a purple state of mind

Aside from the content of Craig Detweiler’s latest book, the best reason to read A Purple State of Mind is the fatigue many of us experience with today’s polarized politics.  We are 40 days away from the election, the presidential debates haven’t even begun, and I for one am ready for this mess to be over.  The ironic thing is that I, like many of you, live in a state that doesn’t really count on election day: Illinois is a solidly “blue” state.  The upside of this is that we’re not subjected to ornery political ads at every commercial break.

As a filmmaker and seminary professor in southern California, Craig knows the red state/blue state fatigue as well as the rest of us.  A couple of years ago Craig and his friend John Marks made a documentary (also called A Purple State of Mind) about two friends with significantly different life experiences who sit down to explore the things that divide us into red and blue camps.  I saw the film back in May and would highly recommend it for it’s insight, humor and conversational fodder.  In his book Craig elaborates on a bunch of the themes that the documentary could only touch briefly.

A Purple State of Mind covers a lot of ground in 225 pages.  Organized by the four conversations between Craig and John in the documentary, each chapter attempts to step away from culture war’s stark categories and instead paint in shades of purple.

To a divisive, either/or world, I offer a both/and alternative.  The title of each chapter in this book has and in the center.  So rather than figuring how we differ from our friends and neighbors, I’ve chosen to find as much common ground as possible… A purple state of mind pursues compromise out of conviction, conviction that God does not wish that anyone would perish.

Some people will love Craig’s purple way of thinking about difficult issues like politics, eternal salvation, and complex social issues like abortion and homosexuality.  This approach will drive other people crazy. Some within the Evangelical stream of American Christianity will find Craig’s middle ground (or third way) to be nothing but cultural capitulation in thin disguise.  I’m not one of those people.

Whether or not the reader agrees with the way Craig negotiates our often polarized culture, it is still possible to appreciate his search for a means to transcend the culture war.  Craig is a friend and his writing and life have been an attractive examples of what it looks like to love God and love people.  At the heart of A Purple State of Mind is a rather simple desire to experience and demonstrate God’s love within a culture that has often been damaged by those bearing the name of Christ.

obama waffles and binary minds

I watched the comments on the last post, Obama Waffles, with interest.  Yesterday Lynn wrote, “I am neither liberal or conservative, I am neither black nor white on the issues, I am neither Red nor Blue…”  After such a long season of electoral politics and with 46 days until the presidential election, something about how Lynn defines herself is very appealing.

I suppose it’s normal to separate ourselves into different camps.  We are often more comfortable describing what we are against rather than what we are for.  And by “we” I am thinking of those us within the evangelical tradition; specifically white folks within that tradition.  In a thoughtful post yesterday, professor John Stackhouse writes that,

evangelicals tend toward a binary mind (as historians Mark Noll, George Marsden, and others have delineated in detail). Some things are appropriately thought of in binary terms, to be sure: “Jesus is Lord,” “Ye must be born again,” and so on. But the world of politics is the world of assessing a situation and making the best of it with what, and whom, you have to work with. Binary thinking rarely helps get anything done, because politics rarely presents an actual choice between Good and Evil.

I agree with Stackhouse and yet the language of good and evil is exactly what drives so much of the political rhetoric found in speeches, advertisements and cable news.  Is it a stretch to say that Obama Waffles are the result of Christians who believe this election really does present a choice between good and evil?  How many of us are tired to the point of frustration with binary thinking that pushes us towards one extreme or the other?

I’m two-thirds of the way through A Purple State of Mind by Craig Detweiler.  Craig is a friend and I’ll recap his book more completely in the next week or two.  For now, here’s one of the ways he defines the book’s title.

A purple state of mind follows and worships Jesus.  It doesn’t place faith in politics, power, or in people.  It adopts the long view.  It is hopeful that despite the ugliness of today’s situation, the reign of Christ will prevail.

Like Lynn’s comment, something about Craig’s definition rings true.  But in a binary and polarized culture is such a way of living possible?