One of my favorite love stories, the BBC adaptation of a Victorian era novel, North & South, features two very strong and compelling characters.
The first, Margaret Hale, the cherub-faced daughter of an English clergyman, is forced to move to the industrial North after her father’s resignation over a matter of conscience. The other is John Thornton, a mill-owner, a handsome man with piercing eyes, brooding and intense, and interest in the demure young woman.
Things started fairly well. But, that doesn’t last as the differences in their perspectives becomes clear. Margaret, compassionate and having lived a sheltered life, interprets the actions of John in a negative light and pulls away after witnessing his harshness towards an employee caught smoking. What she sees as just cruelty was actually Thornton’s concern for the safety and wellness of his workers given the extreme risk of fire.
It is in the last and final act where there’s a scene where the tension between the two finally disappears. Throughout the middle-act Thornton’s truly good character is slowly revealed. And, Margaret, having returned South, has reconsidered her own idealistic notions, now sees the merits to living in Milton, and decided to return North again. Meanwhile, John is going South, the two cross paths at a station near the midpoint and cue the music.
There is this wonderful part of the soundtrack in this climatic station scene, Northbound Train (listen here), that so perfectly accompanied the moment. It is understated and elegant, reflective, that builds in waves to crescendo and then slips away as wistfully as it came. Thornton’s steadfast devotion is finally rewarded with a kiss and happily ever after begins despite the painful struggle to get there.
When the Story Goes South…
During my pursuit of the impossibly (a preacher’s daughter, like Margaret) this story brought a little hope with the similarities to my own. It wasn’t that we were so terribly different in our desires as it was she never heard me. Her conclusions formed before the conversation even began. She had pronounced “you’re thirty years old living in Milton” (the actual name of the town) meaning, in translation, that I would hinder her big plans. And could not understand it was her boldness and ability to get out that attracted me.
My thesis then was that a composite of our unique strengths, seemingly incompatible, bound together by Christian love, would exceed what those of similar abilities could accomplish. My thinking outside the box combined with her represention of the Mennonite standard. And, while I’m never good at getting things started (hence being stuck in Milton) I’m extremely loyal and willing to sacrifice for the team. I knew my age and life experience was an asset. But she could not see my value.
Still, for the year or so following her initial rejection I believed. What a wonderful story we would have when all was said and done, right?
Anyhow, that music, Northbound Train, had seemed like the perfect bridal march. Partly in innocent faith, partly to bolster my failing confidence against the deluge of rational fears, this image of the impossibly walking the church aisle dressed in white. As would be the case in real life, tears would stream down my cheeks as the nightmare of the past decade was replaced by this wonderful dream of marital companionship and completeness.
The strong emotions that came with that gentle harp being replaced with one violin and then two, have now disappeared. The music is still beautiful, but my feelings of numbness have long replaced that panging desire for a well-defined conclusion to over a decade of struggle. What I got instead was a world more complex. The cynicism that I had fought tooth and nail was confirmed.
The sunshine through the clouds, endings sweet and perfect are not for everyone. And the reason we tell such lovely tales is probably because they’re so uncommon, the exception, and not the rule. Sure, we can see ourselves as the characters. But the impossibly will likely go on seeing me as the villain in her movie, her conventional guy as the hero, and has never once shared in my fairytale that love would prevail over our differences.
As Far As the East is From the West
It is hard to believe that nearly another decade has passed and I’m still alone. I’ve moved from Milton, left the religion of my childhood behind, even traveled to the complete opposite side of the world twice, and have changed from that guy perpetually unsure of how to find direction. No, I’m not a missionary, but I do genuinely love people and probably accomplish more of actual value than those duty-bound Evangelical types who see ‘the lost’ as their get-into-heaven projects.
More importantly, I’ve found another impossibly, a beautiful Filipina flower, a little lost sheep when I found her (struggling abroad, in Taiwan, to support her son back home) and now the one who keeps me strong despite our torturous wait. Unlike the Mennonite impossibility, we do not share a cultural or ethnic identity, our lives have been very different, yet we have our simple and devoted love in common—which has been just enough to sustain us through these past years.
However, after all I’ve been through, holding on to hope is hard. Could my visions of her arrival at the airport, on American soil, with Y-dran in tow, also be a delusion?
It has been over two years and eight months since we’ve held each other that one last time before we parted ways in Taoyuan International Airport. I had known the immigration process would be difficult, but could not have anticipated the pandemic and travel bans that make it nearly impossible to be with Charlotte. It really does start to bring those worries that I might be cursed to the forefront again and sometimes the despair does win.
The eternal optimism of youth wiped away by the rejection of the Mennonite ideal, now facing my rational fears and the fact that I’ve been hoping longer than Jacob worked for Rachel and without so much as a Leah in between, I can now fully identify with the wife of Job, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” The frustration is real. How long does one go on dreaming? When is it justified to wither away into bones, with life never to return again?
As far as the East is from the West is an expression, in Psalms 103:12, used to describe an impossible distance that cannot be bridged. And it could seem that, despite the abiding love of my bhest to encourage me onwards, I’ve jumped straight from the frying pan into the fire. We have had a bit of good news since I’ve last published a blog here, the USCIS approved the application, and yet will this impossibly ever become possible?
I see the successful couples. So lovely together. To them it feels preordained, meant to be, a dream come true. For me, on the outside looking in, there is now more uncertainty than certainty, not everyone gets that music at the end.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
(Malachi 4:5-6 NIV)
That end to the Old Testament has intrigued me. It contains a very clear either/or option. Either the people heed the message of Elijah or the land will be totally destroyed. God desired all to be saved, to be united in love for each other, and yet also doesn’t force the relationship and eventually the opportunity for reconciliation will end.
This is how John the Baptist was introduced in the New Testament:
He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
(Luke 1:16-17 NIV)
Unfortunately, we see how this would eventually work out for the nation, as a whole, of those who didn’t repent or turn from their religious elitism. We see it in the following pronouncement of Jesus:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
(Matthew 10:34-36 NIV)
Many picked or else.
They choose their own destruction rather than heed the message and accept the offer of repentance and life.
I’m convinced it didn’t need to be that way, that had the people accepted their Lord and Savior, the city of Jerusalem would’ve stood and would not have been destroyed by the Romans. It was political division, the insanity of the zealots (including Judas) pursuing their own version of social justice, the complacent ruling class unable to make up their minds, that ultimately doomed the city to destruction.
Jesus is uniting or divisive. The choice is ours. Like it or not, the Gospel lays out a choice between unity or division. The truth will set you free or you’ll stay in bondage to your sin, to your preferences, your prejudices and perish. If we would truly choose Jesus then we would let go of all of our other identities, grievances and special privileges, we would be united in love.
Many who profess Christ today are more like those who rejected him. They choose tribe over unity, they choose political gain over peace, they accuse others while being as guilty or more guilty themselves. We would be wise to do as Jesus told his disciples regarding those who refuse to hear, to kick the dust from our sandals and move on to those more receptive.
Peace Through Separation
This theme of peace through separation is throughout Scripture, one example being Abram and Lot:
“…quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
(Genesis 13:7-13 NIV)
Lot picked the area close to the city, pitching his tent towards Sodom, Abram went the other way, and the strife between their clans ended. Nobody was offended, there was no reason to be offended, seperation to avoid unnecessary conflict is a peaceable solution.
We see the same happen in the New Testament:
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
(Acts 15:36-41 NIV)
Imagine that. A sharp disagreement, even within the early church, leading to a parting of ways. And it actually seemed to work for the best. Sometimes the best solution to an irreconcilable difference is to go different ways. It seems that actually enhanced rather than take way from their respective ministries. At the very least, we see this affair being stated matter of factly and not a cause for additional drama.
There is, however, at least one case of separation gone awry and that’s when Pharoah refused to let the children of Isreal go. He had refused after first bring asked nicely, relented only after a series of plagues that increased in severity, then changed his mind once again and pursued those seeking freedom from him. Why? Well, because he was exploiting their labor and knew letting them go would cost him.
That is also how an abusive spouse acts. They simply can’t tolerate someone wanting to get away from them, they’re insecure, they need to have control, and would sooner murder the other person than allow them to go in peace. They can’t stand that someone would dare to expose their own ugliness and will slander the other party rather than repent of creating the conditions that led to the other party being uncomfortable remaining with them.
A Christian is able to walk away in peace, without things ending on their own terms, but those who are exploiting others or trying to advantage themselves cannot. Is it better that there is no seperation? Sure. Is separation wrong when remaining together becomes unbearable? Absolutely not! In short, seperation is a peaceable solution for peaceable people. But tyrants, who must have their own way, will refuse to leave others be.
Two Groups, Presenting an A-B Option
About six months ago, in response to the increased promotion of tribalism, I started a group on social media “One Nation Under God…” The point was to present an alternative to these divisive forces. A place where people of all colors, creeds, genders, or orientations could celebrate our common humanity together. The idea being that we could act “one nation” rather than allow our differences to divide us. I featured a picture of a diverse group of American children and posted feel-good stories of people overcoming conflicts, Good Samaritan acts, and kindness.
That group, which is representative of my highest aspirations and my desire to be unified with all, only attracted a handful of friends and remains at only a few dozen members. I would rather that we learn to get along, to hear each other’s perspectives, to find our common humanity, and respect our differences.
That’s definitely my option A.
However, around the start of the new year, after a contentious election season and continuing strife, seeing some voices were not being represented, I decide (on a whim) to start a group where disenfranchised rural people could find a home. My group description contrasted “two different Americans” and went on to note the differing cultural values between rural and urban people, with a lament of double standards, and a call for a peaceful resolution.
Well, on one level, it was option B, to advocate for an amicable divorce rather than continue the perpetual conflict and subjugation of one half of the country or the other every four years.
But, on another level, it was still in hopes of option A, to make those on the ‘other side’ aware of this grievance, to hopefully find a listening ear, and then find an understanding together. In other words, it was the same reason that any other peaceful advocacy group exists, to give some a voice in the conversation, to say our culture matters, to stop sweeping our issues under the rug, and have a dialogue.
First and foremost, the group was created as a haven for rural people, who tend to be more reserved and too often get dominated by their socially adept, politically powerful, urban counterparts. There was no hate or contempt for those on the other side of the divide, only a listing of different cultural values, a lament of double-standards, and a call for a peaceful resolution to irreconcilable differences. Rural people have the same desire to feel safe, to feel reasonably represented, and speak against the cultural imperialism of the truly privileged as anyone else.
Many people are fleeing urban areas to escape tyranny and violence. And they are all welcome to live in rural areas. But, that said, those bringing their problems with them, their tribalism and hate, are best staying where they are rather than have them bring their divisiveness to us. Little old Asian women aren’t being physically assaulted by grown men in central Pennsylvania and some of us would rather keep it that way. We believe in equal justice under the law, merit and not quotas, and no special treatment for some over others.
Respect our values or let us go our separate ways. That’s all. Option A and B. Hear the grievance and maybe we can patch things up. That’s always possible. But, respond with more accusations and hate? Yeah, that will only confirm my own reason to leave.
Pharaoh’s ‘Woke’ Army Is Outraged
I was blindsided by it. A friend went me a private message to alert me. The eye of Sauron had found The Rural Divide and the legions of far-left sympathizing, the hoards of apologists for wokeism and closed social justice warriors were on their way to overrun this resistance to their totalitarian agenda. Behind the buttery smooth words, of well-trained passive-aggressive Mennonite-borns, there was seething rage—a sea of hatred, irrationality and nasty accusations
Murder in words.
Only one person reached out for an explanation. A few others to heap condemnation and clearly unwilling to listen. Even some old friends were unwittingly used as pawns. But the truly disappointing part is that those who led this campaign know me enough to know that their characterization of the group was a lie.
For those who don’t know me, I was the religious odd ball at my school (as a conservative Mennonite) and found my place amongst the other misfits. One of my close friends, throughout my school years, came out of the closet in highschool and never once did I think of him as less a person than me. My cafeteria clique consisted of the only Roman Catholic and Mormon guys in the school, an ethnic Indian Hindu, a Filipino Seventh-day adventist. My other closest friend was an atheist fellow.
After school, I’ve only ever dated women categorized as “people of color” according to the current jargon. I’ve punched an openly racist Kansan (not my finest moment) and lost my job as a result. I was obsessed with the Civil Rights Era and fully embraced what Martin Luther King Jr said about content of character over color of skin. My assailants are mostly whites who grew up in ethically homogeneous enclaves, homeschooled, often privileged over me and extremely gullible too. They, like their forbearers, seem to believe that their own poop don’t stink.
Anyhow, back to the present drama, one particularly sanctimonious religious elite, likely trying to impress his peers with this virtue signaling display, suggested that those who joined the group were not even Christian.
Imagine that, you get a random request for a group, decide to accept the invite to see what it is, and bam suddenly you’re out of the Kingdom. Wow! Yeah, I’m thinking this extremely judgmental elite confuses Christianity with cancel culture. Or maybe it is that they are from a conservative Mennonite background where a marriage partner who separates from their abuser is often treated as the guilty party? The apple doesn’t always fall far from the tree, does it?
I’m sure they are too ‘woke’ to carry on the prior generation’s opinions regarding abused women leaving their abusers. And yet, under this new facade of social justice, they carry on the exact same attitude in regards to those who wish to be separated from those that routinely accuse, slander, and belittle them?
Reminds me of this:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
(Matthew 23:29-39 NIV)
It is interesting, first, that this passage above contains both a loving lament and harsh condemnation, both in the same thought. This goes back to the either/or proposition of Malachi. Second, those who killed Jesus, along with the other prophets, thought they were the enlightened and righteous ones. Saul, who latter become St Paul, harassed, pursued and killed Christians thinking this was God’s work. He found fault in others despite being murderous himself and it was only after repentance that he could see.
The very same people today, who are heroes in their own eyes for attacking peaceable people today, would likely be cheering loudly for Jim Crow laws a few generations ago, or aligned with Bolsheviks in Russia and Nazis in Germany before their atrocities were fully known. It’s amazing the similarities between abusers, both then and now, rather than live and let live or leave when unwelcomed, they “pursue to town to town” and demand their piece of God’s people like the mob of degenerates in Sodom wanting a to ‘know’ Lot’s angelic visitors:
Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
(Genesis 19:4-5 NIV)
The far-left is equally aggressive today in pursuit of anyone who would rather not be with them. If you’re putoff by their nastiness they’ll accuse you of an “ism” or being “phobic” and harass and lie in an effort to have their way with you. To them you have no rights as an individual, you belong to them, and if you refuse their advances they will break your door down…
And those outraged about The Rural Divide acted in the same manner. They attacked in a swarm, relentless, demanding to know why the group existed, trying to infiltrate, and were no different than that enraged mob picking up stones to murder St Stephen for his paraphrasing of what Jesus said:
“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.”
(Acts 7:52 NIV)
A Time To Reconcile, A Time To Choose A Side
If anyone in that cabal of hate and hysteria would like to approach me and apologize, I’m more than willing to forgive the slanderous attacks. Unlike the far-left, I believe in repentance, that people should be forgiven of their faults and can change. I’m willing to reconcile with any of those who participated in this spreading of malicious nonsense about me. A simple apology admitting that they misunderstood or were misled into believing my group was something it was not would be sufficient enough.
There are those whom I blocked on social media for their racism or otherwise rude and elitist behavior that I would gladly welcome back into my life if there was a hint of repentance. That’s option A.
This is option B:
But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
(1 Corinthians 5:11 NIV)
St Paul prefaces this by saying that he’s not speaking against association with sinful non-Christians, who God will judge. But he’s talking about those who profess Christ and yet refuse to repent of their sin. This excommunication is necessary to maintain our own integrity and as not to confuse our non-believing neighbors. It applies, not in cases of different preferences, but in cases of clearly defined sin and lack of repentance. In case I’m unclear:
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions.
(1 Timothy 6:3-4 NIV)
I’m sure this was just St Paul’s white cisgender male privilege speaking right?
More toxic masculinity, I suppose?
Whatever the case, if even Paul and Barnabas had to go their separate ways over a dispute, both early church missionaries and leaders, then why is it so offensive or wrong that some would rather peaceably divide rather than continue in a quarrel? Isn’t that what happened with Abram and Lot when their groups were in conflict? Abraham going the way of the country and Lot picking the life of the city?
In the end, it is laughable that any Protestant religious separatist, especially these proud social justice preaching types who still identify as “Anabaptist” and refuse to seek membership with the universal church, would be at all critical of those rural folks who wish to have a separate space for themselves. Their hateful reaction confirmed every reason why The Rural Divide exists.
The Rural Divide is a group open to all shades of skin color, even those of other cultures, but only where there is mutual respect and not cultural imperialism. And, yes, the unrepentant ‘woke’ nationalists can stay out.
Relax, folks, it is just a Facebook group.
Everyone else has their safe space, wants their communities and values to be respected.