainty have been surging on public platforms and in various political expressions. ...

Fighting Insults and Condemnation with the Power of Love

We were at the breakfast table.  My daughter, then about a year and a half, was in her highchair, scrambled eggs on the tray in front of her.  With an impish grin, she threw some of her meal on the floor.  “Don’t do that,” I said in a rather stern tone.  With an even...

Contrasting Interpretations of Discipline

“We will not allow for a policy of ‘anything goes’”.  So said the Chair of a plenary meeting of Anglican bishops in 2008.  There were about seven hundred bishops from around the world attending the once every decade gathering in Canterbury, England.  The plenary took...

Selling the Soul to the Ego

I don’t know people who have literally sold their soul, a metaphor that goes back centuries, but there are many of us who have abandoned, ignored, forgotten or dismissed the very concept of soul.  There are ancient and medieval legendary characters — Theophilus, a...

What Do The Risks of Aleksei Navalny and Jesus Say to Us?

When Aleksei Navalny returned to Russia from Germany in January 2021 after recovering from being poisoned, prison was certain and death was likely.   Navalny died on Friday, February 16 at the IK-3 Penal Colony, located 1200 miles northeast of Moscow in the arctic...

Aging, the Election and a Pathway Through the Chaos

Are Joe Biden and Donald Trump too old to be President?  This question is getting a lot of attention, with no end of commentary.  Assessments are being made as to each candidate’s physical stamina, mental acuity, and psychological health.  Recommendations have been...
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!