Clergy work in a world of words. Sometimes those words come from sacred sources, texts written by those listening to the mouth of god. Other times, our words come from saints and prophets, or great thinkers and theologians.
Today, my inspiration comes from a more modern sage, Patrick Swayze. In the film Road House, Swayze plays a zen-like bouncer, a master of martial arts and a scholar of philosophy. Teaching his new students the art of being a “cooler,” he tells them that they should be nice … until it is time to not be nice.
Nice is an apt word for Michiganders, for that quaint Midwestern attitude of people who strive never to offend others. Nice is especially appropriate for Midlanders. For we live in a nice town. Like another philosophical film, Pleasantville, Midland is a nice town. There is no crime in Midland — at least not the kind of crime you find in other cities like Flint or Detroit. No one in Midland lives in their car, or roots through dumpsters for meals. Like the residents of Pleasantville, everyone in Midland is colorblind. We treat everyone the same regardless of their race, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Midlanders elect polite, conservative politicians because we want nice government. We don’t need food stamps or medical insurance assistance. We don’t have unplanned pregnancies and we don’t traffic in women. We trust money to trickle down and politicians to not be swayed by greed and corruption, by private interests with deep pockets.
Nice is good. And, I want you to be nice. I want you to be nice … until it is time to not be nice.
Well, that time is coming.
In Texas, women are being dragged out of legislative chambers. All across America’s heartland, people are being arrested for stopping a pipeline. And just down the road in Lansing, the protests are growing — protests for guaranteed medical insurance for all, for marriage equality, for letting doctors and their patients make medical decisions, for restoring democracy, and for keeping intact the wall separating church and state.
When anti-intellectual fundamentalists run our government, it is time to not be nice. When the powerful and greedy seek to control all of the wealth and property, it is time to not be nice. When bigots seek to oppress women, people of color, GLBT folk, immigrants, and the poor, then it is time to not be nice.
Not being nice is hard. Fighting for human rights and liberties is hard. Swayze concluded his lesson by saying that we just need to watch each others’ backs, and take out the trash.