Years ago I had a nemesis. My counterpart positioned himself as a white knight type of character and was basically there to harass anyone too fond of the religious tribe I was born into. He knew the group, he had been a convert and was now an ex-member, who classified us as “an ethnic church” dismissing what we said about our conversion experience.
Now that I’ve left the group there is no reason to continue to guard the ideas left behind and that includes the notion that my own participation had been completely a choice. There are doctrinal reasons for this denial of the obvious. I mean, if you believe that conversion is a personal choice, a rational and unbiased conclusion, then it really gets under your skin when someone says that you’re more or less a product of a religious culture.
We were, in our own eyes, a sort of remnant church. And then also had to deal with the awkward reality that many, like us, were so inbred that they had distinct genetic disorders. And, unlike our radical forbearers, we had no cultural relevance besides being the quaint old fashioned people who dressed like it was the 1800s and called this non-conformity to the world. So, obviously, the fact that everyone who shared our views happened to be genetically related was the source of cognitive dissonance.
It is for this reason that converts, the more exotic the better, were clung to and even given special treatment. We would say it was out of Christian love and yet some of this had to do with our own insecurities. They were our validation. They were the proof that we were more than just an ethnic cloister, more than a bunch of cousins of a particular European heritage claiming that our own brand of religion represented something universal and relevant to the times.
Those who come into this group, visibly from the outside, are often treated both with mistrust and also with a special adoration as well. They can never be fully accepted, they’re always both more and less than equal, coddled or spared normal rebuke from some to keep them from leaving, and yet also can sense that they’re just the tokens being used to prove a point rather than being treated as people. Sure, they may form real friendships with some, but they themselves are often misfits from whence they came and still remain stuck in no man’s land.
Now that I’m in a church that both spans continents and is mostly converts locally, I don’t have as strong an urge to collect tokens or evidence that I’m not just a product of my ethnocultural roots. I mean, sure, I still want to be right. But the pressure to bring the Gospel to all people is off my shoulders. The Church didn’t take long to spread into Asia or Africa, early Christians didn’t dress like Europeans from a generation ago either, there may be some times to chase down Ethiopian eunuchs in their chariots, and yet there’s also a time to acknowledge that the fullness of the faith has never left Africa.
Evangelicals, of all stripes, have this desperation for relevance. They think that they will win more converts by being more cosmopolitan, and by painting a picture of superficial diversity and inclusion, but Jesus said that his message would make the world hate us and even divide families. If we have the truth, if we know the truth, we are no longer bound to ethnic quotas and, instead, simply love people, especially of the household of faith, as we are commanded. Jesus preached to his own tribe first, his converts were mostly other Jews, like him, and that was perfectly fine.
Blood relatives can be our closest friends. We share some of the same genetic material and often intimate experiences as well. My siblings and cousins understand my humor, we think alike in many regards, and sometimes I wonder if I have any true friends that aren’t family. I certainly do not trust anyone, besides Charlotte, the same as I do my own relatives.
Don’t get me wrong either. I know many good people, some who might literally give me the shirt off of their back, and yet I’ve had so many friends like that who have faded out of my life.
The fraternity of Christ, is closer than the fraternity of blood.
St. Ambrose of Milan
Is a statement actual truth or wishful thinking?
This is what the body of Christ is supposed to be. A brotherhood, a group of people who carry burdens and cry together, who cheer each other on and encourage, who have real intimacy rather the superficial, make small talk, kind of relationship. The kind of familial investment that goes to bat for others in the Church, as St. Paul did speaking on behalf of Onesimus:
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.
(Philemon 1:8-10 NIV)
When I read that quote of St Ambrose, a couple of days ago, it provoked me to reach out to someone that I love in that way and still did after a sort of falling out. It remains to be seen if that effort, to be a brother, will bear fruit or only widen the divide. But one thing is for certain, no matter how this goes, and that is that relationships that are “closer than blood” have not been my own experience yet.
Sure, the good church people will use weighty words like “brother” and “sister” to describe their relationships, but is it truly reality or is it a faux closeness like those social media scammers trying to exploit religious strangers for personal gain?
Maybe, in this time of social fragmentation and community disintegration, where many children are raised without both of their biological parents, we have lost some of the meaning of these words?
Community, for example, should mean living in close proximity and sharing in common. People used to work and worship with the people who lived in close proximity to them. Now I barely know my next-door neighbors and then drive thirty minutes to ‘fellowship’ for a couple of hours. And then there’s those who watch a sermon at home and make-believe that’s being part of the church. I mean, might as well take it all the way and spend the afternoon gardening, right?
Is It All Fake?
One of my memories, in the church I grew up in, was pastor Sam slapping down a transparency onto the overhead projector, and starting with his wonderful baritone, “You may notice we say brother and sister ’round here…” He was certainly sincere. A fatherly leader in a denomination that neglects such things. Once he caught a hint that I was a fan of high school football he would always ask me about the game. I have fond memories of the times spent in the Corderman’s living room even after leaving my Mennonite roots.
And yet not all there got the memo. We were more glorified acquaintances. Sure, we would smile, shake hands, and make small talk together. There was also that cultural and ethnic component that did give a kind of closeness. There were also those last vestiges of the Anabaptist barn-raising spirit. However, like those veils on the female heads or the foot-washing rituals, it all seemed to be mostly symbolic. A father might set his own son up in business, but no man in the church would ever think of doing the same for a non-family member in the congregation. It was superficial closeness.
I’ve heard it explained before that religious groups hijack the language of family to create a false sense of closeness. At first, I had bristled at this suggestion. It felt like they were trying to discredit this special spiritual bond that people of like faith share. However, if we were close as family, let alone closer than blood, would we even need to use this familiar language? Wouldn’t it just be self-evident, like when Charlotte told me she would rather die with me than go on living without?
It is in that weird territory of language, like when some feel compelled to pray in old English as if this somehow reverences their prayers or those hypocrites that Jesus condemned for their love of important titles. One starts to be able to see through the pretense. There’s a vast difference between the man who treats you as a brother, offers protection, like big Tony Fisher did for me in school, and the people who use the right terms as a way to acquire resources or maintain status.
But, for me, those intuitions only came after being played a fool many times.
And perhaps I learned that lesson a little too well?
It’s Not You, It’s Me
I have trust issues.
And I’m not completely sure why.
It could have something to do with my premature birth and spending my first weeks in a plastic box rather than bonding with my mom. It could simply be a natural disposition. But I do know that I was the one child in my family who had separation anxiety and would go into panic mode if my mom would leave me for a moment to take out the trash. I was clingy and fearful.
Still, I was an extremely trusting person at one time, and long before I knew names like Jerry Sandusky or Jeriah Mast, when I lived in this sort of “Leave It To Beaver” world where people were true as their smiles and everything worked out in the end.
And that’s how childhood should be. Children may pretend, but they don’t put on masks in the same way as an adult and tend to be open about their intentions and accepting of even strangers. It is often easier to talk to eighteen-year-old girls than it is to have a conversation with those that are in their mid-twenties and that’s likely because the latter group understands that male attention usually means romantic interest. We become cagey as we become older, it is a way to protect ourselves from those who might do us harm or simply defile with their hopes of more than we’re willing to offer them.
For me, everything went downhill after puberty and with that gradual (often excruciatingly painful) loss of innocence. One of my earliest memories is walking hand in hand with my cousin when we were five years old. I don’t even talk to her anymore. She’s married to a privileged wackadoodle and didn’t appreciate my opinions of where his far-left politics will lead. Even if that weren’t the case, we probably wouldn’t be holding hands anymore even if we were on better terms. I mean, I would, because I still have fond memories, and yet I’m weird.
Anyhow, my own fear of rejection, a product of my purest hopes being smashed over and over again, has metastasized into disillusionment. I have a hard time trusting. I start to pull away when I sense the slightest bit of phoniness in another person. Call it despair, call it depression, I prefer to think of it as preserving what little sanity I have left, but I don’t want to have fake friendships anymore. I’m tired. Exhausted by it all, truthfully, and simply want to withdraw to the safety of not caring or concerning myself with those who are only going through the motions.
My expectations are impossible. But, then again, they should be. We are told, in Scripture, that with faith all things are possible. And, therefore, if someone declares otherwise, says that they can’t love or live as a Christian ought to live, it is because they lack faith.
Either that or it is all made up.
The thing that has most fed my own fear and doubt, is how people in the church don’t really act any different from people outside of it. In other words, if we don’t act like family then are we even Christians?
My Orthodox parish has a good number of converts and some older singles like me. There is a sort of closeness that came initially, as we traded stories about our experience, and it was very exciting for someone who had looked for depth elsewhere and had come out disappointed. However, there is this class, a sort of misfit club, of converts that is very similar to the Protestant fundamentalists of my past. They are really caught up in getting the Orthodox rituals right and somewhat neglecting as far as the meat of faith which is this self-sacrificial familial love.
The thing is, I came into this damaged. I had shot for the moon, in faith, and somehow ended up in Williamsport, at Holy Cross, wondering what happened. My expectations were low and it wasn’t about the “smells and bells” to me. There was a combination of things that brought me, excellent theology, Fr. Anthony’s fatherly care, and a connection to the ancient Church. Since I knew no one local who was Orthodox, I went in simply seeking a place to worship and not expecting much. But I did meet many good people there, some who did embrace me as family, I’ll never forget that old woman (I can’t even recall who it was) who warmly told me “welcome home” after my Chrismation.
As with everything in faith, familial love is a work in progress and there are bound to be many failures along the way. At best, we’re a dysfunctional family, like many American families, caught up in our own lives, acting like Protestants when things don’t go our way, and not as truly full of love and grace as we are for our own blood. My want of perfection, and pursuit of the impossibility, must first and foremost mean that I love those who are difficult to love, love who let me down and abandon me, and let God judge those who do not meet my own expectations.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12-14 NIV
What Is Love, Friendship, Humanity?
Still, the thought that plagues me most and probably always will is this question of if real love even exists at all. I’m not talking about those passing feelings of fondness we have for another person, but that spiritual bond and willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. As I’ve posited before, there is a selfish component to love. Not only those who say they “love” someone and then kill them in a jealous rage either. But it seems that it is impossible to love without getting something in return.
It is always nice when a server pays attention to me. I would certainly like to believe that they like me. And I’m guessing a few would actually enjoy spending time with me outside of work too. I’m a polite and considerate guy, I also tend to lay a heavier tip when there’s some conversation that comes along with the meal. I do, indeed, go out because staying home would be lonely and alone since it is simply too hard to coordinate plans with friends or I don’t know whom to ask. So I’ll pay for that time with another human. But it can also be unfulfilling. The relationship could have an element of truth and yet really it is centered on the economic transaction or they would be inviting me to hang out when they’re not on the clock.
There is a scene, in Blade Runner 2049, a science fiction thriller about what it means to be human, that illustrates the point. The story follows, K, a “replicant” (or bioengineered ‘human’), and his relationship with his girlfriend named Joi. Except she is not flesh and blood, not even human, but artificial intelligence, software on a computer, with a holographic projection. Still, despite this, the relationship is real. And, when the device containing her (their memories together that made the interaction meaningful) is crushed, he mourns. As the audience, you feel some pain. Yet, later, an interactive sign, with her likeness, uses the same pet name, and it is obvious that the original Joi was programmed to “fall in love” with anyone who wanted companionship.
The part that gets to me is how hormones and the positive feedback loop of emotions is, practically speaking, the same as programming. So how are the emotional responses we receive from others any more authentic than that of Joi?
What about our own friendships?
Why do we favor some people over others?
Do we love people or do we merely enjoy what benefits we get from them and that’s why we show such strong preference. Sure, there are some who are kinder and more willing to give attention to the unattractive or social outcasts. However, as far as real commitment, ongoing investment, we generally spare that for those most likely to produce a return. In other words, we love those who do what we want them to do, have something we want in terms of their physical form, intellect, or other abilities, or simply feel drawn to as a result of our coding and subconscious desires.
And then we expect people to stay at the level of friendship assigned to them. One sure way to make things awkward is to make an expression of love that is more intimate or deep than the level the other person wants. Asking a girl on a date is a good way to get put on her blocked list, to get an industrial strength cold shoulder, and even if she was seeming to enjoy the relationship up until then. Why? Well, maybe the ‘friendship’ was a social obligation more than anything authentic? You just know, when push comes to shove, most on your social media friends list aren’t going to be there for you, or at least not like blood relatives.
The Impossible Love
Still, I’m not comfortable with this mechanistic, bound by programming and mere product of circumstances, perspective. If love is not a choice, if we can only love those who are attractive, have resources we want, or are this sort of enjoyable reflection of ourselves, then we would not have agency or the ability to follow the commands to love God and our neighbors. Can we really do that? Do people ever go beyond and actually transcend themselves by loving those whom they would not naturally love?
I’m not sure, when I look at the Christian experiment, that I see much evidence of these relationships that are closer than blood. I mean, maybe, if we were willing to “fake it until we make it” then we would be able to overcome. Isn’t that what faith is really about, doing things that are uncomfortable, going against our own natural condition, or an exercise? I’m pretty sure my grandparents didn’t always feel like loving each other and yet going through the motions of a relationship, in those tough times, is how their love became such pure gold. Sixty years of marriage is impossible for many today because they’ve decided to be ruled by what is comfortable at the moment.
So when church people say they can’t love, and I’m talking about any kind of love, what they’re actually saying is that they don’t believe. It is agnosticism, denial of the humanity of another, and have refused to see the command of Christ as being actually true. When we decide we can’t love as we ought to love or pretend that we are loving while we truly are not, we are essentially making Scripture into a lie. At that point we are nothing but animals following after our programmed instincts and selfish desires. Do you truly love the body of Christ as much as you do your own blood?
I was on the elevator down from the psych ward, having visited a friend in a bit of a rough patch and struck up a conversation with one of the other riders.
As it turned out, she was a psychologist, visiting a friend (not her patient) who was not doing so well. This young man, now catatonic, had once had it all together. He was a standout athlete, had a girlfriend who was gorgeous, and then something happened that turned his world upside down.
What would take the feet out from under a strong and healthy male?
He was raped.
While in the military, the Navy as I recall, he was forced by another man and this started his downward spiral. It is not possible to know, having never gone through anything similar myself, what happened in this young man’s mind. But one can imagine, if he had an identity and self-worth built around his ability to protect, being overpowered in this way would have to be absolutely devastating to him.
How could he provide security for a woman if he couldn’t even defend himself from an assault?
His relationship, his life, his will to live, crumbled. This one experience, possibly over in minutes, probably not doing him lasting physical harm, broke him mentally and turned him into a shell. I have no idea of what became of him. Did he find a way to bounce back, form a new identity, move on from the trauma and overcome? Or has he withered away into nothing?
More Common Than Thought
One of my first encounters with a victim of sexual abuse was in school. A friend of mine, from elementary school all the way through high school, told me that he had been molested by his stepbrothers while living in Texas with his biological dad. I had always felt bad for Justin. He was socially awkward and bullied by classmates, had a domineering mother, and came out of the closet later on as a teenager.
I’m also had some very close female friends that have told me about being raped. Their stories are very similar. A trusted male, often a boyfriend, talks them into a place where they are unable to escape his sexual aggression. In all of these cases, to head off any assumptions, there was no alcohol involved. They were good morally upright girls who were too trusting of a male ‘friend’ who stole their innocence and left them feeling completely broken.
Then there’s Adam, the school friend who took his life a few years ago, victimized as a child by a predator college professor. His alcoholism and failed relationship no doubt, in part, linked to this experience. I mean he let me in on this secret, and many years after it happened, so it was obviously still part of his thought process.
At one point in my life all of this was unthinkable. I was in a home that offered stability and protection, with two good parents. I’m sure there were things that I did not know about, but my community seemed mostly healthy and safe. There was simply no reason for me to assume this sort of violating behavior was common. So statistics about 1 out of 5 women being victims of rape seemed impossible.
It is truly understandable that many who were raised in sheltered homes are in denial of the extent of this problem. It makes sense that they would try to explain it away as the promiscuous putting themselves in a compromised position. It is probably a good thing when the reaction is disbelief. Most men aren’t rapists and would be horrified, like I was, if they heard a story firsthand from someone they love.
Boundaries and Consent
As part of my culture, and also my lingering shyness, it is difficult for me to so much as give a woman a hug. It’s actually very frustrating to me, that I’m so awkward in this regard and would almost need to ask permission rather than simply make the read. Why is this? Well, it only seems right to respect another person’s space. Intimacy is supposed to be reserved for special people, right?
It actually makes me livid to see even a boy too grabby with a girl too early, even if she seems to be enjoying it, because he’s treating her as an object. And yet this sort of ‘confidence’ is often rewarded. The women who think that every man is a rapist may have simply spent way too much time with men who do not respect their or any boundaries.
And, yes, men who pressure with “if you love me you will…” are evil.
Rape is a product of an entitled mind, a psychopath, someone who sees other people as something to be exploited for their pleasure. Sure, maybe they can turn on the charm and blend into normal society, but their true character is revealed when there is nothing to stop them. Be it in a back alley or her bedroom that he talked himself into while her parents were away, rapists exploit the vulnerable.
Incidentally, this is why I’m still in favor of at least one aspect of traditional courtship. If a man can’t keep his hands off of your body for a few dates, if there is any unwanted pressure whatsoever to be physically involved, then maybe find someone who is interested in you rather than merely sexually attracted to your physical form. If a man can’t commit to a relationship without sex, he certainly isn’t the type to commit after sex.
Lust and Self-control
In the animal kingdom there is no such thing as consent. Often the strongest, most competitive, male gets to mate and by simply overpowering the female. He runs on instinct, male hormones, testosterone, and is basically acting out his natural programming. We don’t generally describe a buck “in the rut” as being a rapist because we do not see the animal as capable of complex moral reasoning.
And humans do have these similar underpinnings too. Men, for the most part, are more aggressive, and women tend to be more submissive, agreeable, etc. It is simply the substance we’re made of in the same way it is for any other animal. We’re instinctive creatures that seek out, and imagine, the things we want. But we also have a layer beyond this, a large frontal lobe in our brain, which gives us an extra capability for self-control.
Lust is often confused with simple desire for something. Many in a strict religious upbringing, like my own, are made to feel extremely guilty for looking upon a fair maiden and finding her desirable. But that’s not lust, that’s healthy sexual attraction and not a sin. What is lust is when we dwell on something that’s not ours to take. That is a path that can lead to rape, as in this Biblical account:
Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. […] So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.” David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” […] But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.” “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
(2 Samuel 13:2, 6-7, 11-14 NIV)
The sad part is that when Amnon’s lust was satiated, he discarded his half-sister (not biologically related) as if his sin were somehow her fault. Incidentally, this violence did not go unavenged. Amnon was eventually killed by the victim’s brother, Absalom. But this lack of self-control seemed to plague David’s house.
Considering what king David did to have another man’s wife, we could say “like father like son” to explain what happened here.
Rabid Dogs Are Put Down
In the end, we all have sexual desires. Attraction is natural and not something to be ashamed about. But, when this crosses over into lust, when we choose to dwell on something unattainable and scheme to have it through immoral means, that’s a choice and what separates us from animals. The reprobate tries to hide behind their urges and impulses.
If a dog can’t keep from biting we’ll put it down.
Should a person with no self-control, who harms others because of their unwillingness to rein in their lusts, be treated any differently?
I know Jesus said, pertaining to those who harm the “little ones” (referring to those young in the faith, not necessarily children), that it would be better that a millstone be hung around the neck of those who do these things and they be cast into the sea. He may not have been talking specifically about sexual abuse and yet, knowing what this sin does to those who have fallen prey, I’m quite certain it’s included.
Jesus never said, “if she’s wearing a skimpy outfit, then she shares some of the blame,” but he did say, in the context of lust, If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out…” (Matthew 5:29a NIV)
Good people do not create scapegoats.
Godly men do not blame women.
Your Body Is Not Your Worth
The more important message of this blog, and my main reason for writing it, is to tell those who have been through this kind of trauma this: Your rape is not a reflection of you or your value.
As one who fully appreciates the human form, especially that of the female body, and completely desires physical intimacy, it could be easy to treat our bodies as being one and the same as our being. We show preference based upon stature, beauty, shape and other matters of outward appearance. So it can feel as if this form we reside in is of greatest importance and, therefore, what happens to it a reflection of ourselves.
Women, traditionally, put value in their cleanliness or purity, men in their strength and ability to protect. Our identity is often wrapped up in this external image. Rape is an attack on the physical manifestation of these things and causes the victim to question their identity or value at a deeper level. This is why, in mere moments, someone can be shattered. They now see themselves as dirty or defiled, inadequate or weak, and thus of less value.
But the truth is that our human value has nothing to do with what others have done to our bodies and everything to do with how we choose to live.
I’ve encountered toxic and nasty people, bitter, who have used the abuse they’ve experienced as an excuse to mistreat others. I have also met those who have not been defeated, who are able to put the unpleasantness behind them, and even become a better person in the end. This idea that we’re damaged goods or have lost our worth because of something that happened, through no fault of our own, is choosing to put our own value in our bodies.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
(Matthew 10:28a NIV)
There is so much more to our being than our physical form. We might convince ourselves, based on the world’s obsession with the external, that our worth is in only these physical things. But what matters, the real value we have, is our soul and that thing that can’t be touched.
Age will eventually destroy our bodies. The tall youth will some day be hunched over, the strong man’s muscles will atrophy, wrinkles will spread on that angelic face. The world abuses us, we will all likely face trauma even if not rape, and yet—if we know that value is something other than the physical—our worth will increase.
At the very least, no matter what anyone has done to your body, whether you were abused as a child, raped or whatever, I do not look at you as damaged or inferior.
No, you are strong to keep going. There is a special beauty to a survivor that is not found in those sheltered. And I believe there are more who agree with me than do not.
Your value is in who you are and not what was done to you!
Adam is a friend of mine. We have gone out to eat on multiple occasions since being introduced. He’s a bit eccentric, he carries a notebook everywhere, has humor that doesn’t quite hit the mark, spiritual rather than religious, dresses a little like an old-school hippie and is sort of alt-right conspiracy-minded.
Adam is also depressed and a broken record. Time and time again he goes back to his relationship with his father and wants some sort of validation that he never does receive. His father, his opposite politically, left when he was a child, seems to have some mental issues of his own and can be very degrading when things don’t go his way. It is quite evident that the sins of the father have visited upon the son.
I have urged Adam to move on, told him that his biological father will never give him what he so desperately wants, and have suggested that he do as I have done when let down. Namely, I have told him to come to Holy Cross. The Orthodox have fatherly figures who represent the Heavenly Father for the fatherless.
Unfortunately, Adam, despite his desperation, is stuck on doing things his own way. From the first time we met until now there is a wall of resistance that goes up against Christian religion and even what seems like an inability to understand simple explanations. For example, I used the illustration of Naaman having to dip in the river Jordan to be healed, thought I had explained well, and got nothing but a blank look of his being genuinely perplexed.
There’s truly not much hope for Adam until he is able to let go of his disappointments and hope of some sort of resolution on his own terms. And, quite frankly, even if his dad would miraculously transform into the father he envisions as ideal, that would not fix what broken in Adam. He will try drugs, he asks for my “fellowship” with him, but absolutely refuses to dip in those healing waters of the Church.
It’s sad because his repeatedly going back to this makes me feel as if I’m wasting time on a lost cause. I mean, it’s hard not to do that inner “here we go again” eye roll when there seems to be no progress. And it does certainly work on my patience too. But there’s one big reason why I do not write him off entirely. What is that reason? Well, maybe because I’m not all that different from him.
My Own Skipping Record
In the days of vinyl records there was nothing more annoying than the skip. It was what happened when the record had been mishandled and the surface grooves scratched. The needle would travel down the groove, reach the scratched area, and jump back into the prior groove. The result is that the music abruptly stops and makes an unpleasant transition over and over again.
Being stuck in a rut is not fun. Ending up in the same place no matter how hard you try will exhaust the strongest person. Worse, when others try to help pull a mired soul out, and the stuck person goes sideways rather than forward, many will leave concluding that they do not want to be helped. And sometimes that is indeed the case. Some do enjoy the pity party attention and are simply a drain of resources that could be used for those who truly want out.
Those who have read my blogs over the past few years have probably started (long ago) to wonder if any progress has been truly made. And, believe me, some days I do wonder myself as I give a slightly different angle on the same themes over and over again. I mean, you get it. I had some really big expectations and ended up really disappointed at the end. So move on already, right?
And the truth is, I have in many regards. I’m not the same person as I was a year ago. I have gained confidence, continue to attend to my responsibilities, and the feelings of loss grow less intense with each repeat cycle. That said, the recent setbacks, the physical pain, along with the unresolved situation with Charlotte, can very quickly lead to that spiral back into those past hurts. There was no real resolution or closure there, to survive I simply pivoted to new hopes.
Completing the transition, out of the wilderness of broken glass to my new promised land, means seeing a fulfilment of the impossibly. That means Charlotte being here. Until that moment when we meet in the airport terminal, her safely on US soil, there will be that cloud of uncertainty hanging over me. It does cause me to skip at times, to go back to those feelings of helplessness and worries that my hopes are still entirely delusion.
I choose to believe. But not because it is easy to believe.
As the man with the sick son who came to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Do You Want To Be Healed?
A year or two ago, this was the text for the Homily one Sunday morning:
One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
(John 5:5-8 NIV)
It really struck me, more than ever before while hearing this passage, that Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed. Imagine that, a man, waiting for nearly forty years, nobody helping this unfortunate man into this healing pool. He, like Adam, like myself before the pursuit of the impossibly, had been waiting on rescue by the means that he could understand. His days must’ve passed an increasing nightmare of his own paralysis and being surrounded by other hurting people more concerned with their own needs.
Jesus asks, almost as if knowing the man’s will to be healed is permission. And the incredible part? After hearing the man’s complaint about no help, simply commands him “get up” and the man does. His faith set him free.
That in contrast with this:
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
(Mark 6:1-5 NIV)
The disbelief of those who knew Jesus as merely a man, the carpenters son, limited what he was able to do. Spiritual healing is, and has always been, a matter of our own choice. So many of us insist on doing things our own way, we refuse to dip in our muddy Jordan rivers because of pride, we wait on rescue believing that our salvation comes from other people, yet all we need is to look up in faith and then healing is possible.
No, this does not mean we will be spared physical ailment or live forever in our current form. Even Lazarus, raised from the dead, passed from this life. But we can be made spiritually whole. That is why I keep writing, maybe I sound like a broken record, maybe this is too much for many people who stopped reading this blog long ago, still I write so that my most faithful friends may someday also share in my joy having known of my sorrows.
Simone Biles, arguably the best female US gymnast ever, decided to quit the competition at the Tokyo Olympics. This decision was as celebrated as if she had won gold and that caused some conservative friends to protest. The bulk of the criticism having to do with the glowing coverage of this choice. But then there was a lot that was aimed at her personally, calling her a deserter, “an entitled, weak, brat,” and part of the “participation trophy” behavior.
While I won’t call what she did stunning or brave, I will also withhold any sort of hard judgment concerning her. Maybe it was the right decision? If she isn’t feeling up to the task then it might be good to allow the next one up to fill the spot on the team?
Given that it was leaked, back in 2016, that Biles uses Adderall, a common stimulant used to treat ADHD, and banned by the Olympics, it is little wonder she is out of sorts. That’s a strong drug, in the methylamphetamine class, and going off of it could severely hamper a person mentally. Many people (conservatives, in particular) do not understand how much their mood and level of ambition are predetermined. During my brief stint using Adderall, I learned a lot about how easy it is to get things done when you have complete focus The withdrawal is something fierce too. For me it left a dead inside, can’t get out of my own way, feeling when in withdrawal.
So, rather than an indictment of Biles, this may be a concern about how we deal with life in the United States. Whereas previous generations and most people in the world cope without drugs, the US is very drug dependent. The US, in fact, is the world leader in prescription drug usage. The US produces and uses about 85% of the world’s methylphenidate. Rather than overcome by internal means, learning coping skills, or building mental strength by simply getting up and after it, we are relying on the take a little pill solution to problems.
Then again, we can’t know if Biles would ever be competing at this level without Adderall. But we do know that she has had many things to overcome. She has worked very hard to get to where she is. She has endured a childhood of hunger and sexual abuse too. This is why I’m not going to join anyone in calling her weak or anything else. Unless someone has competed at the highest levels of gymnastics and knows a little of the commitment and strength it takes, then it may be best to leave judgment to those who have been there and done that.
That said, the question of whether we are getting mentally weaker is worth looking into, but first another athlete’s story…
A hard-hitting and short career
Joey Julius stormed onto the college football scene with his big boot and his hit stick tackles.
Kickers are not generally known for their toughness. It is typical that they hang back and play safety on the kick coverage. It is expected that they might try to run the play out of bounds or go for a feeble attempt at the runner’s ankles.
But that wasn’t Julius. He was a big boy, 260lbs, and very quickly became a Penn State fan favorite with his ferocious coverage team collusions. He was a walk-on and seemed to be ready to entertain for years to come. Yet, right as his fame rose, he disappeared.
It certainly was disappointing for me, as a fan, to see this exciting and unique player off of the roster. And, of course, I had to ask why. For me being able to start for a college football team would be an amazing privilege and never something I would pass up. However, as one who saw my own cousin, a 6′-8″ 320lb lineman, confident as he was going in, get bogged down with injuries and the pressure of college life, end up off the team after one season, I understood that it isn’t an easy thing to be an athlete at that level.
As it turns out, Julius, despite his new celebrity, still struggled with body image issues and binge eating disorder. For all his success on the field, and the acceptance it brought, he felt he was not as he was supposed to be, was overcome by anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.
As for toughness?
I know for certain, at least at my own size and strength, I wouldn’t run full speed into a division one athlete. So it would be hard to call Julius a weakling. As with Biles dropping out, their fame and athletic pursuits, our want of entertainment, all come secondary to their well-being and only they know what is right for them.
I wish him well.
My own story of quitting early…
I was picked to be on the church council late last year. My congregation is small, yet a serious responsibility and, in my mind, an honor. I had planned to serve out my full-term and was even a little excited. It was the first time I would serve in a leadership position. I had not been so much as a youth officer in my old denomination and it did bother me a little. That said, I’ve never sought out mundane administrative duties, so being overlooked for the role wasn’t that big of a deal either. Nevertheless, I took the reminders of Father Seraphim to heart, that we were to be an example to the rest of the church, and that would eventually lead to me resigning my post.
I would love to see myself as being mentally strong and might be in some regards. However, the death of Uriah had taken an emotional toll and I really was not feeling up to the task of being a council member. I was simply not putting in the kind of energy that I thought would be right for the position and started to have second thoughts after the first couple of meetings. So I shared these thoughts privately with sub-deacon Anthony, who graciously responded, but then decided to continue the course. However, that resolve did not last long. The next meeting, for whatever reason, I was just feeling very discombobulated and even angry, it didn’t make any sense. It was at that point that I decided to send Father a message to ask if it was okay to resign and he accepted.
It was embarrassing to me.
As Jesus said, concerning discipleship:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
(Luke 14:28-33 NIV)
Yes, perhaps the death, after a year hoping for a miracle, presented an extenuating circumstance. But then everyone on the council has their own crap to deal with and some of them possibly more than me. With a combination of perfectionism with some laziness, I had taken the easy way out. Sure, it was good that I took my job seriously enough that underperformance was an issue. And I knew when I agreed to the position that I wasn’t going to be a flawless participant. Furthermore, I don’t quit my day job because of a bad day or even months of struggle. So maybe it was all simply an excuse as soon as things got tough?
I do know this, my replacement on council is an elderly fellow who probably should be enjoying his retirement rather than pick up the pieces for this me-first generation.
Is weakness a choice?
There is a character issue to be considered. I’m the guy who can show up to work, in absolute agony, head ready to explode from an infected tooth, because someone has to do the job.
Diminished capabilities or not, I understand that my participation in the group effort makes a difference and also that my paycheck depends on showing up. In other words, maybe my quitting council was a sort of self-indulgence, or willing fragility, rather than an absolute reflection of my true ability to complete the task?
But then it is part and parcel of my generation’s ‘authenticity’ at all costs mindset. We cast this as being strength, the “you do you” mantra is repeated often. Still, it is also likely costing our greater potential when we choose to quit because of feelings of inadequacy or our lack of mental fortitude. The idea of “fake it until you make it” does not exist because other generations had it easier than we do. This learned helplessness, while comfortable, is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy and keeps many people from ever reaching their full potential.
The name Jim Thorpe comes to mind. This Olympic athlete, the first of Native American heritage to win gold, was an incredible story of mental toughness. While in competition, having had his shoes stolen, he found a mismatched pair of shoes in the garbage—used an extra sock on one foot to make it work—and went on to win a couple of gold metals in this hasty arrangement. This is a man who had every excuse to give up. Have you ever try to run, let alone compete at the highest level, in shoes that don’t fit?
It would be worthwhile to read up on Thorpe, compare what he endured to the stories of Biles, Julius, and my own, then draw some conclusions. Perhaps the reality is that we could and we simply didn’t? In other words, we made a choice, picked an easier path, and missed an opportunity for growth?
My grittier moments…
I’ve had many setbacks in my life. I started struggling for breath, as a preemie, was a slow developer physically and late bloomer otherwise. Opportunities were often behind me before I even realized I should be seeking them.
I don’t recall, it was relayed to me, but apparently an elementary school teacher had told my mom about an incident, during a math test, where I jumped up beside my desk and screamed. Why that shy child would make such an outburst? Well, probably because I was so frustrated, trying so hard to focus, full of anxiety, and was barely able to do the work.
Obviously, like my eldest sister who blazed her path, I was driven. But, unlike my sibling, who could put her mind to something and do it, I would be overcome with my perfectionism and eventually defeated in various pursuits by my fear and doubt. The most crushing of those being my inability to pull myself together when things became uncertain in romantic hopes.
That’s not to say that my sheer will and determination gained me nothing. As a 112lb senior, I started and finished a season of football. I’ve comeback, on a couple of occasions, from injuries that might have caused some to put an end to their fitness regime. I had even walked in faith, against the odds, to pursue the impossibly, to the point that I became mentally ill and had nothing left to give. I’m still here.
At times I hated whatever made me want to keep going despite these setbacks. My mind, like Job’s wife, telling me “curse God and die.”
Fortunately, unlike many in this age that loves victimhood, I had a mom who would not let me slack off or quit. Sure, she could never do the work for me. But she could have easily nurtured me to death by catering to her poor Joel. I was a trouble child, especially as a teen, a tortured soul, someone always stuck in the mud, spinning his wheels as dreams sped away and vanished over the horizon. I didn’t actually know how to grow up or be independent. I would still be living at home had my mom allowed it. She didn’t.
The idea of a home mortgage had terrified me. Could I make the payments? What if I could not pay it back? It was too much for me to do voluntarily, without that push, because I didn’t have the mental strength. And yet, when the time came, when I finally did sign the papers, not only did I pay off the loan, I actually paid it off in half of the time!
Incidentally, it was this that made me more confident when facing the impossibly, that Mennonite female interest to end all, and also totally upended me when she said, “you’re thirty years old living in Milton.” In one sentence she had destroyed the meaning of the entire struggle up to that point.
Nevertheless, even then, when I stopped eating and holed up in that cracker box house, wishing to die. It was my parents, especially my mom, who continued to push. Yes, there was comfort and consolation, time given for me to grieve, rest and collect myself again, yet never coddling or agreement with my despair.
It is absolutely terrifying for me to imagine what I may have become had I quit the first time things required digging deeper. I mean, I would have likely died in that plexiglass box—the isolette—had I not been a fighter, had my physician uncle given up, etc.
Not to mention had my mom decided pregnancy was too much for her or my grandparents lacked the commitment of marriage.
Life is tough.
We would not get very far if we make quitting when things don’t go our way into a habit. That is why we should be concerned about the new turn towards making heroes out of those who do not finish. Sure, there are reasons to quit, to avoid injury or whatever, but when it is simply an excuse for not putting forth effort? That’s a problem.
Build strength—Do not coddle weakness
Our culture, sadly, is coddling many to their own detriment. Many young adults live as overgrown children, unfulfilled, because they’re encouraged to be mentally weak and their needs are being provided. By contrast, I’ve seen an Amish toddler herd cows, Chinese toddlers can cook meals, and humans have an amazing ability to rise to the challenge.
It is a sad day when we go from honoring strength, that hard work it requires to achieve greatness, to celebration of weakness. It is basically a suicide pact, a death spiral, and makes thriving impossible. By telling people that they’re unable, that quitting is okay, we are doing them a lifetime of harm. We are currently at a crisis point it is not sustainable to go the direction we are going.
We need more heroes like Jim Thorpe now more than ever. The future of our species depends on it. However, this mental toughness, it doesn’t start (or end) with elite athletes on the world stage. It means having the courage to get up and go again, despite our feelings, and repeat as many times as necessary until we’re able to overcome. There is no pill, no magic solution, only learning not to make excuses and push on.
Recently I was asked, by a friend on Facebook, a Social Justice Anabaptist, to participate in a “focus group” discussion with Conservative Anabaptists who Support Trump (which they refer to as CAST) and for the stated purpose of finding common ground. I have no reason to doubt the intentions of such an effort, although there is a sort of wariness that comes from having observed these kinds of conversations, it reminds me a bit of the foot-in-the-door tactics of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon missionaries. This “having a conversation” can be code for a sort of Evangelical push of agenda.
But, my initial skepticism aside, I’m not truly part of the Anabaptist church anymore and I’m not sure how they would find common ground with me except they abandon their “former delusion,” stop dividing themselves into political categories, conservative and liberal, truly follow Christ and become Orthodox Christians. So, if they want my advice on how to heal their current schism, perhaps they should look to reconciling the much more significant division from the Apostle’s church first and leave their political disputes to a different venue?
Furthermore, I’m not sure that I “support Trump” so much as I oppose partnering with corporate elitist interests, in bed with a Chinese Communist dictatorship, against my neighbors. I did not vote for Trump in 2016 and even wrote several blogs (1,2,3) to persuade my conservative Mennonite and Amish peers to reconsider. It was only since then, since observing the viciousness of the assault against Trump and reconsidering my own perspective of the man, that I realized I had been duped by some very sophisticated propagandists.
No, that is not to say that my criticisms of the man were invalid, but understanding the other side, knowing their agenda and tactics, certainly can put him in a different light.
While I do not support those who confuse the American flag with the cross, I likewise have must warn those who are fooled into believing that the Gospel of Jesus is compatible with the divisive Social Justice narrative and grievance culture. As I’ve said in another recent blog, there is no rivalry between the kingdom of heaven and the ordained governments of this world. They are two parallel systems, one for our physical protection from evildoers and the other for our salvation from sin and death.
I don’t have a problem with voting for a leader who best fills the role of government described in Romans 13, providing some general protections for all people, but I do think it is problematic to use the government to enforce Christian morality and values. The point of Jesus saying “sell all and give to the poor” was not to express a Socialist ideal, or else he would’ve joined Judas in his rebuke of that woman’s worshipful display of pouring out expensive perfume, but rather it was to point people to the kingdom of heaven. In other words, Judas was trying to turn the words of Jesus into a political solution for social inequalities, while Jesus was primarily interested in the salvation of souls. So, unlike a leftist who looks to government as savior, I do not look to Trump (or any man) to fill the role of Christ. The President, in my view, is put in his position for a purpose different from my own. I do not look to civil authority to bring salvation to the world any more than I look to the fast-food employee flipping my burger to be my bread of life.
So, with all that in mind, here are my responses to the questions offered by the Social Justice Anabaptist:
1) What are the top three issues in ranked order you think best answer the first title question?
Rational, issues-based, voting is a myth. We make decisions based on our intuitions, our experiences, and what we know (or think we know) about the options available. Most elections come down to a choice between two candidates and are decided on the basis of their individual character or that of the ‘side’ which they represent. I didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 because I had questions about his character that could not be resolved. But, that said, I certainly did prefer the risk-taking approach of Trump over that of the careful, yet seemingly dishonest and conniving words of the alternative, and was proven right when she suddenly changed her tune about accepting election results to push a relentless “resistance” campaign based upon a fictional Russian collusion narrative.
2) Would you say the Bible has much to say to guide us in our political choices?
Men look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. There are many chosen by Jesus, to lead his church, who did not measure up to the standards of the smug and sanctimonious religious leaders of that day. Trump is outwardly flawed, he wears his faults on his sleeves, he is called a narcissist and other nasty things, but the blue-collar guy (hurt by ‘progressive’ tax, trade, and border policies) saw his heart better than the truly privileged social elites who hate him. Ultimately, God is sovereign, parsing the Bible for a concrete answer or justification for every choice is foolishness, and my stating some eloquent theology in defense of my choices wouldn’t persuade a skeptic regardless.
3) If so, what Bible verse or spiritual concept guides your political thinking most?
Nothing specific. But generally, God gives us freedom and choice. God also, for our own common good, provides boundaries and divisions. Cities had walls, civilizations have laws. The kingdom of heaven, while open to all who repent, has clear entry requirements.
4) I have heard a lot of folks say that they support the platform though they don’t particularly support the man, Donald Trump, his personal behavior, rhetoric and swagger. Do you feel like that is the consensus of CAST you know?
This question reminds me of the Pharisee, whose house Jesus was visiting, and protests the blunt commentary, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” (Luke 11:45). He gets bulldozed. Jesus doesn’t lose a beat. Jesus continues to hammer his point home. There are several times when Jesus gets questioned for offending the elites and he doubles down rather than soften his tone.
The political class often hides their corruption under pious speech and pretense of righteousness. Trump is hated by these people for his crudeness of speech and swagger. But the working class is more concerned with actual substance over style, they aren’t at all offended by a little shop talk, and there’s also a reason for Trump being extremely popular in hip-hop and rap culture. Or at least Trump was popular before his political enemies poisoned this connection.
Incidentally, those who have a problem with Trump’s flamboyant style are probably also, for strategic or cynical reasons, holding back on their judgment of others of similar behavior. By saying Trump is “not Presidential” or complaining about his neglect of decorum, they may actually be implying that he’s not elite (or white) enough for the office. In other words, it is sort of a racist or classist thing. Trump, in being like an uncultured average person, offends those who feel superior to all and entitled to rule.
Anyhow, those who said that Trump would choose conservative Supreme Court Justices were proven right thrice. That will be Trump’s legacy more than his personality, that and the fact that he didn’t lead us into another war, that he brokered several peace deals, and was extremely restrained in his response to the violence of leftists. Sure, maybe Trump is a Twitter troll, but at least he cared enough about random Iranian soldiers to call off a retaliatory missile strike in response to the downing of a drone. So maybe it is time for you, who judge him, to start considering his actions over his rhetoric? Maybe he is right to stand apart from the fawning praise of John “bomb-bomb-Iran” McCain and to defy the neocon establishment? He was elected to put America first, to end endless wars, and that’s exactly what he did, yet some ‘Anabaptists’ still hate him because he isn’t a smooth warmongering liar like his predecessors?
5) Is there anything about his rhetoric, swagger or personal behavior, that does resonate with you or CAST? If so, can you explain that a bit?
Trump’s lack of a facade is a breath of fresh air compared to the lawyer-speak and “focus group” silliness of most in the political class. Psalm 55:21 could easily describe many others: “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” I prefer Trump’s recklessness and hyperbole, that he attacks others in the privileged class, over those who call common folk “deplorables” and “chumps” behind closed doors or in front of a partisan audience. I’ll not soon forget how Obama allowed his surrogates to slander the loyal opposition as “racist” for opposing his massive expansion of government power. The pretty “mean girls” may get away with their exclusive cliques and bullying because they have such sweet smiles and know how to use their outward beauty work the system, but that doesn’t make them good people or actually superior to those less sophisticated.
6) I assume one of the reasons, you support Trump is his opposition to the “liberal agenda.” Can you identify one part of the liberal agenda that is the most problematic to you?
Depending on coercion and threat of violence to take the property of one group to give to another, so that you can manipulate these others into being a loyal voting bloc? Do I really need to explain to an Anabaptist how unChristian that is?
7) Urban – rural divide. A look at the electoral map shows a dramatic difference in voting patterns based on population density. It seems that one of the things that resonates with Trump supporters is his disdain for the “urban elite.” Can you explain who that is because I might actually fit that category? Can you then explain what it is specifically that makes the urban elite so distasteful?
An elitist Social Justice Anabaptist won’t be able to see it anymore than those who condemned Jesus could understand their own need of him. There is much to say about the pride of the religious and social elites. The left seems to believe that they have all of the answers to everything, they condescend to minorities and treat them like helpless children, keep them dependent, and yet are truly full of themselves. Living in an urban environment is to be removed from the earth, what is natural and good, and is to have the privileged of not having to see the hard work that goes into putting bread on the shelf of that corner store. The exposure to the cosmopolitan world gives one a delusion of being more well-rounded and knowledgeable, yet also comes with a lack of groundedness and the humility of good discernment as well. That is why many elites rejected Trump. I mean, how dare he misspells a word on Twitter or be honest about the threat presented by open borders?
8) Trump has made negative comments about “democratic cities?” Do these comments resonate with CAST? Can you explain one or two top things about democratic cities that are negative?
Maybe you should look up Kimberly Klacik?
She said it best…
9) Trump supporters talk a lot about his defense of religious freedom. Can you help me understand that? What freedoms are we talking about specifically? Are these the sort of things: Right to post Ten Commandments in the courthouse, right to not sell wedding cakes to gay couples, right to not pay for abortive contraception for your employees? Right to worship in groups in spite of COVID?
Why do your ‘scientifically motivated’ Democrats make exceptions for their own, for violent protests and premature celebrations of a Biden win? Why do they support ending the life of a fetus, a separate living human, while claiming to be compassionate and concerned with rights? Why do they choose a fictional identity over biological evidence when it comes to X and Y chromosomes? Why is it okay to demand that someone bakes a cake celebrating a homosexual union, but then perfectly fine for a business to turn someone away people for not wearing something that invades their personal space?
Most conservative Christians simply want the tolerance to go in both directions. However, the left is constantly (like a domineering mother) imposing their own values and preferences on everyone else. Again, God gave us the freedom to follow Him. God also ordained the government to provide some basic order, keep the evildoers restrained and good people should not fear this. But, that is not and never will be a license for tyrannical rule.
10) Health outcomes of African Americans and also low income individuals of any race are substantially worse than the general population resulting in higher mortality rate for nearly every disease and almost every age group. Which responses do you think best describe the CAST response to this information: You may select more than one.
That’s sad, but it is not a government issue.
The Democrats’ efforts such as Medicare for All wouldn’t help this number anyway.
That’s fake news.
That’s sad and healthcare is an issue I disagree with Trump on.
I never heard that before I would have to think about that. Other.
Maybe the questioner hasn’t been around enough poor white people?
Anyhow, this idea that black and white are homogeneous groups, where all white people are equally ‘privileged’ and all black people are all hapless victims in need of help from white ‘progressives’ (you) is absolutely racist. Various studies show that liberals talk down to minorities, there is this racism of low expectations, and I’ve seen this first hand.
I’m quite familiar with the condescending ‘helpful’ attitude, the patronizing, and pandering behavior.
I’ve been around conservative Mennonite inner-city efforts, I know some of the players involved quite well and can tell you that many of the minorities whose cause they claim to champion are quite aware of this superior spirit amongst these ‘progressive’ types. Sure, these ‘helped’ might not confront the ‘helpers’ for this, they try to appreciate the attempt at support or understand even if it is misguided, and yet they really do not need the white savior ‘progressive’ swooping in. I’ve had some confide in me about this, some of the special sensitivity and exaggerated concern is extremely off-putting to minorities and, frankly, in my opinion, it is racist.
Anyhow, I think Social Justice Anabaptists, like their secular atheistic Marxist teachers, ask the wrong questions. That list of suggested responses above, for example, presupposes that government intervention is the answer to racial disparities (rather than the cause) and neglects the fact that billions have been spent to alleviate these problems with very little to show for it. It seems ‘progressives’ assume that disagreement with them stems from ignorance about the problem. In other words, a perspective so incredibly arrogant that it makes Trump look humble by comparison.
All but one of the options offered by the questioner suggests the ignorance or lack of compassion of those who disagree with their presumption of government as a solution. Extremely loaded, more statements than questions, and pretty much designed to trip up the person trying to answer in succinct manner. Of course, the expectation is that their conservative opposition, not as educated or articulate, will sputter something incoherent in response to this deceptive “galloping Gish” rhetorical strategy and look bad.
But, this strategy doesn’t get past me.
The Social Justice Anabaptists have nothing on me as far as compassion and desire to help others. However, what they lack and I do not, is a basic comprehension of economics and the history of these occasionally well-meaning big government efforts. Furthermore, minorities dying due to inadequate care is very personal to me. Saniyah, my little hope who died unexpectedly, was African American. And, yes, she had access to medical care despite her mother being an illegal immigrant. But the doctor? Had I known how potentially deadly her respiratory ailments were and how incompetent inner-city physicians are, I would have made sure she had a qualified physician in conservative rural Pennsylvania.
Here are some of the right questions to help get our far-leftist friends pointed in the direction of solutions that actually work:
Why has the decades-long “War on Poverty” been a dismissal failure? Could it be that the government is not positioned well to address those problems? Didn’t Jesus tell you to personally intervene on behalf of the poor rather than use government as a means to force your neighbors to do something? And, if all poor people are our personal responsibility then what are you doing for Filipinos, in the Philippines, who have less access to quality care than those in our own inner-cities?
11) In a CAST world view, what is racism and what should be done about it?
Racism is to abandon the standard of Martin Luther King, where people should be judged by “content of character” and not their skin color. Racism is to collectively blame or exempt people according to their skin color and to assume that skin color, not the difference in behavior, is the lead determiner of outcomes. Racists treat everyone differently, raising or lowering expectations, based only on skin color. In other words, if one man rapes a woman this is explained away as something in his environment or mostly ignored. But if another does the same, he is roundly condemned and his evil treated as if it is somehow reflecting upon all men of his skin color or class. Racial tribalism is as racist and bad now as it was when white supremacists had the numbers advantage and the KKK roamed at night. The conservative stands against all racially motivated violence. But Social Justice Anabaptists refuse to condemn those behind the current violence. What should be done about racism? Well, stop being racist, stop excusing racial tribalism, start treating all people as unique individuals, that’s what should be done.
12) What core Anabaptist value most drives you or CAST?
The Golden Rule.
13) If you or CAST found out your pastor voted for Biden, would you have trouble listening to his sermons or receiving counsel from him on other issues?
One of my priests, Fr. James, I suspect would be a Biden voter. But, the Orthodox, unlike most Protestants, understand that “my kingdom is not of this world” means segregation of worldly politics from the church environment and worship. One of the reasons that I left the Anabaptists is because both conservatives and their ‘progressive’ activist counterparts do not know how to keep worldly concerns separate from their worship and Communion together. I suppose this is a tendency to confuse Christian and civil duties goes all the way back to the Münster Rebellion? Wherever the case, I’ve scolded Mennonite pastors who brought their conservative anxieties into the church sanctuary, preached their fears, and also confront those who bring far-leftist political agenda in as well. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about the establishment of a Socialist state and those preaching the Social Justice message are preaching a false Gospel and heretical.
14) What do you think a church that is politically divided should do about that?
Stop pushing politics down throats and start loving as Jesus loved. Or, rather, understand that ‘progressive’ politics are as unChristian as any other politics, humble yourselves, and lead by an example of love rather than continue in the politely condescending tones. If you really want to overcome the divisiveness of Protestantism, stop being a separatist, take a step of faith towards Orthodoxy, and being in Communion with the truly kingdom oriented church of the Apostles. Repent! Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
15) What does the phrase “Make America Great Again” mean to Conservative Anabaptists that support Trump (CAST)? Is it referencing the period in the 50’s, prior to the modern socially liberal agenda that included Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, R v. W, Gay Rights, etc.?
Obviously, MAGA is not about any of those things listed. Sure, that is how the far-left controls minorities, through fear-mongering and lying about Trump’s intentions. It is also how smarmy Social Justice Anabaptists try to distinguish themselves as superior-minded and social elites. However, no Trump supporter that I know understands it to mean what the left-wing propagandists say and what it truly means is restoring the status of the United States as a world leader, building a strong middle-class (of all colors or creed) again and nothing to do with that leading question nonsense.
16) Do you think Trump’s strong economy (before COVID) is a key thing that contributes to CAST’s support of him?
Minorities did better under Trump, up until Democrat governors shut down their economies, and only a racist would not support the growing independence of minorities. Many do not realize that George Floyd had lost his job as a result of Democrat-imposed economic shutdowns. He had also been infected with Covid-19 despite these draconian measures. He may very well still be alive and well had it not been for ruinous ‘progressive’ policies. But the controlling left doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of their policies. They seem to believe that only their good intentions matter more than the actual results. Why aren’t you asking about the uptick in suicides and drug overdoses, depression, and quality of life concerns? The economy is life, conservatives intuitively understand this, they understand trade-offs, but ‘progressives’ routinely fail to recognize the folly of their utopian theories and disastrous outcomes of their solutions.
17) Is it a God-given right/responsibility for the secular government to maintain a strong military?
The common defense of a nation is the only legitimate reason why government exists, to physically defend people from evildoers within and without the borders, which is to provide for the general welfare of all citizens. One only needs to look at what happens when this God-ordained order breaks down to see how bad it can get. People need to be secure in their person and property to flourish. The weak and vulnerable suffer most from the neglect of these structures and institutions. That is why God ordained the structure of the family and church to care for our social needs, it is also why St Paul said we should not oppose this legitimate role of government to punish and protect us from evildoers.
18) All other things being equal, do you think it is more likely that a successful businessman would be Christian, or a government executive with a modest income?
Not my place to judge. Jesus had both a repentant tax collector and fishermen. As far as honest labor, certainly, the fishermen outranked a man who lived off what others produced. That’s not to say that those who truly work as public servants have no value, but they should also be appreciative that someone (often without a choice) is providing their income and needs. A business person, by contrast, cannot (outside of collusion with the corrupted government) cannot force you to buy their products and therefore must produce things of actual value or they would not be successful.
19) Is strong border security important?
Does your house have a roof, four walls, a door that can be locked?
Does your body have skin?
Of course, border security is important, President Obama articulated that on multiple occasions and echoed prior administrations about the need for secure borders. It is important for the same reasons why many people flee from other places to come here. They flee from places impoverished by corruption and unrestrained evildoers. Those who do evil would love to follow those fleeing them and many do get in as a direct result of lax enforcement of borders and immigration law. It is compassionate to let the good in and keep the bad out.
The real question is how can an intelligent and compassionate person not be in favor of vetting immigrants?
20) Do you see hunger as a moral issue?
The question is unclear. There is nothing immoral about hunger. Or maybe the question is whether or not it is moral to leave others hungry? If so, maybe we should establish some context first.
Are we talking about this:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
(James 2:15-16 NIV)
Are talking about the rich man stepping over Lazarus on his doorstep or the Priest and Levite who didn’t offer aid in the good Samaritan story?
If so, if we are talking about needs in the church and needs in our immediate physical proximity, then absolutely it is a moral issue. If God puts a need in our path then we should take care of it by the means God has given us. We are clearly instructed to provide for the needs of those in our church and extend a hand of charity to those whom we come in contact with. This is local, it is our individual duty, and not a responsibility that should be shunted off or delegated to the secular government.
If feeding the world is a Christian priority and moral prerogative, then let’s turn this around: How much food have you produced? I know farmers, conservative Mennonite, and many of them Trump supporters, who farm acres of land at a far lower cost than prior generations. They, through their labor, have done far more to feed the multitudes than anyone sitting on some ivory tower somewhere, would you dare speak down to them with this kind of inane question?
21) What are the top solutions to crime issues?
Definitely not Joe Biden’s 1994 Crime bill in light of his son still being a free man nor the zealous drug prosecutions of Kamala Harris who joked about using illegal drugs. Scripture says that crime should be punished. However, I am concerned with some crimes, because of political connections or being of the right class, being totally ignored for some and applied strictly for others. Favoritism is a sin in the church and, likewise, a legal double standard is an injustice. Equal protection under the law is ideal.
So that pretty much wraps it up.
Still, I would love to hear a Social Justice Anabaptist answer my questions scattered throughout this post and also would ask why one would believe that a political party, known for historically treating some as chattel, is actually any different today?
The big difference is that Social Justice Anabaptists, like their forebearers in Münster, believe that the role of government and church should be combined into one kingdom. Their more conservative (or traditional) counterparts have learned the hard lessons of Münster. The ‘progressives’ merge the message of the cross with a political agenda and join those who look to the government for salvation. The conservatives, by contrast, want a President that allows them to live peaceably, a government that fulfills a basic role of military defense and necessary punishment of evildoers, and they do not seek to impose religious moral obligations on their neighbors.
In conclusion, my advice to the ‘progressives’ is that they not hold their traditional counterparts hostage to their political ideologies. If they must, that they find one of the many mainline Mennonite groups (beholden to the Social Justice Agenda) to hitch their wagons to and not drag the rest of their brethren down with them into that divisive and nasty place. And my advice to the conservatives is not to engage in the conversation at all. If you must vote, do it quietly, otherwise, live out the commandments of Jesus, and don’t get sucked into the black hole of politics. For all, seek after Orthodox Christianity rather than political solutions. There is one church and it is not divided between conservatives and liberals.
I do not call for the judgment of anyone, but it seems only right that good behavior is rewarded. And yet it is often unruly people who get the loving attention when they do bad and then the accolades when they begin to do what the well-behaved have been doing quietly for years.
The conscientious person feels bound to their duty to righteousness. They are driven by loyalties to people, motivated by moral obligation and take responsibility for the welfare of others. It was not out of a desire to be recognized, it is a burden they’ve been carrying since birth, it is never a choice for them, but rather is something inescapable, a prison and hell.
I’ve been that tortured soul. I’ve always wanted to do everything right and for the right reasons. While definitely wanting to be my own person and entitled to my own thoughts, I had no desire to be a troublemaker or disruption. I tried to be cooperative and compliant, to make the lives of my teachers and authorities easier, because I knew the greater social good was dependent upon this and would not be served by my selfish outbursts.
I could never live this ideal out perfectly. I had a standard for myself, a part of the religious inheritance I received as a Mennonite, that was impossible to live out. My frustration with this reality of my own failure would sometimes come bubbling up. Something would set me off and, in the privacy of my parent’s home, I would rage against this awful predicament and the unfairness of it all.
The carefree (and careless) younger brother…
A week or two ago some resentment returned. This change in mood was likely triggered by two things (or rather two conversations) and one of them being an encounter with David Bercot on the topic of divorce and remarriage. The other thing? I had a run-in with my own Prodigal side.
We claim there are consequences for sin. This is how we convince ourselves that our righteous inclinations are correct and there is really no other way to justify depriving oneself of hedonistic pleasure. If it doesn’t matter what we do, no real score kept for right or wrong in the end, then we might as well just have some fun, right?
I’m friends with one of those “bad boys” who (despite his heart of gold) doesn’t care what other people think and has done things at his age that were unimaginable for me. He is a ladies’ man, he’s that guy the young women (yes, even the ‘good’ ones) feel comfortable playing around with, and is basically my antithesis.
I can’t help but love him. He was my true friend a few years ago, heard me spout venom at those who had hurt me with their self-righteous indifference, and never said a word of condemnation. That said, his recklessness and lack of my seriousness, while I was fighting for all I was worth to stay glued together after a devastating announcement, had also sparked my most violent and evil imaginations.
I can’t hold him accountable, though. I look at his freedom with a bit of envy in that at any moment he could decide to settle down, marry the perfect girl (drawn by his charm) and carry no stigma. Me, however, I was always outside looking in, I wasn’t allowed (by character or circumstance) to partake of that “wild” youth nor given the legitimacy that is his for the taking once he decides to settle down.
I’m not jealous of or bitter toward him. Why should I be? But what I do struggle with is anger towards the religious culture that made me, that fed me a steady stream of false promises and left me feeling completely betrayed in the end. Specifically, I’m still upset with the fathers who dismissed me with their cynical calculations and their daughters who continually rejected my sincerest efforts—while meanwhile crawling all over the reckless and indifferent guys.
It is bad enough to go unrecognized. But we seem to live in a world where no good deed goes unpunished, where caring (when others do not) is mischaracterized as creepiness and doing right for the right reasons is often stigmatized. It seems my obeying conscience doesn’t allow me the freedom of rebellion nor does it gain me the approval of those who told me that my conscientious is a good thing when I do what is right in spite of their opinions.
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:28-30 NIV)
This anger is likely due to a misconception the older brother had about his father. He obeyed. However, he obeyed for fear of consequences rather than purely as a matter of conscience. His motivation, while in some respects a devotion to his father, was also a desperate effort to secure his place in the family and a mistrust of father’s love. He, like the servant who buried his talent for fear of punishment, couldn’t comprehend being loved for anything other than his performance and had lived in fear rather than faith.
Can you imagine having spent years trying to hold up your own end of the bargain, working hard to produce because that’s how your father’s love is earned, only to have the bubble burst?
In my own case, it was not entirely my own fault that I saw God, my heavenly Father, as this sort of vengeful tyrant. As one raised in a fundamentalist setting there is plenty of reason why I would assume that God’s love is based on my own performance rather than something freely shared to all who accept it and that’s because my earthly fathers often did keep me in limbo. Revivalistic preaching undermined any assurance of salvation, my life could never measure up to their purity standards, and their love for me was limited by what I was able to provide for them.
For years my hopes for love outpaced my resentments. I would tell myself that next time will be different, that my fears of always being on the margins of their paradise were unfounded, and eventually Christian love would triumph over my inadequacies. However that paradigm came crashing down in spectacular fashion when a young woman, someone to whom my hope against hopes (in respect for her professed devotion) were fully invested, said “I can’t love you like that,” which was to say that she really could not love me at all, and destroyed that last hope of a way to her or rather her father’s world.
Trying to please the lawyer’s God…
Over the past weeks, I’ve felt whipsawed. That is to say, I’ve felt pulled between two seemingly opposed views that together undermine my peace with God and the ability to live a victorious life. The first being how the Prodigal gets the embrace while I’ve often been ignored or, worse, had those whose love I had desired recoil as if I was some sort of monster. The second being the inescapable legalistic mindset that is at complete odds with true Christian love.
I have nothing against men like David Bercot personally. In fact, I see them as men very much like myself a few years ago, they diligently search Scripture trying to find their salvation, and yet they are far more capable than I’ll ever be. Their dedication and discipline would seem to be commendable and even something enviable. However, their standard is something I’ve found to be out of my own reach and their religious prescriptions often come at the expense of love.
Bercot, like so many others including myself, is law rather than love oriented. By this I mean we prioritize precise legal interpretation and application of law above the loving purpose behind it. In other words, we are like those religious experts Jesus encountered, who do things like tithe spices, are more concerned with the day someone is healed than the fact that they have been healed, remained as dogmatic even when entering the church and had to be put in their place:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:1-12 NIV)
Paul’s pun at the end does not take away from the serious warning in his words. Those trying to please God through their careful obedience to the law “have fallen away from grace” and are thus obligating themselves to an impossible standard. They will either end up deluded (like the Pharisee praying loudly about his own superiority to others) or desperately trying to cross all the T’s and dot all of the I’s and ending up in despair when his/her effort falls woefully short of God’s perfection.
Where I’ve found God’s love…
My goal is not to be the rebellious Prodigal son or the one whose careful dedication ended in bitter disappointment. Both of them have fallen short in love for their father or in understanding their father’s love for them and have suffered consequences as a result. The story isn’t intended so that we go out to sow our wild oats, enjoying the pleasures we are afforded us as a result of our inheritance, and then come back to our father’s house again. It isn’t just a warning against a superficial closeness either.
The true meaning of the story is for us to be more like our heavenly Father, who is perfect in mercy and loves even when His love is not reciprocated. Yes, there is a law, not the kind of law that pleases a sanctimonious religious lawyer, but a law summed up by Jesus:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)
When we love God we do not worry about being stigmatized like Jesus and his disciples were for breaking with the harsh and unloving application of the law. We stop trying to please those impossible to please, stop believing God is some tyrant finger over the “smite” key waiting for us to slip up, and start doing what is possible to do out of love for our neighbors. It is in remembering that Jesus came to save and not to condemn the world—that through his love even the vilest of sinners can find eternal life.
I still struggle with my hurts despite God’s grace towards me. I still find myself trying to please people who have made pretty much zero real investment in my well-being spiritual or otherwise—who absolutely refused to reciprocate my love for them. I could easily become unsettled again, reject the greater blessing I’ve received by pursuing the promises of those who attempt to live by a standard impossible to please.
But I choose to love those whom God has entrusted to me instead and even if it costs me what little remains of my Mennonite reputation. I would rather lose it all for sake of the kingdom than to return to the bondage of fundamentalist expectations. Jesus loved despite the disapproval of his religious peers and that’s the love that will overcome my feelings of resentment as one who followed the rules and got burnt. It is a rough road some days, but we are called to suffer rejection and carry our cross.
I’ve been following the career of Kanye West since hearing “Jesus Walks” for the first time in 2004. His lyrics then spoke about the struggle of finding his way in life:
Yo, we at war We at war with terrorism, racism, but most of all we at war with ourselves
God show me the way because the Devil’s tryin’ to break me down
I could identify with that much of the controversial rapper’s message. And, throughout the song, the memorable hook, “Jesus walks with me” was another point of our shared perspective. He seemed a man much like me in many ways.
Like Kanye, while successful in so many ways in comparison to most people in the world, I’ve also felt marginalized and mistreated. In fact, much of my blogging over the past few years has been to share my frustrations. No doubt many reading my thoughts and perspectives feel I’ve spoken out of turn for daring to share my grievances.
My writing was, in a sense, a prayer “God show me a way because the Devil’s trying to break me down.” I wanted answers. I wanted my readers to tell me that part that was missing from my life and present a solution that worked for me. I did all I could and still was not completely healed.
A story of being paralyzed and so close to the healing pool.
I’ve found parallels between my own spiritual journey (of thirty-eight years) and that of a paralyzed man finally healed by Jesus:
Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” (John 5:3, 5-10 NIV )
Imagine that. Thirty-eight years of waiting for someone who cared enough to lift him into the pool to be healed. I’m guessing many did notice this man, they might have felt a little compassion, and yet for whatever reason they did not make an effort to help him into the healing waters. Perhaps they lacked the faith he had and didn’t think putting him in would make a difference? Perhaps they were too busy with their own problems?
I do not know why this man had to wait thirty-eight years—so close to healing and yet at a distance impossible for him to cover without help. But we do know about the encounter he had with Jesus. We also know that after he was healed and began to walk he soon encountered critics who seemed to care more that he wasn’t following their rules (by walking on the Sabbath) than the miracle of his new found freedom.
Kanye finds freedom to love as Jesus loves.
Kanye has again found himself in the middle of a firestorm and this time for a comment on Twitter expressing his love for President Trump:
You don’t have to agree with [T]rump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.
Given his own brash personality and the Christian themes in his music, it is no surprise that Kanye can find some common ground with Trump—and desires to love him despite their differences. He, like Jesus taught, has decided to truly love all people (including his enemies) and this includes Trump.
West, going a step further, in a recent TMZ interview, shared how he felt bad about a previous attack on another unpopular president:
Even with George Bush, people said don’t apologize. I’m like, wait a second, I just saw George Bush pushing George Bush senior in a wheelchair, and he just lost his wife. Do you know how bad I would want to go to George Bush and say, ‘I’m sorry for hurting you. I was an artist, I was hurting when I went up to the telethon, I said something in the moment but when I look at you as a dad and a family member, I’m sorry for hurting you.
Instead of seeing Bush as the face of the enemy as he one did, as a racist (for being a conservative) and someone beyond redemption, he saw him as a dad, as family member and as being a human like him.
Perhaps Kanye, having lost his own mom in tragic circumstances, could more readily identify with the beleaguered and bereaved Bush?
Whatever the case, the motive for his change of heart is clear:
Does God want you to love everyone? … If you start thinking about love and start feeling love and thinking about forgiveness, then you can overcome things…
That is the Gospel in a nutshell. We are to love as God first loved us and forgive others so we will be forgiven. Christians were told to honor each other, other people and even the emperor. Honor does not mean agree. Honor does not mean we do not speak the truth in love and risk losing our heads like John the Baptist did in speaking out against sin either. But it does mean that we see our enemies as people to be loved rather than demons to hate.
Today we must choose not to be bound to our past.
As if telling people to love Trump wasn’t already bad enough, Kanye also made this comment:
When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.
West later explained that he understood that slaves did not come of their own free-will:
[T]o make myself clear. Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will. My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved.
His point wasn’t that slavery never happened nor to take away from the wrong that had been done to his ancestors. But explains that eventually their slavery became a mental prison and that people should not continue to choose to be enslaved years after the institution of slavery has been abolished.
[T]he reason why I brought up the 400 years point is because we can’t be mentally imprisoned for another 400 years.
It is interesting that he uses the 400 years.
Slavery, as an institution in the United States, started in 1619, was legal in all thirteen colonies when they declared their independence from British rule in 1776, and ended formally with the 13th amendment in 1865.
For those of you bad at math, that is 246 years and not 400 years. It seems the suggestion being made is that some are still mentally enslaved despite being legally free.
Kanye’s point resonates with me as one trying to escape my own mental prison. It is difficult to live beyond our past experience. All my expectations were built around being a Mennonite and, despite my free-spiritedness, it was impossible for me to see beyond this past—I was enslaved.
But I didn’t want to spend my next 40 years repeating the same failures. I wanted to overcome, I called on Jesus to heal me and was willing to do whatever it took to be made whole—even let go of the Mennonite identity that meant everything to me.
It is interesting that the paralytic, Kanye West, and myself are so close in age. I guess there just comes a point when the longing for freedom from our enslavement becomes greater than our fears and we are finally willing to break the rules that keep us bound. And, when you do, when you find your freedom, those who choose to remain in bonds will come for you.
Speaking of “mental prisons” comes at risk of being killed by the victims.
I worked in a factory years ago. It was a sort of dead end job with low pay and certainly not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. However, when I expressed my dreams of life beyond that place my coworkers would laugh it off and tell me that I would always be there with them. They were serious, from all appearances, and their ridicule only gave me more motivation to leave.
It reminds me of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s advice to those who wish to change the world. He says, “clean your room.” But Peterson also warns that, when you do this, there will be those who prefer their disorder and will resist. They will react negativity rather than with happiness. The critics will question: “Who do you think you are? Do you think you’re better than us?”
Those who are in mental prisons prefer to believe that they have no choice and therefore will hate anyone who tries to show them otherwise. The religious hypocrites, seeing the miracles of Jesus, were more concerned that he had broke their rules and eventually killed him. I’m sure there are many who would rather I stopped speaking my thoughts as well. And, likewise, Kanye West will likely face the consequences of breaking ranks with those still imprisoned.
Victims of racism, other multi-millionaire celebrities, have accused West of being a traitor to his race and have made threats against him. One radio station has already stopped playing his music and I’m guessing there will be many other costs. My own popularity as a blogger will probably never recover from my taking a walk with Jesus away from the Mennonite plantation. Many will never understand and will simply cut you out of their life. There are real repercussions for choosing to be free.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-21 NIV)
I’ve had many conversations in my life. I have always tried to speak the truth in love and have generally been well-received even by those who disagree. But, my own experience trying to talk about race have almost always left me disappointed—sometimes even resigned to the notion that we will always be ruled by our baser instincts. Some of the nastiest words spoken to me came as a result of my taking a stand for truth as it pertains to race.
Apparently as a white man, to the victims of racism, I can’t possibly have anything to offer besides an apology for my own gender and skin color. No, I could not possibly be a person who, like them, has experienced the pain of prejudice, discrimination and rejection, right?
Ironically or perhaps inevitably, it is often the victims of abuse who become the next generation of abusers. And that is because they are still bound to the abuse, the abuse has become their identity, and they’ve never known freedom.
I choose not to build an identity around my skin color and fears. I choose against being bound to my past failures and present anxieties. I refuse to be a mental prisoner to injuries and injustices. I refuse to live as a victim. I choose to transcend. I choose to love.
Jesus means freedom from our past. Jesus means peace of mind, a secure future, even when presently mocked and persecuted.
A few weeks ago a story swept across my Facebook feed about a young Mennonite man from Indiana who went missing after a visit with his girlfriend in Arkansas. I quickly determined, after a brief look on Google maps at the points mentioned, that there was very little that I could do to help. There are plenty of situations where my own inputs and interventions are truly needed and this was not one of them.
The need for my personal involvement didn’t change after he was found. Yes, as a normal human being, I was curious about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and hoped to eventually hear more about what happened. However, there was no reason for me to pry or persist in an effort to find information, I was content to wait until his family was ready to share and truthfully didn’t need to know anymore than I already did.
However, some were not satisfied to simply rejoice with those who rejoice. Some felt entitled to information, they felt that they deserved an explanation and more or less demanded immediate answers. Making matters worse, the online discussion (including a page created to help locate the young man) quickly became and a cesspool of gossip and den of busybodies who seemed to take great pleasure in sharing their scandalous revelations.
Anyhow, because this does effect my newsfeed, and having had malicious nonsense spread about me in the past, and knowing what Scripture says on the topic of gossip, I want to make three points:
1) The young man didn’t ask to be turned into a public figure.
Family and friends decided to take their search public and the network of Mennonites on social media responded in force. But that doesn’t mean that we should not respect the privacy of the young man. The public handling of this was not his choice. If their best interests (both his own and those of the people more intimately involved) are better served by not sharing more than has already been shared, then so be it.
2) You are not entitled to anything more than has already been revealed.
I’ve seen the spreading of rumors explained as need for closure and blame being put on those closest to the young man for their not revealing more information at this time. That, of course, is complete nonsense. Being asked to pray and assist in a search does not give anyone a right to know the juicy details and nor does morbid fascination. There is no need to know anything more than what needs to be known. He has been found, he is with those who love him, and that should be everything a reasonable person needs for closure.
3) Gossip is a sin and busybodies are severely condemned.
Curiosity is excusable. I understand the want to know more about a story than is already known. I can even see good reason to share, in the right time and place, about unflattering things discovered. However, what I cannot excuse is sharing dirt on another person and publicly trashing them for no good reason. True or not does not matter, what does matter is that we show the grace we wish to be shown and handle such matters in the way appropriate for a Christian.
There seems to be some confusion about what is appropriate and inappropriate sharing of information…
Fortunately there are Biblical passages that offer us strong clues. In fact, being a “meddler” (1 Peter 4:15) or “gossip” (Romans 1:29) is mentioned in the same context as theft and murder and slander. We are even told to disassociate ourselves from those who are “busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5) as a result of their idleness. And, if that condemnation is not enough, there is also this clear instruction:
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12 NIV)
Slander (etymologically a doublet of “scandal,” from OFr. esclandre, Latin scandalum, “stumblingblock”) is an accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect of damaging the reputation of another. As a rule it is a false charge (compare Matthew 5:11); but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose…
It is important to note that this goes beyond the modern definition of slander. It is saying something, true or untrue, in a way that is unnecessarily harmful to another person. In other words, this means *not* revealing things in public about an individual that detract from their reputation. That in contrast with sharing only what is helpful to another individual and of benefit:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
There is a time and place for confronting sinful behavior. However, unless the sin is already public knowledge and obvious (as in 1 Corinthians 5) or something that must be reported immediately to civil authorities like sexual abuse, the process of confrontation should always start one-on-one with the offending individual in private:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)
In light of this, spreading scandalous information about another person just because you can is never appropriate for a Christian. It goes completely against Biblical instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” and to “mind your own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and amounts to a sin as bad as any other.
As for closure…
There are certainly those who should be working with this young man to help and restore him. But there are many more (in the online crowd) who have no role in that and should be mindful of what Jesus told those who brought an adulterous woman out to be condemned: “Let anyone of you who is without sin cast the first stone…”
Christians should have no time for gossip and no place for busybodies in their ranks. There is no duty to tell the world about things than can (and should) remain private and absolutely no need for salacious appetites to be fed. So, if you desperately need closure, use the opportunity to reflect on your own attitudes and actions.
In 1630 John Winthrop, an English Puritan leader, wrote a thesis titled “A Model of Christian Charity“ that described a spiritual vision for the new settlement in America. He explains an ideal love that if practiced would make them “a city upon a hill” and seen by all people.
But, Winthrop warns that with this great potential there will be great consequences if and when this ideal is abandoned. In his words:
“We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”
America has formed into a great nation, an exceptional nation in many respects, and has become the place seen by the world. Two Presidents (John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan) made reference to the “city upon a hill” imagery and at a time which was arguably the peak of our influence.
I firmly believe that our lingering greatness is a reflection of the moral character of those who came before us. However, our end will be as dramatic as our rise when we neglect love for our fellow man that Winthrop envisioned and is the true evidence of faith in God.
There was another city on a hill (seven hills actually) and that being the historical city of Jerusalem described in the Bible. Jerusalem was a place of great importance to the Jewish religion and the location of their temple to God. It was an impressive awe inspiring place by ancient standards and also the place where Jesus went with his disciples and made a startling prophecy about the unimaginable destruction that would soon come to that city.
Six days that marked the beginning of the end.
It was the Passover, a significant event on the Jewish religious calender, and what would turn out to be a most pivotal week for Christianity. Jesus, after having raised Lazarus from the dead, departs from Bethany and continues with his disciples to Jerusalem despite the obvious risk to his life.
The Scripture describes Jesus coming down from the Mount of Olives towards the great Holy City:
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of Godʼs coming to you.'” (Luke 19:41-44)
This moment of emotion and prophecy marks the beginning of a tumultuous week. Jesus was greeted as a king and yet simultaneously weeps over Jerusalem. The week continues with him dramatically cleansing the temple of commerce. He spends an intimate last meal with his disciples after which he is betrayed by one of them. He is put on trial, crucified under a mocking “king of the Jews” sign. But not before making several claims about a destruction coming and an end that was very near at hand.
In a sermon (Seven Woes of Matthew 23) Jesus severely rebuked his religious critics for their hypocrisy. He told them that they are no better than their ancestors who murdered prophets. Jesus warns once again of a judgment that would befall their generation, and laments:
“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 23:37-39)
Jesus laments their unwillingness to trust him. But also uses “desolate” (erémos) to describe their “house” (oikos) which is a strange way to describe a thriving city and is a foreshadowing statement. He ends the sermon by saying only those who acknowledge him will see him again.
Following that, in the next chapter, we read this account:
“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'” (Matthew 24:1-2)
Wow! Talk about shocking!
Can you imagine?
It would be like being with a group of friends taking in the sights in Manhattan and talking about the beauty of the architecture, but then in response the tour leader tells you that in forty years it would all be rubble.
It was the temple (according to Luke 21:5) that had the disciples most captivated and Jesus tells them it will soon be destroyed. Naturally, as we continue to read, this awful prediction provoked more questions from those who heard about when and how:
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’
Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. […] Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.'” (Matthew 24:3-5)
Two observations: 1) These words are all spoken entirely in the context of the temple and the Jerusalem that the disciples saw with their own eyes. 2) This is the second time Jesus promises that “this generation” (to the audience with him then) would see these things happen.
So what did happen?
The end of Jerusalem and temple worship came to pass in AD 70.
It is amazing to me that this event, an astonishing fulfillment of prophecy, is not front and center for more Christians. The destruction of the temple and sacrificial system it represented was so complete that it has lasted until this day.
Furthermore, this total destruction happened (as predicted) in the very generation that first heard the words of Jesus about the end of the age. It is a well-documented historical event that would seem to completely fulfill the words of Jesus and yet it is hardly acknowledged.
So why is this such a secret?
Well, maybe because it throws a monkey wrench into the eschatology of many modern Bible readers who have been indoctrinated to believe Jesus is speaking of events in our own future?
But we do know that the historical evidence is clear. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple of stone at the center of Jewish religion reduced to rubble, and with that came an ending of an age. Some skeptics may dispute the details, yet one only need to go to the modern city built on the ruins of historical Jerusalem and see for themselves that the temple is gone.
The end of the former age is the beginning of something new and better.
The end of earthly Jerusalem had begun the week Jesus was crucified. The destruction of the old way came as the beginning of a new and better way. It is as Jesus promised:
“‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’
‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.'” (John 4:19-24)
There is a city spoke of by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a metaphor used to describe a greater reality “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) It is also the likely origination of Puritan John Winthrop’s “a city upon a hill” phrase.
We also know, in the writing of Paul, that he says the church is collectively and together is the temple of God:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
It is a funny thing how so many who claim to be Biblical literalists read that and still await a third temple built of stone. Paul says that his audience, believers, are the temple and God dwells in them. Believers, according to Scripture, are literally the temple of God and yet some wait for the constitution a third temple?
Perhaps those still waiting for a third temple have also missed out on the promised second coming of Jesus as well?
Read this assurance that Jesus left for his disciples:
“‘Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’
Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…'” (John 14:12-23)
So there we have a new city, a better temple and a greater coming of Jesus—each of these iterations being far better than the ones replaced. If we believe we will be the fulfillment of Scripture in the same way as Jesus and do even greater things as he promised we would. We will not be looking forward to a new version of the old way and instead be bringing the better kingdom into our reality.
Why then do some amongst us still wait for another physical fulfilment rather than live in the fullness of the kingdom promise today?
Perhaps it is because they, like those who rejected Jesus in his first coming, do not have the truth in them and need to repent?
So, anyhow, cutting to the chase, why is the fall of Jerusalem relevant to us today?
The point of this blog post is not history or eschatology, those can be topics for another day, but it is to discuss the choice we have to learn from history or repeat it again. We can look at the future as something set in place and beyond our own influence or we can consider that Jerusalem had a choice and that is contained in the last words of the Old Testament:
“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)
Do you see the option A and the option B?
John the Baptist, while not literally Elijah, came in the Spirit of Elijah, preaching “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2) and yet was rejected by those who expected a literal return. Because of their refusal to repent they choose the “or else” of option B and we too face that choice: Will we repent and bring the Lord’s prayer “thy kingdom come” to life or will we continue waiting for fulfilment on our own terms and be destroyed?
The American church today is not much different from Jerusalem. We face an uncertain future, we have been divided into competing political factions, there are angry zealots ready to run amok railing against foreigners, oppressors, etc. We too have become woefully arrogant and blinded by our ambitions. It is very much the same climate Jesus lived in two millennia ago. It is the attitudes that Winthrop warned against nearly four hundred years ago:
“But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it.”
We are at a crossroads as a people today.
The next forty years will probably hold dramatic changes. How we respond to opportunities today could very well define the future of our nation. America will need to choose repentance or it will continue to slide further away from greatness and towards destruction.
Our end as “a city upon a hill” may not be as spectacular as the fall of Jerusalem, we might simply fade from prominence like other great nations before us, but be ready.