Prairie View

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Fragments, Freedom, and Fallout--Part 14

The Big Problem

Usually if I'm patient enough, life serves up completely surprising, but nevertheless made-to-order illustrations of what has been coursing through my mental, emotional, and spiritual waterways until its rushing becomes a roaring flood threatening to spill onto a screen.  Covid-19 as it plays out in Kansas is the latest example of this.

Here's what happened this week:  In short, a group of five Republican legislators overturned an executive order issued by Democratic governor Laura Kelly.  The original ruling was made recently based on information from a Health-and-Environment official.  Quote: Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said his agency was aware of 12 group gatherings in the state that were connected to at least 165 infections and 12 deaths. Those outbreaks include three church-based gatherings, he said. Kelly apparently deemed the risk of spreading Covid-19 through religious gatherings great enough to warrant removing the exemption that had been granted in earlier social distancing orders.  The Republican legislators saw a threat to religious liberty in the governor's prohibition for church groups to gather, and used the power of their office to negate the governor's ruling.

In posting a link to the above information, one of my conservative Anabaptist friends said simply "Praise the Lord."

A Catholic-turned-Protestant writer friend said this:  Yes, there are a handful of Christian churches/leaders who are being complete nincompoops. (Said in my best angry Ned Flanders voice.) I’m not saying we shouldn’t call them out. I hope you know I entertain NO ------ from the church. None.
But there are churches, MOST churches, who are stepping OUT y’all! Stepping out in FAITH. Not in the faith of expecting a god to miraculously save you from a non-discriminating virus (he can, but then why take ANY safety precautions), but in the faith that we can follow the recommendations of science AND still believe in a God who’s not only bigger than all of that, but the creator of us all.
To churches that ain’t listening: So you telling me. YOU telling me you support church ushers packing heat because some crazy gonna shoot up the church, that GOD wants us to wield weapons against each other and yet, this virus is different? God’s got us HERE. But not when it comes to guns.
It’s all mixed up and bananas and we need grace with each other. We shouldn’t expect ANY expression of faith to be completely logical and rational because then what’s the point? It’s supposed to go beyond. To fill the between the known and unknown.
I know this. I’m proud of my church. I’m proud of THE church. All of us serving and giving and loving. ❤️

The more wordy (and earthy!) friend's take on this makes more sense to me than the circumspect-sounding Anabaptist one.  I know something of what the second friend's experience with the church was like--completely devastating. Many with similar experiences walk away and never come back.  She has chosen faith very deliberately.  In doing so, she models what I think we all should do in the Covid-19 crisis.

Later:  Since I wrote the above, the governor's orders have been reinstated by legal action and then again set aside by legal action.  Right now churches in Kansas are exempt from social distancing regulations.  I'm hearing "Praise the Lord" again from Christians close to me, and I'm hearing relief that the governor's overreach has been reined in.  All are couched in the language of constitutional protection for religious freedom and the right of assembly. If the details interest you, you can read about it here.  Making national news is not a Kansas-proud moment for some of us.

I am dismayed by the rhetoric I'm hearing.  Of course religious freedom is precious.  People being able to work and make a living is important.  A stable economy is a wonderful thing.  Presence is important during times of grief and celebration.  All that is true, but none of these things are the main thing right now. They are peripheral to the big problem.  Practically speaking, the big problem is something too small to see:  a deadly microbe.  Derailing efforts to address the Covid-19 problem is to be sidetracked from what is arguably most important in the overall scheme of things. In a purely utilitarian sense, solving all the other problems depends largely on solving the virus problem.  Much too much seems to me to be made of lesser things.


I wrote most of  the above last week.  Since then the stream rushing under the bridge I'm standing on has risen considerably.  The newer version of "Praise the Lord is "This [social distancing] is stupid."  People I know and love join the complaint with affirmations and amplifications.  I'm glad someone has the courage to speak out! Our rights are being taken away!  We've been deceived!  The predictions were wrong!  Everything is happening just as was prophesied in the book of Revelation!  The Mark of the Beast will be administered along with vaccinations! Bill Gates is orchestrating all of this!   Trump is the anointed one who can save us!  Pray for his protection from all who would seek to hinder his good work!  Fauci is a "rat" in the White House!

Typing all those exclamation points brings back the "shouting" inside my head that almost paralyzed me for several days.  I do not do "casual" very well at all when the stakes are high, and right now I wish I were better at differing with others at less emotional and mental cost.  I'd love to go straight to certainties without needing to take into account all the nuances that stand in the way of swift and definitive conclusions.

Conscience constrains me to resist batting away the nuances, but keeping them in my sights can make me so walleyed* that I lose sight of the "ball"--until it slams into my face. Bad behavior and problem attitudes simply need to be labeled accurately, without my abetting the process of concealing the realities.  Not that any of us can do so perfectly, but we can all keep checking them against the standards that are anchored in the Word of God and its love and truth.  If doing so means needing to add physical cost to the reality of differing with others, so be it.

About the time of the impeachment hearings and following, the "ball" showed up for me.  At first I usually simply tried to provide accurate information, trusting that people of good faith would consider matters and employ whatever course corrections might be necessary.  Highlighting "cracks" in the economy proved to be a lightening rod for Christian Trump supporters--who apparently were very pleased with Trump's performance in this regard, and they couldn't understand at all why I wasn't singing the praises along with them.  I could never have guessed how abruptly the economy would unravel, or how abruptly my critics would be echoing my words. Suddenly President Trump has gone from being responsible for the state of the economy to not being responsible for the state of the economy.  Imagine that.

I began to refer publicly to President Trump's bad behavior and that of his adoring minions.  I also highlighted what I believed to be honorable behavior elsewhere.  Sometimes these honorably-behaved people were from the "wrong" political party.  For several reasons, I wasn't highlighting much honorable behavior in the "right" party.  In the impeachment hearings,  many of the ones I was honoring were intentionally and functionally non-partisan, so I couldn't very well make a big deal of their party affiliation.  I didn't see much to applaud in the "right" party, with obfuscation and obstructionism being among the less offensive behaviors on display.  On one occasion when I did honor someone in the "right" party, I heard swift condemnation for the person I honored, and derision for people like me for being so deceived by this man (Romney).  People associated with the "right" party believed he had betrayed the party.  While I have not always pleased my social media friends, this more pointed posting and the reactions to it created for me the watershed event in social media sorrows.  The torrent kept growing.

This time period also provided an unwelcome opportunity to revisit some of the difficult experiences of the past few years, which involved fellow-Anabaptists who are deeply immersed in the conservative political world and who saw me as one of the enemies of this righteous milieu.  Quote:  "I think most Christians support the party of law and order"--words I was told in a conversation in which I was face to face with one of my accusers.   Can you imagine how it would have been received if I had countered primly that I think most Christians support the party of respect and compassion?  Or if I had countered this way: I think most Christians reject the party of guns and greed.  Fortunately I didn't think then of saying any of that, primly or otherwise.  I'd never attempt to reduce the description of any political party to those simplistic sound bites, unless I was being super-sarcastic.  I see all political parties as a mix of good and bad.

Some time ago I became aware that I had become the topic of conversation during one church work project (not our church).  I know of one other person who has acquired "unsolicited" information about my enemy status--possibly in the same setting as the first incident, which I heard about because someone who was there told me.  I also heard only recently about the "unsolicited" information from the person who heard it initially.  Similar salvoes of late on social media, although not generally from the same quarters and generally not employing the same vocabulary, elicited similar feelings on my part.  I was pained and felt wronged earlier and again more recently.

The best option seemed to me to be a temporary scaling back of social media involvement, coupled with ongoing interaction with a trusted leader-couple from our church.  It wasn't until I began to talk about recent events with these counselors that I realized how onerous some of the burdens from the past had become.  Despite wishing to just leave it all behind, I could see that in being able to examine the accumulation I might discover that freedom "this way lies."

This is an ongoing process.  Along the way, I'm also pondering many of the matters that show up in my walleyed vision.  I may devote a future post to these, but for now I'm choosing to focus again on the Big Problem that encompasses all of life, not just pandemics.  The Big Problem is that living a life of faith in God and obedience to Him is an ongoing challenge.  It is at once both the most confounding imperative and of the most critical importance. Covid-19 has highlighted this Big Problem for me.

Emerging in the middle of the noisy cacophony are fragments of clarity. Someone reminds me that if the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 2:22, 23) is not evident in a person's words, the content is probably regrettable.  Another person notes that what we share on social media can both reveal and prompt spiritual activity.  I read  the paen of love in I Corinthians 13 as part of my Bible reading plan and I note that when love is absent, what remains is described as a "noisy gong and a clanging cymbal." (ESV).  I read there that love is patient and kind; not arrogant or boastful.  Love is not selfish or easily provoked.  Love does not think evil of others.

Praying for encouragement helps in meeting the "Big Problem" challenge.  Family members come to my rescue.  Hiromi gives me some sound advice on how to avoid falling into traps laid by critics.  Joel shares a perspective on establishing Facebook boundaries that I can apply immediately to good benefit.  Shane draws attention to #350 in Hymns of the Church, "Heart with Loving Heart United," with parts of the text particularly appropriate for a pandemic, despite having been written several hundred years ago. Our own preacher David, in the Sunday sermon, taught us about hope, fear, and rest from Hebrews 4 as applied to the Covid-19 context. Writing friends share good words and kind gestures.  Gardening, sitting still or walking outdoors help restore my soul.

In what probably qualifies for one of the most improbable  answers to prayer, a preacher in South Carolina mentioned my name along with others in a sermon last Sunday.  Then he proceeded to preach a masterful sermon illustrating something that he claims to have partly learned from me more than 40 years ago.  What???  I'm sure that "speaking into narrative" never appeared in any lesson plan of mine.  These long years later, seeing this illustrated as the schoolboy-turned-preacher did it, gives me courage to keep on mingling narrative and truth-telling whenever it seems appropriate.  Maybe it's worthwhile, even if no one remembers 40 years from now.  And maybe what I think I see in others is really there--not a figment of my imagination or a result of faulty perceptions.  The preacher thought I understood people. . . .  Thanks also for the two people in the virtual audience who alerted me to the sermon and sent a link so that I could listen.

To experience the faithfulness of a God Who is the answer to all Big Problems is the biggest encouragement of all.  As my friend says of those who recognize this:  But there are churches, MOST churches, who are stepping OUT y’all! Stepping out in FAITH. Not in the faith of expecting a god to miraculously save you from a non-discriminating virus (he can, but then why take ANY safety precautions), but in the faith that we can follow the recommendations of science AND still believe in a God who’s not only bigger than all of that, but the creator of us all.  . . . I know this. I’m proud of my church. I’m proud of THE church. All of us serving and giving and loving. ❤️


*Meaning of walleyed:  I think of it as being the opposite of "cross-eyed."  The eyes turn away from the nose instead of toward it or instead of focusing together.  Other correct terms are exotropia or divergent strabismus.  The condition results from eye muscle weakness.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Fragments, Freedom, and Fallout--Part 13

An Out-sized Fragment

What do you think of MSM?  Is this one of the food supplements that is good for you?  Maybe it's one of the terrible ones on which people waste good money, to no benefit.  Maybe it actually causes harm or damage.  So many questions about methylsulfonylmethane. Why do people usually take it?  Is it found in nature?  Can it be manufactured in a laboratory?  Learning about this organic sulfur can apparently be a lot more complicated than we knew.  What is the recommended dose?  Can people  overdose on it?  Is the recommended dose likely to cause side-effects?  This sounds like something people should not take without having some of these questions answered.  Do people who like MSM skew toward being suspicious of conventional medicine?  Are the people who like MSM mostly Christians?  Mostly not Christians?  Maybe they're mostly people who have inflammatory issues such as arthritis.   As some of you have already guessed, this post is not really about a dietary supplement, but about another kind of MSM, the acronym for mainstream media.  The topic of mainstream media can be queried similarly to the food supplement kind of MSM.

What do you think of mainstream media?  Is it good or bad? Authentic or manufactured (i. e. fake)? Why do people ingest it?  Can varied dosages be therapeutic or deleterious? Does ingesting of mainstream media reveal or affect a life of Christian faith?  Can people overdose on it or be deficient in it?

In musing about the political persuasions of young people both of us knew, one person voiced this question in my hearing:  I wonder if it [the way those young people think] is because they don't have access to Fox News (because they belonged to a church that didn't have radio or TV in their home).  I managed to avoid snorting right then and there.  I didn't say a word.  My brain was very full of indignant words, but I couldn't sort out anything that would have been helpful at the moment. 

Since then I've boiled my thoughts down to one statement that I might even be able to say casually someday:  No one on earth suffers from a Fox News deficit. 


What many of us suffer from is ingesting disinformation without being cognizant of it.  I hope disinformation is something that all Christians can agree on as being problematic.  Disinformation is another word for terms familiar to all who read the Bible.  The ten commandments use the term false witness"Thou shalt not" bear false witness.  A lying tongue is one of the seven things God hates, as recorded in Proverbs 6.  "Lie not one to another . . ." is an injunction found in Colossians 3:9. We've all heard the term "fake news."  Perhaps no other term encapsulates the nuances of definition in the term "disinformation" as does fake news.  It certainly has a more memorable ring to it than does "fact-checked news" which is presumably the opposite of fake news.

I see myself as having a lifetime commitment to dispelling disinformation--to provide information that might prevent others from unwittingly falling into deception.  Nothing besides the prompting of the Holy Spirit energizes and motivates me as does this.  I pray also that I don't fall into deception myself. 

I may return someday to the mainstream media topic, but for now I'd like to offer a learning opportunity that goes far beyond anything I could offer.  Here is a Link to a mesmerizing video.  I'm removing the rest of my written content (the part that originally appeared beyond the asterisks) that I had already prepared for this post, in hopes that you will take time to watch this extremely informative video, even if you need to do it in several hitches as I did.  It was created by a journalist who was himself the victim of a disinformation campaign in P--k--s--t--n.  You might find it worthwhile to prepare to jot down the list of seven principles of effective disinformation campaigns.  I didn't, and wish I had done so. 

Disinformation is such an out-sized fragment of our social and political realities right now that it should possibly be called something that gives more credit to its magnitude than "fragment" does.  The fallout is certainly substantial, and gaining freedom from it no doubt will require concerted effort and perseverance.