Wardrobe words intrigue me – designer labels of the human psyche. I put on “politically correct” shoes because they fit better than the alternative. I treasure the few worn out “woke” t-shirts I’ve been given, but never buy them for myself. They feel nice in the morning but seem ill-fitting as the day goes on. If I were to purchase one, I’d pick the more modest “stay awake” version – after all, Jesus recommends that label. My “evangelical” hoodie is all stretched out of shape and doesn’t look good on me anymore.
I love the advanced material of “progress” woven into “progressive”, and will put those boxers on first thing in the morning. It’s a sleek fabric, best employed as the undergarment of moral fashion – an internal reminder that change always comes, and “good change” is an opportunity we must not miss.
But these days progress of any sort is out of fashion, particularly in government. “Stuckness,” or doing nothing while pretending to do much, is the uniform of the day. It’s 100% cotton. Comfortable because it’s familiar, the look remains dull, baggy, and monochrome – musty as if from an old plantation closet. It shrinks in the tumbling heat of forward movement – the coarse challenge of changing social systems that still generate human suffering.
Status quo is powerful because it’s good at persisting.
Now what’s in my closet or in your closet may not matter as much as we think. You and I might never wear the same styles, but perhaps it’s more about reinventing our closet than matching our fashion.
The best closets are liminal spaces – ones that enhance the physical and the psychological process of transitioning across boundaries. Walk-throughs, not walk-ins. The Wardrobe of C.S. Lewis, with equal billing alongside a Lion and a Witch, remains the brightest example. Apprehensive at first, it’s the fruit of transition that lends the magic and light for Lucy and all others who pass through this dark space. If Lucy were to stay in the Wardrobe, it would be horror fiction.
Liminal space creates dread when you stay too long. The ever-expanding corridor, the slowly contracting walls, the murky cellar, the dark abyss in the back of the closet – all speak to the terror of stuckness. We’re not meant to linger in the transitional. When you occupy the liminal, the liminal occupies you.
American government remains stuck in a media-filled corridor, dressed in the expensive rags of status quo, fully robed like familiar devils calculating how to keep our most needful ideas and initiatives unchecked on a never to be accomplished “to-do” list. This antechamber of public service is designed to be a liminal space – the threshold separating yesterday from tomorrow – a rite of passage toward tomorrow’s promise. Instead government holds on to an endless today while the indispensable rots in place.
It’s “action” that makes hope so stylish.
Can we stay where we are? Status quo is powerful because it’s good at persisting. But the world never stays precisely where it is or returns to where it was. The pandemic moved us from the familiar – while fear and hubris prevent us from moving toward what’s next. We’re a liminal people stuck in the public hallway – a poor proxy for progress.
When the 600,000 or so Hebrew people who left behind 400 years of slavery in Egypt in a blindingly quick mass escape paused on the brink of the promised land to debate progress, the most repeated ideas sounded like this: ““If only we had died in Egypt or in this wilderness!…Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”…“We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
Humans share a tendency to retreat on the threshold of promise, echoing some misguided version of “make Egypt great again”. Retreating from promised progress cost the Hebrew nation 40 years and all but two of the original emancipated. How often do we come to the precipice of promise only to linger in a monstrous status quo?
- Like the Hebrews 430+ years under Egyptian slavery, we’re just over 400 years into our own American version of slavery and racialized injustice. Though we live at the threshold of racial reconciliation, we retreat from the fray when it gets difficult.
- We give lip service to being good stewards of the earth, but persist in a global pattern that harms our planet at ever increasing rates. No matter almost daily evidence, we rationalize retreat with a myriad of falsehoods, and live on as if the transitional climate we all experience is perhaps a fluke.
- Multiple transition years of pandemic feature deliberately mismatched values to ensure a rejection of the vaccinations and policies that promise liberation from the scourge.
Let’s build closets we can walk-through. Together we’ll put on the aerodynamic speedsuit of “hope” – race-ready with a fit we can all admire – like cutting child poverty in half. To hope is more than naked optimism. It’s “action” that makes hope so stylish. It is held together by realistic truth-telling while acting to create a better world – on earth as it is in heaven. It’s to clothe oneself in courage – claiming what we know, what we can do better, and what we’re willing to risk in the storm.