A Purple State of Mind: Finding Middle Ground in a Divided Culture by Craig Detweiler
This is a timely book that speaks into the problem of extremes, namely, the severe polarization between people in America on a variety of issues, and particularly the divide between Christians and the culture at large. Building on the idea of how blue and red colors depict the polarization of the country’s political climate, Detweiler uses the phrase “Purple State of Mind” to symbolize an attitude of mind and heart that can build bridges across a divided culture. A purple state of mind encompasses many things, but in short, it seeks to take an honest look at some of our tendencies “that have placed us in opposition to those we seek to welcome into God’s Kingdom”, and leans into what it might look like to be “willing to be part of the solution, to rise up as heroes to a hurting world.”
He asks 10 questions that we often pose as either/or, and that are often related to significant blocks to the faith. Through reflection and stories we are offered new possibilities of engagement on issues that have been too often treated as binary, black and white choices. There is a third voice which speaks with love and respect, and which offers friendship and connection in order to find some common ground. What is most compelling is that the book is woven around excerpts of conversations with an old friend who had left his Christian faith behind and became an atheist. (The friend, John Marks, has written a marvelous memoir, Reasons to Believe.) Marks’ presence in the book brings another very human face to the difficult and sometimes painful questions. We are shown that we cannot easily hide behind ideologies when faced with the struggle of another human heart.
The starting point of a purple state of mind is the compassion of Jesus. The author quotes the gospel of Matthew, “When He saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This heart of Jesus is evident in a story in which the author was invited to speak to The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, an organization he describes as one that seeks to protect religious freedoms and that also desires to learn more creative forms of cultural engagement. He says,
“While I was speaking, Soulforce’s Equality Ride was driving in. Soulforce is a lobbying and advocacy group who had protested at Christian colleges who have policies that exclude or disciplined gay students and professors….Soulforce sent a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students to Christian colleges across America to make their point.
Unfortunately, the Gaylord Resort Hotel and Convention Center forbade the equality ride from entering. So any cultural engagement with the gay community would have to take place outside the convention. When I concluded my address, John Marks and I headed to the entrance of the Gaylord resort to meet the equality riders. I told them what I told the attendees- about the first cross-cultural missionary in the Bible, Philip. As an early Christian faced with persecution and death threats, Philip sought refuge amid people well acquainted with suffering and rejection, The Samaritans. Along the way, Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch reading the book of Isaiah. Together, they discovered that God wants to build a house of worship for all peoples, where none shall be cut off, not even a eunuch. How might this surprising Bible story of race, sex and spirituality reflect on our conversation? What issues remain unresolved in Texas (where the conference happened) and within the Christian community? What differences continue to divide us?”
The book is a call to come back to our senses. There are hard questions for us to wrestle with that can help to burn the facade of our egos (which love to measure ins and outs) away. There is no condemnation for the divisiveness which we have helped to build between us and the culture. Instead, there is great hope to recover more of who we really are in offering the welcome and hope of God to all whom life brings to us. As Detweiler says: “To a divisive, either/or world, I offer a both/and solution…..Christ was not satisfied to live apart from his people. He entered into our predicament, putting on our problems, getting down to an approachable street level. Jesus lived out his faith in the marketplace of ideas, among people who actively disagreed with him. A purple state of mind pursues compromise out of conviction, conviction that God does not wish anyone to perish.”