Prairie View

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Speak No Ill of the Dead

In the wake of Rush Limbaugh's death, people of certain sensibilities cite the adage in the title as the explanation for remaining silent.  Some are no doubt silent because they don't have the gall to speak highly of someone who specialized in being obnoxious, recognizing the cognitive dissonance of lauding such a character while ostensibly rejecting the traits in themselves and in those to whom they serve as role models .  Others who experienced the acid burns of Limbaugh's caustic words feel paralyzed by the rush of emotions that surface when they think of Limbaugh.  They have much to say, but feel no freedom to say it because they can't go against the obligation to avoid speaking ill of the dead.  

As most of my readers know, Limbaugh had a long and lucrative career (he earned 85 million dollars in at least one year) in the broadcast world, first in radio.  His stints in radio were typically short, and he was fired from multiple radio jobs. Later he transitioned to TV, and gained fame when he worked for Fox News.  His manner was crass and bombastic.  His career took off after the Fairness Doctrine expired in 1987 (which required that all publicly aired opinions be balanced with air time for opposing opinions), and he became a darling of those with conservative political persuasions.  Unfettered by the earlier restraints on what could be legally flung into the airwaves, Limbaugh became increasingly radical and increasingly popular. 

Many Christians had already become deeply invested in Limbaugh's fear-based views and rhetoric (which sadly are too often stoked also in Christian circles*), and they followed him willingly as the radicalization took place.  He focused on grievance and served as a spokesman for all those who felt aggrieved by the circumstances of their lives, particularly those who felt wronged by "them."  "Them" included mainstream media, Democrats and other liberals, feminists, and minorities.  Those to be feared included some on the "them" list, but "Socialists" were added.  Limbaugh was unarguably a kingpin in fostering the dissension and division that serves as the most prominent feature in the current American political scene. David French wrote perhaps the most nuanced assessment of Limbaugh's influence here.

I've pondered the prohibitive injunction in the adage on occasions previous to Limbaugh's death, and often wondered where it came from, or if the "command" has any validity.  This time I actually did some minimal research and learned that the origins of the maxim are as ancient as the Greek civilization of Sparta.  A philosopher from there apparently first uttered these words in Greek.  Most significantly, I learned that there is no direct evidence in Scripture that the adage constitutes an obligation.  

Jesus certainly was speaking ill of the dead when he said in Luke 11:47 and 48 that the ancestors of those he was speaking to had killed the prophets.  In the context in which he said this, he was pronouncing woes on members of his audience, who were putting on a show of righteousness.  They were religious leaders.  Apparently they had built tombs as if to honor prophets, but Jesus points out the irony of this, since they were at the same time continuing in the tradition of their murderous forefathers.  Jesus does not mince words in drawing a straight line between the objectionable behavior of the forefathers and that of the Scribes and Pharisees in the audience.  In both timeframes, Jesus saw behavior that called for public denunciation. Although other parts of Scripture mention speaking ill of others in a negative light, Jesus' example nevertheless offers us guidance for how we speak of the dead.  

In the passage cited, Jesus was trying to reach the hearts of members of his audience.  It seems that in order to do that, he knew that it would be necessary for them to acknowledge their own sins.  Otherwise they had no need to accept what he offered them: a new life, full of meaning and hope.  Speaking ill of the dead was an attention-arresting way for Jesus to bring home the truth of the heart condition of his listeners. A desire to accomplish that same result in listeners may at times justify speaking ill of the dead in our time.

I don't believe, as some do, that prayers for a person after their death accomplish improvements in their fate. The good thing that is left to those who remain after a death is to turn to God in their bereavement.  A heart turned toward God in humility always invites exposure of the sin that lurks there.  In the presence of a loving, forgiving God, this is not a disastrous process because the remedy shows up right along with the crushing weight of the problem.  Whatever a person feels after Rush Limbaugh's death, the answer always is to turn to God with the emotion.

One of the articles I read after Limbaugh's death was written in 2009 and quoted a cleric who had officiated at many funerals.  In one particularly challenging case, he had heard nothing good from anyone about the deceased. He decided that the best way to handle the situation was to address it directly.  So he began by saying something this: 'Let's be honest, he could be a pretty cantankerous so-and-so.'  He reported that an almost palpable sense of relief swept over the audience at these words.  He interpreted the response as affirmation that being honest about the unpleasant realities associated with the life of a deceased person can be a step in the process of healing for those who have been wronged.  

I've seen such honesty demonstrated by others, and engaged in it myself at times.  I've been challenged for my own actions, and tried to learn from it.  I'm not sure that I've learned what my challengers believe was necessary:  Don't say anything bad about a person who has died.  Really?

In general, my words have been very mild--like saying privately "Life just got a lot simpler for _________________ [survivors]."  Publicly I have said something like "He wasn't perfect, but he was a good man."  Of course, the first phrase in the public expression is not strictly necessary, since everyone already knows this mildly-stated negative thing.  It may not be fair, since the person being spoken of can't defend himself.  It certainly is not socially expedient (largely because of the ingrained notion in the adage).  But to forbid saying any negative thing of the dead?  I don't think so.  Doing so can help others see you as a trustworthy person, since you're obviously not OK with maintaining pretenses.  If you go overboard with the bad report, you risk being seen as mean-spirited and vindictive instead of being trustworthy--and you may, in fact, be such.  This isn't OK either.  Here is an article written by someone who avoids falling into this trap on the occasion of Limbaugh's death, managing in the same article to point to an inspiring contrast instead.

I think the story of the cleric above illustrates perfectly why sometimes saying something negative about the dead is actually a way to introduce a healing element into the realm of possibility for those who have been wronged by a deceased person.  Picture with me a situation where a parent has repeatedly been an embarrassment to his children because of his adversarial and mean-spirited public behavior.  Acknowledging at least the difficulty that this person's behavior caused others could be enormously affirming to those who suffered in silence for decades.  Being seen is a powerful encouragement to anyone who has felt like their suffering was invisible for too long.  It could cast all those associated with the hurtful individual in an admirable light (look at what they became in spite of those formidable odds).  Beyond that, I believe that being truthful about even unpleasant realities is the only way we ourselves can learn something valuable from another's life.  

I've seen the hazard of pretending that bad things never happened.  This charade subjects its "players" to a lifetime of repeated avoidance maneuvers.  Otherwise, the pain comes flooding back.  It may surface in forbidding others to speak of anything related to the hurtful behavior or the one who inflicted it.  Staying away from such forbidden subjects then becomes the burden of everyone else who desires to maintain a good relationship with the one who was wronged.  This too is damaging behavior--not redemptive in any discernible way. 

One other prominent feature of Limbaugh's rhetoric which resonated with evangelicals was patriarchy. This article connects that thread of his ideas with James Dobson and Tim LaHaye.  I can think of other names I'd add to such a list.  The writer of the article sees patriarchy in a  toxic light.  I believe it can also be a benevolent force, but agree that it has sometimes not been practiced that way in Christian circles.  In Limbaugh's iteration of patriarchy, masculine toxicity apparently prevailed.  The environment he inhabited treated women as sex objects.  He married a succession of four women, punctuated by three divorces.  

Nothing I might think of to say about Rush Limbaugh is the final verdict about who he was.  I heard one defender say that he spoke recently of having a personal relationship with Jesus. I hope that is true, and I'm sure that other good things could well be said of him.  My goal is to say only what I believe to be true and which could potentially serve "for our learning."  I hope we gain resolve to avoid stoking fear, vilifying "others," being dishonest about a person's legacy, or promoting toxic masculinity.  These would be worthwhile reasons for reflection on Limbaugh's life and death.  

Being exhaustive would be impossible, and the effort would be exhausting.  I do know that there are no gaps in knowledge about Rush Limbaugh for the Final Judge of all the earth.  He is for sure not constrained by any obligation to "speak no ill of the dead." Even if we can't hope to get everything right, Rush Limbaugh will be rightly judged.  Whether or not we are OK with speaking ill of the dead or whether we learn anything at all in thinking about him, I hope we can all agree on that.  

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*I'm reading a wonderful book right now that brings home the idea that Christians often traffic in fear-based responses to life.  This tendency makes them ripe for exploitation by others who are not fearful primarily of the judgement of God, but fearful of things like loss of control over their own lives, loss of personal wealth,  loss of political power, loss of public favor, increased restrictions on behavior, increasingly limited choices, etc.  The book was written by someone who teaches at the same university where my brother Caleb has taught for many years--Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, PA.  Believe Me:  The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea.  Fea is himself an evangelical and a historian.

   


Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Zoomed-out Version of the Impeachment

I watched a livestream of most of the impeachment proceedings this week, although I completely missed several hours at its beginning, and my attention was divided at many other times.  The most recent thing I watched was Mitch McConnell's speech after the conclusion of the process in which he had voted to acquit the president of the charges.  Essentially the speech was an explanation of his vote.  

McConnell was until recently the majority leader of the Senate.  He is a Republican who has been at times referred to as being the most powerful person in the world--even more so than the US president, because he could control what legislation made it onto the Senate floor.  I did not know until recently that his wife was a cabinet-level official in the Trump administration.  She was one of several who resigned abruptly in the aftermath of January 6.  

McConnell said almost nothing publicly during the Trump administration that countered him, but he was furious about the events of January 6 and promised to consider [impeachment] .  I'm not actually sure that he used that word; hence the brackets.  It was clearly a switch from his earlier "go along to get along" habits.  After the Georgia run-off elections for the US Senate, when the Democratic candidates won both contests, McConnell lost his position, since the chairman always comes from the party with the most members in the Senate.  In this case, since the number is a 50/50 split, the majority leader comes from the same party as the president of the United States (it's actually the same party as the VP, since that is the person officially presiding over the Senate), so Charles Schumer replaced Mitch McConnell. McConnell is now the minority leader of the Senate.  

McConnell's speech after the vote that resulted in acquittal was not only a statement of his own position, but was widely regarded as the official word on where he hopes to direct the Republican Party in the future.  He clearly hopes that the Republican Party completely cuts away from Trump, going forward.  He denounced Trump's actions in strong terms. He explained in technical terms the seeming contradiction between blaming Trump and casting a vote for acquittal during the impeachment hearings, saying that Trump could not be impeached because it was too late to do so, although, had he still been in office it would have been appropriate.  

This argument falls pretty flat to those of us who remember that McConnell was the one most single-handedly responsible for the fact that the impeachment hearings were not conducted sooner.  He had specifically said that if someone from the House sent impeachment papers to the Senate, he would turn them back at the door.  This ensured that the trial would not happen while Trump was still in office.  It seems disingenuous for McConnell to cite a situation of his own creation as the condition that prevents impeachment from being legal--a conclusion that most constitutional scholars take issue with.   It served his purposes  nicely, however.

From a purely political standpoint McConnell's maneuverings make perfect sense.  He is trying very hard to do at least two things at once.  He wants to steer away from Trump because many business leaders who typically donate big money to Republican Party machinery announced after January 6 that they would no longer contribute to the party.  In other words, they can't stand Trump anymore.  This loss of funding strikes at the core of McConnell's goals to keep the party in an ascendant position, and he wants to prevent this money drain at all costs.  The second thing he is trying to do is hang on to the future votes of Trump loyalists.  Too many of them exist for him to risk alienating them by voting to convict the former president.  The Party needs their votes in the next election.  McConnell tried to thread the needle by both denouncing Trump and voting to acquit him.  I think he looked long enough to land on a legal argument that he thought could provide him some cover.  

I'm not convinced that it will work as McConnell obviously hopes it does.  He clearly wants a robust Republican party without Trump playing any part in it.  I suspect that what will happen instead is that the party will effectively split, with some leaving the party entirely, and others choosing either the Trump camp or the McConnell camp--for lack of a better term.  I understand that a group composed of former Republican office holders has already formed for the purpose of promoting a Republican primary challenger in every election where a Trump-loyalist is running.  This would align with what I am calling the McConnell camp.

The fact of the matter is that the count of former Republicans has been growing fast since January 6.  In plain words, the Republican voter pool has shrunk because of Trump.  Among these people, McConnell's actions have likely solidified their conviction that this is no longer their party of choice.  These are people who no doubt hoped that McConnell would vote to convict Trump.  If this had happened, they might have found a reason to stay.  As it is, they're done with being part of the circus.  

Meanwhile, die-hard Trump fans are doubling down.  I see them celebrating the acquittal.  I see people I know excoriating on Facebook people like McConnell for not being a true Republican.  One person I know begged him publicly to leave the party, presumably to keep it safe again for Trump lovers.  From seeing how others link their desire for revival in America to Trump's political successes, I presume these people too see the acquittal as a God-ordained victory.  I can't find any way to think well of these sentiments. 

If the die-hard Trump fans would think about this a little longer, maybe they would see too that sticking with Trump is a vote--not for traditional Republican values like fiscal conservatism, law and order, limited government, etc.  It is, instead, a move toward authoritarianism, which will be essential to quell the lawlessness and chaos that results from the loose-cannon style of governance that we've seen during the Trump administration.  Many of the safeguards against tyranny that were built into the American system of laws and institutions were violated and destroyed during the Trump years.  He regularly fired civil servants and his own hand-picked underlings and appointed people to take their place who were more loyal to him than those he ousted.  Other positions were simply left unfilled, in this way ensuring that no one could use their power in those positions to oppose him.  These are authoritarian tactics--plain and simple--and unprecedented (to this degree) in the American presidency.  

Too many people don't seem to see that authoritarianism poses a far bigger and more immediate threat to freedom than socialism does.  In fact, what some decry now as movement toward socialism is largely affirming the same ideals that were once held by Republicans, Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, and Eisenhower among them.  The central element in old-style Republicanism is that government has a role to play in promoting the good of the common people.  Coalescing the Republican Party around Trump means solidifying the promotion of an authoritarian style of governance that benefits the already-wealthy more than it does those who work for them.  I think McConnell sees this, as do Mitt Romney and a few others in Republican congressional office.  I'm sure that this is not what any of my friends truly wants, but this is what I think they'll get if they get what they want now:  a Trump-styled party.  

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Watching the impeachment proceedings was both a pleasure and a trial for me.  I watched heartfelt and human expressions coupled with masterful and convincing presentations.  The evidence supporting the charge was simply irrefutable, as McConnell and others affirmed.  The presenters on the impeachment team were a diverse group.  Several were Caucasian, at least one of them Jewish, and another a woman from Pennsylvania.  One was from the Virgin Islands (she was a non-voting member of Congress) and there was at least one each who had Asian, Ethiopian, and Hispanic immigrant parents.  The  lead impeachment manager was US Representative Jamie Raskin, a professor of constitutional law.  He seemed at once polished and humble.  He is also dealing right now with personal grief.  On January 5 was the funeral of his 25-year-old son, who had committed suicide on December 31.  The trivia of a most unusual very sizeable bald spot on the back of his head is garnering almost as much publicity as the fly on Pence's snow-white hair did earlier.  When you see him only from the front, he appears to have a full head of thick brown curly hair.  I think the world is still trying to figure out why.  Would wearing a yarmulke do that?

The defense team was composed of white men.  Period.  From one of them I saw heated and snarling rhetoric (yes, literally, complete with narrowed eyes, curled lips and loud and fast spitting words). Lies were uttered.  I was underwhelmed.  I felt a little sick actually.  

The whole process reinforced for me that politics is a terribly messy business, full of hard work if you're going to do it well, and staying very far away from involvement in it is a perfectly reasonable choice.  I have no doubt that uppermost in the minds of at least 44 senators was what a vote against Trump would mean for their chances of prevailing during the next election cycle.  For some of them this is happening in two years.  They voted in keeping with what looked like the best option for being re-elected.  In this calculation, they didn't need to stick around to hear the evidence, but they still showed up to vote in keeping with the result of their calculation earlier.  To McConnell's credit, he did stick around and listen--unlike about 18 others from his party, at one point at least.

I do have a profound respect for anyone who can operate with integrity in the political sphere.  More than anything, I marvel that God's purposes can be accomplished, regardless of what happens in the political world.  Unlike what happens with individuals whose fortunes may rise and fall depending on who is in charge politically, God's reign is secure.  Those who stand with Him will be on the right side of history--the zoomed-out version for sure.   They'll also be on the right side when they face judgement at the end of life.  At that point, the next election cycle will mean nothing at all. 

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Quote of the Day:  Rarely has a politician been more blatant in attempting the impossible feat of running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds.--E. J. Dionne, speaking of Mitch McConnell.  (Washington Post, Opinion:  "The beginning of the end of Trumpism,"  Feb. 14, 2021) 


 


Monday, January 18, 2021

Overcoming Paralysis

Evidence of late appears to suggest that Hiromi and I have spawned some snarky offspring.   Snark is not my writing style (I probably list far to the overly-earnest side), and I sometimes struggle to decipher what I read from other writers, even from my own sons.  When I do understand though, I admire the razor-sharp insights that satire and analogies can offer, and I'm glad that Facebook offers a forum for such gems.  

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On Wednesday of last week (edit:  January 6) I was watching the counting of the electoral votes in the Senate on the New York Times livestream when the sound died and the screen went blank.  This happened during the speeches after an objection had been raised to accepting Arizona's electoral votes for Biden.  Very soon, little blurbs in the accompanying chat column began to reveal the shocking details of what was transpiring at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.  Several video clips posted to the chat conveyed a sense of barely-controlled panic and reigning chaos.  Many details emerged over time, but I woke up on Thursday to learn that the counting of the electoral votes had resulted in the election of Biden and Harris, just as we had been told was the case in early November--more than 60 failed court challenges notwithstanding since then.

Over the following hours and days, familiar feelings settled deeper into my consciousness--feelings that something momentous had just occurred. I also felt this way more than 19 years ago on September 11, 2001 when terrorists weaponized four passenger airplanes and destroyed lives, property, and American landmark structures. I remember thinking then that this "day will live in infamy" just like the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  That's what brought World War II into every corner of America.  

I feel the same way about January 6, 2021.  Internal conflicts in this country have erupted in violence, with repercussions that will seep into every corner of America.  In 2001, I became aware of how much people outside the U.S. hated this country.  Last week I understood how much some U. S. citizens prioritize their own rights and comfort over the welfare of their fellow-citizens.  Hate almost fits for how fellow citizens are regarded by such people.  The latest incident highlights many other uncomfortable truths--not the least of which includes the fact that truth itself has been ignored in favor of conspiracy theories, false prophecies, power grabs, partisanship, and a personality cult.  January 6, 2021 too is a "day that will live in infamy."

That members of Congress were taken to safety only a minute or two before the mob entered the congressional chambers is horrifying--with law enforcement members completely unable to repel the throng, some of them severely injured while attempting to do so.  That a gallows had been erected outside and that invaders were armed and looking for Vice President Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, while speaking of killing them, is hard to wrap one's mind around.  That the mob had been invited by the president and that he had urged violence is unthinkable.  God's power was not diminished by any of these events, but anyone who trusted the power of the United States government has surely had that confidence shaken.

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I wrote the first part of this about a week ago.  Since then, the House has voted to impeach President Trump.  I'm not sure whether this will produce good results, but I am in favor of shining a bright light on the unconscionable behavior of the current president and many who enable him.  I said something similar during the earlier impeachment proceedings.  My sense is that if all who knew the truth then--and were responsible to act on it--had done so, we would have been spared the recent debacle, along with many lamentable actions in the interim.

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In the aftermath of what happened on January 6, people who have hitched their wagon to the Trump star and to the idea that the kingdom of God is built through political means should have responded with contrition, repentance, apology, and a changed life.  I saw a bit of that, but very, very little.  Instead, I often saw further forays into delusional and self-justifying territory.  I heard lots of "whataboutism," deflection, promotion of lies (or their milder version:  elevating minor elements to major status, thus obscuring overwhelming realities), and failure to acknowledge plain truth.   

If we had no social training, common sense or pangs of conscience, those of us who saw things like this coming a long time ago would be crowing from the barn peak I TOLD YOU SO!  I'm not hearing that either--which probably should tell us that these prescient people actually are well-socialized and have , common sense and an active conscience.  Not to mention, many of them also believe the first and second commandment: love God and love your neighbor. 

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I share the experience of one of my Facebook friends who wrote this morning that she has seen a great deal that she did not want to see.  I believe she was referring to the realization that many people whose good heart she trusted were revealed instead to not have a good heart at all, or at least not in the sense of being committed to the way of Christ.  Although we allow for imperfections, this is profoundly disturbing.  We want to believe the best about people, to empathize, to understand the hurts that have contributed to their making bad choices or settling on misguided ideas.  At the end of the day, to realize that the problem is actually SIN is heartbreaking.  To see it in people whose words sound good and whose outward demeanor is agreeable is devastating.  

I can't tell you though how moving it has been for me to personally see humble public confession of sin in a church leader who saw the error of his ways.  There was no one over him applying pressure to admit wrong.  To my eyes, his errors seemed minor compared to what I have observed elsewhere.  That the impact of sincere and humble confession is "major" in my experience gives testimony to the fact that suffering love as Jesus exemplified it is potent--far more so than is claiming of rights or maneuvering for political advantage.  

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"Annie" once told me that she found it impossible to look into "Meridith's" eyes--until after Meredith reached out and cooperated with significant intervention for her problems.  That's exactly how I feel when I encounter strident alt-right rhetoric or even when I hear related content from someone who I know to espouse these soundly discredited ideas.  I have to look away.  I'll spare you the images and sounds of what happens when no one can see or hear me and exposure is unavoidable.   

If it appears on the screen during something that I don't want to click away from (as it did during the January 6 senate proceedings when Cruz and Hawley and others spoke--including one of the senators from Kansas), I mute the sound till after the person stops talking.  If it appears in an article and I can tell this from the headline, I don't click on it.  If it's on a friend's FB post, I sometimes force myself to read it or listen to it--just in case some profitable communication might still be possible.  I can. not. take in this stuff without cost to my spirit, soul, and body.  

I've learned to recognize media sources that predictably follow this line of thinking, and I basically read nothing from those sources, although I used to do so in the interest of being well-informed.  I do read news from some conservative sources (The Dispatch is a favorite and Wall Street Journal is sometimes worthwhile), but I steer clear of the following:  Fox News, Daily Wire, The Blaze, Washington Times, Newsmax, Epoch Times, Breitbart, The New American, and OAN Network.  I would add Infowars to the list, except that I fortunately almost never encounter this one.  It's the most extreme of all, probably the one that makes some people think Fox News is beginning to look downright mainstream--to the point that some who once took it as gospel now have no use for it.

I do admire scholars, journalists, and honest and curious friends who have the fortitude to see these things and engage the issues and the personalities involved.  On rare occasions I have been among them.  It happens only when I feel empowered and compelled by a fire within that I take to be holy fire.  It never happens on the spur of the moment.

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In church yesterday during a time of participatory prayer and praise, Harry S. thanked the Lord for the good things that happened during the past four years, and the good things that will happen in the next four years--because we know that God is sovereign, and that good can come out of any situation.  He also prayed for peace on inauguration day (Wednesday, January 20), thus including an item that had been mentioned in the announcements as a prayer point.

I actually find it really difficult to list good things that the president accomplished.  It's all I can do to make it through other people's lists of such things.  Revulsion is my involuntary response.  I see so little righteous motivation and so much self-serving in "everything" he's done that it takes backing out a loooong way to see any of it in a positive light.  Nevertheless I agree that a sovereign God can bring good from it, so on that basis I can give thanks for the good that has been accomplished during the past four years, much of which is probably not yet visible.  

I don't see that any defense of a narcissistic approach to governance serves God's sovereign purposes, and for now I refuse to pretend that it is otherwise.  I trust that my readers will understand that the defense of narcissistic behavior is particularly problematic.  I don't know exactly how to divide narcissism into "mental illness" and "sin" compartments, but I believe it's a toxic mix, and backing far away from identifying with it seems prudent all around.

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The unburdening that I've engaged in in this post has been cathartic.  Maybe now I can go on to tasks that have been on hold while I was in a semi-paralyzed state.


 

Monday, November 30, 2020

Who I Thought We Were

The “We” in the title refers primarily to the people I go to church with.  In the spirit of the season, I am choosing here to omit some of the negative things I believe are true also.  If I ever compile a negative list, I'm positive that it will be much shorter than this one is. While the list is being compiled during the pandemic, I believe who we have become culturally and spiritually happened over a period of many decades, and even centuries.  My forebears have lived in Kansas since 1883.  Much of what is listed here could also have been said of them, I believe.  

I can imagine that a few people who are also part of our church might say after reading this list I don’t think this is who we are anymore.  They might be right.  Admittedly, some of the thoughts that eventually spilled onto the screen were prompted by consternation and even disbelief at what I've observed recently.  Formulating this list is partly an effort to identify what is right about who we are or were in order to make necessary corrections in places where we have strayed from what is "right."

I wrote by far the biggest portion of this list in one sitting, and added a few items in two more time slots before Thanksgiving.  Only a few were added more recently.  I’m just as surprised as you are at the size of the list.  The items are written in the order I thought of them.  Coming out of an ADD brain, this order looks pretty random, because it is.

I’d love to hear your reactions in the comments–either about a specific item or a general comment or a comment on this congregation-specific list or your own situation.

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1. People who believe in the power of suffering love to bring about significant and lasting change in the world–as modeled by Jesus.

2.  People who understand that political power is fundamentally at odds with the power of suffering love.

3.  People who stand firm on the basics of Christian faith while extending grace to all.

4.  People who respect our authorities.

5.  People who promote the “common good.”

6.  People who share generously with the needy.

7.  People who alleviate the suffering of others.

8.  People who believe that our witness is important.  

9.  People who believe that surrender to God and the church is important.

10.  People who regard our citizenship in the Kingdom of God as our primary identity.

11.  People who identify as pilgrims and strangers on the earth.

12.  People who want to be identified as being separated unto God.

13.  People who are willing to be identified as members of a specific Christian brotherhood.  

14.  People who welcome anyone from anywhere into our church services. 

15.  People who extend special favor to the weak.

16.  People who adjust as needed in times of adversity, rather than rage against the adversity.

17.  People who recognize sin and evil and want no part in it.

18.  People who treasure the “right of appeal” but hold other rights loosely. 

19.  People who are sympathetic to others who suffer–because we remember the suffering of our spiritual ancestors.

20.  People who love corporate worship.

21.  People who love discussing Scripture together.

22.  People who love to share ordinary life with others in the church.  

23.  People who honor each other in the brotherhood.  

24.  People who understand the importance of repentance, confession, and restoration when wrongdoing occurs.

25.  People who seek forbearance when they become aware of unintentional mistakes.

26.  People who are ready to do the right thing even if no authority has provided a directive for it.  

27.  People who accept the Word of God, the life of Jesus, and the witness of the Holy Spirit as the primary guides for life.

28. People who also accept the factually-based and faith-tradition-informed counsel of the brotherhood as trusted guides for life.

29.  People who trust each other on the basis of a shared commitment to being in fact who we claim to be in name.

30.   People who are not greedy, and who do not seek their own profit at others’ unfair expense. 

31.  People who see obedience to authority as evidence of respect.

32.  People who live in a patriarchal society, with the elements of provision, protection, and guidance being in evidence on the part of men. 

33.  People who act intentionally and deliberately–not hastily or thoughtlessly.

34.  People who interact kindly with others–in word and deed.

35.  People who know that being a Christian always involves “persecution” of some kind (offenses will come), for which God extends grace.

36.  People who know that deserved punishment is not persecution.

37.  People who pray for others.

38.  People who cultivate a private spiritual life through regular Bible reading and prayer.

39.  People who prefer to settle conflicts in the brotherhood internally rather than through outside intervention.

40.  People who recognize that we are a blessed people.

41.  People who respect others who have more knowledge than we have.

42.  People who welcome enlightenment through learning.

43.  People who respect tradition.

44.  People who value forthrightness.

45.  People who value all human life.

46.  People who value strong family ties.

47.  People who value resourcefulness.

48.  People who see the value both of bearing one’s own burdens, and bearing the burdens of others.

49.  People who value contentment more than having all our wants supplied in order to maintain appearances.

50.  People who value moderation in all things that are neutral in themselves.

51.  People who extend forgiveness for wrongs done against us.

52.  People who strive to live transparent, consistent lives.

53.  People who invite inspection of their own lives.

54.  People who admonish each other.

55. People who are frugal in their purchasing habits and careful to avoid waste.

56. People who are uncomfortable with ostentation.

57. People who value self-sufficiency. 

58.  People who affirm both the importance of personal responsibility and group harmony. 

59.  People who avoid confrontation whenever possible.

60.  People who see self-control as a virtue.  

61.  People who frown on self-promotion.

62.  People who are happiest when they are able to move about in public without attracting undue attention.



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Covid and a Straight Line to God

One of the confounding things about being under multiple authorities is that sometimes these authorities do not agree.  What is a person to do when this happens?  COVID-19 has provided many opportunities for pondering this dilemma.  As of the past several weeks, changes both in local infection levels (significant increase), and in what we're hearing from our county and church leaders has "raised the temperature"* on this issue.

I realized several days ago that, without putting it into words, I had settled into an approach that at the moment seems to be serving me well.  Clarity began to be restored when I acknowledged that God is the ultimate authority.  Ideally of course, every other authority lines up neatly under God's authority, and there is then no question about the message being delivered through one's authorities.  All that is left to people like me is to decide whether to obey** or not.   

I imagine the process of receiving guidance from my authorities being something like seeing God bathed in light at the top of a mountain while I am surrounded by darkness in a valley below. The whole mountainside lies in shadow.  Many figures, each one a lesser authority than God, stand between the valley and the mountain top.  They each hold a light.  My goal is to get to the top of the mountain where God is. How I wish that all those lights appeared in a straight line between me and God.  I wish also that the circle of light around each figure would be big enough to extend to the edge of the circles around neighboring figures.  That would spare me from floundering in the dark along the way.    

What I have seen recently as it applies to navigating the hazardous terrain of COVID-19 is that God offers me a light that ensures that I can get to him, even if the circles of light on the mountainside are too small and the dark places are too large.  That light is the guidance of the Holy Spirit within.  In mundane terms, I will know how to act individually in dealing with Covid in specific situations, because God's spirit will show me.  

Whether the problem we encounter is unwise actions by authorities or unwise responses to those authorities, our first and last priority is to stay connected to God. In him we "live and move and have our being."  This is our safe place.  

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*A term from Leadership Reno County classes.  It is a strategy that can be useful in moving toward  change when it is needed.  In general, the idea is similar to exerting pressure. I see prayer, witness, and appeal as legitimate person-to-person ways of raising the temperature.

**Other words could be used here in relation to authority:  support, agree with,  affirm, comply with, etc.

Note:  I've have had many problems with this post.  The original version (which is now lost due to technical problems) had a reference to something Covid-related that I learned from E. W., my cousin, when we visited during our Sunday afternoon walk.  Additional information later showed me that I needed to re-examine some of the conclusions I had drawn from that original information, so I removed the post, in order to rewrite it.  Then I added material along a different vein, which is now also lost.  All that to say that what I copied below from Facebook now seems disconnected from the other content, but it didn't start out that way.  I decided to post it anyway, for your interest and for my record.

This cousin just received a visa in preparation for moving overseas for five years.  The language learning is happening in preparation for being able to communicate after he and his wife arrive in their destination country.  I have learned that being a bit vague about details in cases like E. W.'s is sometimes necessary because of sensitive conditions or a fragile welcome in a destination country.  I don't know enough to know whether such caution is warranted in this case, but I'm choosing to err on that side, just in case.  

Yesterday on our walk along the nearly deserted straight, flat, paved road by our house, my cousin came along on his bike. He was getting in some exercise (and some language learning via electronics) on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We talked all the way home, properly distanced, with his biking on one side of the road and our walking on the other side.
Among the interesting things I learned is that an oil-rich country in the Middle East is investing heavily in solar energy. My cousin knows this because his son lives there and works in that industry. Do you think maybe they know something in the Middle East that America should also be acknowledging?
The son speaks both Arabic and French because of having spent part of his childhood in countries or schools where those languages were spoken, but uses far more English in the course of his work than the other languages. English is the undisputed world trade language, and knowledge of it is very common in almost every country's expat communities.
Another interesting thing I learned is that Portuguese is the language of at least one African country.
I learned too that a private program exists in the US where teachers are placed in public schools, even though they may not have acquired an education degree. It's a two-year program, and they get a crash course in teaching before they begin. They're paid for their work. The cousin's daughter teaches in Seattle.
One final thing I learned is that the cousin's brother, who has lived and taught for years in a university in the country that was the US nemesis in the Cold War was recently granted a permanent visa to that country. This is an enormous favor to a foreigner, and reveals a great deal of confidence in him. Did I mention that he knows now that he has been the target of previous investigations by the government of the country in which he works and resides during the school year?
We traveled a long way safely in that short walk home. A gift for sure in the fraught and frightening current environment.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Thoughts on Election Day 2020

I have primarily one certainty about this day:  the election will be uppermost in my thoughts and prayers.  Our church is open today for all who wish to go there to pray.  I plan to do so.  I am not praying that any specific candidate will  be elected.  Nor will I vote for any of them (unless you don't know me, you aren't familiar with Amish-Mennonite traditions, or you're a new reader of this blog, you'll understand why).  I'll share further here what concerns will be reflected in my prayers.

1.  That Christians will mindfully divest themselves of partisanship (loyalties based on political parties).

2.  That Christians will agree with God about righteousness and evil, regardless of where it is found.

3.  That Christian leaders will be bold in declaring the transcendence of God's Kingdom over all earthly kingdoms.

4.  That all Christians will adopt a humble stance toward those in authority, with obedience to laws being an underlying expression of this.

5.  That love for one's neighbors will be real and in evidence.  

6.  That those who are vulnerable will be protected and provided for, particularly during this pandemic.

7.  That ignorance, cruelty, and militancy will never be glorified among or defended by Christians.

8.  That Christians will be bold  in speaking Truth (in the prophetic tradition) and humble in bearing witness (observing carefully and reporting accurately).  

9.  That the right to appeal to authorities, and the obligation to obey and pray for them take precedence over seeking personal advantage or ease.  

10.  That Christians will see the contradictions between commitments to nationalism or American exceptionalism and commitment to the Kingdom of Christ.  

11.  That the misplaced loyalties of professing Christians will be exposed and destroyed. 

12.  That no intimidation, dishonesty, or violence will occur in connection with the election. 

13.  That images appropriate for the situation come to the fore for Christians seeking direction in living a life of faith.  I'm remembering especially the images of Christians being salt and light and pilgrims and strangers.*

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*Other Scriptural images of what Christians are to be are valid also:  runner, soldier, fighter, citizen, burden bearer, shepherd, child/newborn baby, healer, peacemaker, ambassador, steward, traveler, exile, pilgrim, stranger, fisherman, builder, messenger, fellow-heir,  servant, new creation, part of a body/building/family/peculiar people/chosen generation/royal priesthood/holy nation, a rock, a vessel, sheep/lamb, chick, refined gold, bearer of good fruit, precious seed, having a sound mind/being sober/being vigilant/free of offensive acts.  Maybe someday I'll find time to explore these ideas further or add to the list, rather than simply sorting through my memory to find the words and designations that  appear here.  Each image reveals truths that expand and deepen our understanding of what a Christian is or should be.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Sunday Wrap Up--November 1, 2020

This morning, two days before the 2020 presidential election, I read Luke 1.  In the words of Gabriel and Mary I found assurance for this conflictive time.  

For some reason, I find confident predictions of who will win the presidency extremely bothersome, especially when offered by Joe Blow without convincing or even supporting evidence.  I'm thinking "you've got to be kidding.  I'm supposed to believe you, just because you have the audacity to claim certainty about this."  

Maybe my husband's preferences are rubbing off on me.  He hates to guess or estimate or conjecture or prognosticate.  I think it's because he has an engineer's brain, where exact data is critical. Also, I suppose the English-as-a-second-language thing figures in.  He really doesn't "get" rhetorical questions, and often offers a quick "I don't know" rather than to extend the rumination  by offering further input.  He's definitely not guessing the outcome of the election, and neither am I.  

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" . . . no word from God shall ever fail,"  Gabriel told Mary.  She answered by saying, I am the Lord's servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled."*  This short passage is a reminder that God keeps his promises.  In light of that, whole-hearted submission to and trust in God makes sense.  

I had never before thought of the Magnificat in the context of a tumultuous time such as the present, so I was surprised with how well Mary's words offered the assurance I craved.  I probably should not have been surprised, now that I remember how shocking was the reality that Mary had to adjust to. In shock value, no possible election outcome holds a candle to this.  

Mary's song doesn't supply me with the name of a potential winner in the upcoming election, but it reassures me that remembering who God is and what he has done is the right thing to do.  I especially like how Mary knows with certainty that God lifts up the humble, fills the hungry, brings down the proud, and sends away the rich, empty.  It describes an evening of the score that I long for today.  Mary knew, and I know that this comes about through a Savior, not a political figure. 

Here are excerpts of what Mary said:

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant . . . the Mighty One has done great things for me--holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him . . . He has performed mighty deeds . . . he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts, He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant . . . remembering to be merciful . . . just as he promised . . . "

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Something astonishing happened near the end of our church service this morning when a stranger got up to speak during the time when audience members were invited to do so.  He didn't tell us his name, and I don't know if anyone there knew it, although I'm sure that those who talked to him afterward know more now than I do.  In short, he told us he was there because his wife wanted him to come.  He did so in an effort to save his marriage.  He is apparently in his eighties.  His wife has had some good interactions with people from "Center Amish Church," and she promised that she would put on her "covering and her long clothes" again and come with him if he found this church for them to worship with (today, however, she was at a family event and couldn't come).  He attended "old Yoder Mennonite" when he was a child, and was converted there at the age of 10 or 11.  Since 1957 he has worked as a pastor in many different places, during which time he sometimes attended a "Beachy" church.  His wife at some point apparently had practices similar to ours.  So much mystery and too many credible details to dismiss it all as confused ramblings!

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Jana, the church member who has worked as a doctor in a clinic in El Salvador for most of her professional life, faces a lot of uncertainty about her future, and the future of the clinic in El Salvador.    She is reaching retirement age, and so far, no one has been found to replace her.  She left her work abruptly earlier this year when the country went into lockdown, with plans at that time to return and reopen the clinic till it could be turned over to someone else.  Now that prospect is in limbo.  A clinic advisory board will meet this week to try to find a path forward.  

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Several times recently I have heard criticism of our ministers, by members--specific to general, and mild to severe.  I'm still trying to process this.   My first inclination is to counter the criticism.  I don't share in feeling general dissatisfaction with what I hear in sermons or observe in character or leadership style.  The ministers are good people, doing their best.  I especially appreciate how they've led out during the pandemic, and wish there were more united support for their leadership. 

I do want to listen respectfully to what others are feeling.  Doing that while maintaining my own integrity is what I desire.  

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Here's a short Facebook post I shared this afternoon:

tSptonlsno5rehd 
Shared with Public
Public
Prayer offered today in church for Donald Trump and for Joe Biden: "Help him to see you, and to see himself in light of who you are."
I loved it. It's an appropriate petition for us to pray for each other and for ourselves as well.

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*New International Version