Most of us who miss our mothers can name moments when our longing is most acute. For me, it sneaks up when I see people wielding God as a weapon.
My mother was one of the least judgmental people I've ever known. This came from her belief, steeped in her view of Christianity, that most of us are doing the best we think we can.
That woman almost never gave up on people. The parents who abandoned her when she was a child were welcome in her home in adulthood. Friends who hurt her feelings during the week were on her prayer list on Sunday. People who had treated her as invisible felt like family when they were in her care as a nurse's aide.
I was quick to express frustration when Mom let unkind people off the hook, but she was immune to my indignation. "If they knew better, they'd do better," she'd say. This was the Christian who raised me.
New York Times reporters Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham wrote this week about white extremists masquerading as Christians as they prepared to storm the Capitol. This passage curdled the blood in my veins:
"Before self-proclaimed members of the far-right group the Proud Boys marched toward the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, they stopped to kneel in the street and prayed in the name of Jesus.
"The group, whose participants have espoused misogynistic and anti-immigrant views, prayed for God to bring 'reformation and revival.' They gave thanks for 'the wonderful nation we've all been blessed to be in.' They asked God for the restoration of their 'value systems,' and for the 'courage and strength to both represent you and represent our culture well.' And they invoked the divine protection for what was to come.
"Then they rose. Their leader declared into a bullhorn that the media must 'get the hell out of my way.' And then they moved toward the Capitol.
"The presence of Christian rituals, symbols and language was unmistakable on Wednesday in Washington. There was a mock campaign banner, 'Jesus 2020,' in blue and red; an 'Armor of God' patch on a man's fatigues; a white cross declaring 'Trump won' in all capitals. All of this was interspersed with allusions to QAnon conspiracy theories, Confederate flags and anti-Semitic T-shirts."
For all my years as a columnist, I have felt outshouted and outmaneuvered by so-called Christians harming others in the name of God. To identify myself as a Christian often invited attacks from those who claimed to know just how much I've disappointed God.
For a while, I let the religious right bully me into silence. I didn't want to be mistaken for one of them. The hypocrisy of that ate at me until I decided that we liberal Christians had to stand our ground, and publicly. This was not universally applauded by my fellow liberals.
I still think about that man in the audience during one of my speeches years ago. When it was his turn at the microphone, he said to me: "You've written that you're a Christian. I don't understand how someone so smart could be so stupid." He asked if I believed in unicorns, too. I assured him that no unicorn I knew would be visiting him soon.
There are so many Christians who bear no resemblance to those using God as an excuse to be hatemongers and traitors, but they are invisible because they are silent. I used to admire this as humility, but it now risks becoming aiding and abetting. As the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin wrote, "Christ came to take away our sins, not our minds." We know what we must do.
Earlier today, after a break from writing, I returned to my desk to find two small clumps of dirt next to a basket of potted bulbs. Long dormant, they recently exploded into sprouts that are growing an inch or more a day, lifting the topsoil with them. With each new flower, a little more soil topples out.
If I could call my mother now — if I could tell her about this messy burst of blooms — she would likely cast it as a metaphor for hope. For what is hope but a surprise, something beautiful rising out of the darkness?
It is time, good but quiet people of faith.
It is time for you to bloom.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.