While out for a bike ride on a beautiful day in south Texas, I pedaled down a familiar street, one that I’ve ridden many times. It’s a trendy section of town, lined with restaurants and nightclubs where the college kids like to hang out. And then I spotted three words painted on a curb in the parking lot: “It’s all good.” Although I’ve passed it many times and probably noticed it but thought nothing of it, on this day it hit me in a different kind of way. It stopped me in my tracks.
I circled back and rode into the parking area next to a former taco shack, now an empty building, with stucco walls painted in bright yellows, oranges, reds and blues, faded by the southwest sun but vibrant nevertheless. I dismounted and approached the curb. Standing about 15 feet in front of it, I read the words over and over.
“It’s all good” is a phrase that has filtered into the vernacular of younger generations as a substitute for, “Don’t give it second thought,” “No sweat,” “Not to worry,” or “No hay problema, mi amigo.” In many ways, it’s a toss off.
But the longer I looked at the words, the deeper my thoughts became, and I fell into a meditation on the phrase. I began to question this expression. Is it just a colloquialism or might it hold some deeper meaning? “It’s all good. Is it, though?”
I’m carrying deep psychological wounds, like so many of us, brought on by the dissonance of the times. We hear so much spin, rhetoric, double speak, and outright lies that we are left not knowing what to believe and who to trust.
Discrimination and intolerance are on the rise. The income disparity gap continues to widen under the unchecked spread of predatory capitalism. Violence is the default option for conflict resolution. Harsh and appalling immigration policies are tearing apart families at the southern U.S. border and imposing horrendous and terrifying conditions. People are dying because they can’t afford to pay for their prescription drugs or visit a doctor. The environment is being raped for profit as our lawmakers and leaders deny the proven science of climate change. I can go on, but enough.
Of course, our lawmakers are pushing these policies as they serve at the pleasure of the corporate policy makers who favor them. The concentration of wealth continues to move upward, filling the coffers of a bloated aristocratic class. Nothing matters but the ever-ballooning profit margin. Not the working people, their quality of life, or their deepening financial struggles. Not the disruption of family life. Not the sick, the hungry, the elderly, the children, the homeless, the destitute, the immigrant, the incarcerated. Nothing matters. Nobody matters. Everything and everyone is a commodity with a sole purpose to produce profit.
And so we are disoriented, disenfranchised, traumatized, confused, sad, and wounded. Because we know this is wrong. We know it’s unacceptable.
Disturbing as they are, the actions of corporations and politicians don’t surprise me. But the hardest pill to swallow is the church joining in lock step with these cruel and inhumane policies. Conservative, white, evangelicals, driven by anxiety, have once again aligned with empire in an attempt to hold onto power, influence, and control.
This is a centuries old scenario. In 800 CE, Pope Leo III crowned King Charlemagne as emperor, creating a decidedly unholy alliance that we refer to, ironically, as the Holy Roman Empire. In 1936, the Reich Church was established in Germany, displaying a swastika in place of the cross and Mein Kampf on the altar, along with a sword in place of the Bible. In the U.S., white evangelicals throughout the south embraced Jim Crow segregation laws. Indeed, religion and empire make for strange bedfellows. Today, conservative anxieties are fueled by an image of the divine that is violent, punitive, and transactional, one that demands blood payment for the “free gift of grace.” It’s an eschatological theology that longs for a triumphant Jesus to return as the Warrior Prince to violently defeat Satan, vanquish sinners to eternal damnation, and restore everything to the system of law and order that they believe is divine will. It seems to follow that an image of the divine that is rooted in righteous violence, retributive justice, and transactional grace would produce such theology. It also follows that a group that worships such a god would support the hateful politics of the current administration.
So, the question remains, “Is it all good?” How can it be “all good” in these times? The longer I stood before these words, the deeper into the darkness I descended. I had reached my conclusion: “No, it isn’t all good.”
Before I turned to mount my bicycle and continue with my ride, I decided to take a picture of the words painted on that curb. The time I spent in meditation was deep and meaningful, and I wanted a picture as a reminder of this experience. As I raised my camera, I noticed my shadow in the picture. It was late afternoon, and the sun setting in the west was at my back. It cast a long shadow, typical of the late afternoon, winter sun. There I was, invading the picture. Entering the narrative. A shadow figure. Dark. Devoid of light. That was me.
And then the epiphany! It was as if I heard the words, “Do not be afraid,” and a small voice deep inside me saying, “Yes, child, it is all good.” Then I realized the darkness of that long, shadowy figure on the ground isn’t me. I am made in the image of the divine, not the retributive, transactional divine described above, but the divine personified by Jesus — my teacher, guide, inspiration, and refuge.
My thoughts flashed to Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel,
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”
I allowed my thoughts to linger on Jesus’ use of the word, “everyone.” The divine radiance shines within me, even in times of doubt and despair. This radiance shines in every person, all of us made in the image and likeness of the divine. Everyone. Even in those whose behavior and speech are vile. Even in individuals who lack any sense of empathy and compassion. Even in those who distort the gospel to promote self-interest, exclusion, and hate.
Sometimes the light is dim or even completely blocked, like my shadowy image, but I must remind myself again and again, as I was reminded on this day, that the radiance is always there. I must see Christ’s nature in everyone, even those who seem hopelessly lost and broken. This is what Jesus did in his interactions with the tax collector, the Roman centurion, the Samaritan woman at the well, the adulterous woman, and everyone with whom he came in contact. Through these stories we see individuals transformed by the radiant love of Christ, and so I am to remain mindful that the gospel of Jesus is one of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
I must love them all. It’s the only thing.
Having experienced this epiphany, I mounted my bicycle and rode home to reflect further on my time of contemplation, knowing, “Yes, child, it’s all good.” Even when it seems as though it isn’t.