Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

Book Review – Common Lectionary: The Lectionary Proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts

November 28, 2020

Common Lectionary: The Lectionary Proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts

I use the Revised Common Lectionary nearly every Sunday as the basis not only for the readings in worship but the sermon. This has been my habit since entering the ministry. I rationalize that it keeps me honest to some degree, rather than focusing on texts that I like. It forces not just my parishioners but me to come into a wider range of Scripture than I might opt for left to my own devices, though at other times I realize it probably limits my range of Scripture choices. But it also is a point of unity within the larger body of Christ, and it’s always good when someone else says they had the same readings at their church or the church they were visiting.

All that being said, my knowledge of how these particular readings were selected is not all that deep. Sometimes it’s frustrating where they start or stop the readings. It’s like stumbling into a conversation without knowing what came before. So I keep my eye out for explanations on this process and how we ended up with the readings we have, so when I found this booklet online I ordered it ASAP.

It’s basically the notes behind the Common Lectionary, a first effort at harmonizing the reading selections of various Protestant denominations, each based off the Roman Catholic Church’s Ordo Lectionum Missae of 1969. Though the Catholics got the ball rolling, various Protestant groups modified the original 3-year reading cycle to fit various theological emphases or doctrinal matters. So an effort was made to provide a single lectionary option acceptable to a diverse range of Christian denominations. The Common Lectionary would result in the early 80’s, and it would be further adapted into the Revised Common Lectionary that my denomination uses today.

This booklet clocks in at just over 100 pages, but provides background information as to the three major considerations that went into the formation of the Roman Catholic lectionary – Calendar (having to do with the liturgical church year and the relation of each Sunday and other special days to the overall calendar and to one another); Cult (having to do with understandings of worship, such as the historic understanding that worship centers around the proclamation of Jesus Christ in the Word and the receiving of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist); and finally Canon (having to do with which sources to choose from, which includes not just the issue of utilizing the Apocryphal writings or not, but also which Old Testament readings to include and how they are used both in their own context as well as in service to the Gospel reading for the day).

It then provides the full listing of recommended texts for each of the three years of readings, and indicates whether the agreement on those particular texts was a real, virtual, or near consensus. There are then explanatory notes for every single set of readings across all three years, indicating very briefly why these verses were seen as appropriate in light of the liturgical season as well as in relation to one another. Fantastic! A great reference for me each Sunday of each year of the lectionary cycle, particularly if I’m having trouble seeing the links for myself. I’ll probably start incorporating tidbits of this into the Ramblings I post here each Sunday as well.

Definitely a great resource if you’re interested in the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. It’s not an exhaustive resource, more like the quick notes somebody would have taken during various meetings and discussions, and then organized.

It’s Faith, Stupid

October 31, 2020

As violence continues to spiral in France, the news media seems ridiculously ill-equipped to report on it. There was the decapitation of a teacher two weeks ago that started this recent bout of violence, and interesting enough it was the only non-religious target. Subsequent targets have been Christians in churches, whether the three worshipers killed in Nice earlier this week, or the Orthodox priest shot in the stomach with a sawed off shotgun tonight. And while this latest attack hasn’t been linked to Islamic fanaticism (yet?), at the very least it’s another assault specifically on Christians, and a reminder that the secular society media is so fond of touting is not necessarily the most enlightened environment.

Headlines like this one miss the point entirely. It’s incredible that only a few decades after World War II and the utter failure of a program to appease the increasingly aggressive demands of a despot, the press still thinks the problem is an offensive cartoon. Allow me to help fill in the clueless secular or anti-religious media – this isn’t about a cartoon, it’s about religion. It’s not about secularism, it’s about faith.

The idea that succumbing to demands to not say or draw anything offensive about the prophet Mohammed will somehow restore peace and eliminate tensions with Muslim nations is ridiculous. Give in to this demand and there will be another demand. Resist that demand and there will be violence again and threats of violence. This isn’t a cycle that ends in a restoration of a peaceful secular country (if France could accurately be called that). It’s a cycle that ends with the destruction of secular France – and the rest of non-Muslim nations – under the growing intimidation of radical Muslims.

These radicals aren’t afraid of France’s secularism – they’ve exploited it by immigrating there in large numbers. They know very well secularism can’t withstand the growing pressure of a radicalized Islam. Progressive ideologies have weakened much of Western civilization to the point they are unwilling to defend themselves and will capitulate everything soas not to risk offending a class of people who insist they are offended.

The radicals don’t need to be afraid of secularism so you’ll notice their attacks are not against civil targets but rather religious ones. Christian ones. And more specifically, active Christians. Christians at worship or priests at churches. Because unlike secularists, Biblical Christians who know the Bible as well as Christian history have an actual set of beliefs they are not willing to compromise on. Islam can and will conquer secularism, but it has had quite a bit of trouble dealing with Christians through the centuries. And while modern, secular authorities seem to ignore or forget history, it seems clear that radical Muslims have not.

So these Muslims try to strike fear into the hearts of Christians. Maybe by doing so they hope to cause weaker Christians to demand their secular government side with the extremists and give in to their demands. Demand their government continue to abdicate what little moral authority it still holds from the Christian faith for the sake of tolerance or kindness or some grossly misinterpreted interpretation of the Christian command to love your enemy.

Macron’s desire to defend secular society will ultimately fail – if not in his term than down the road a few years. It will fail because it has no real inherent beliefs, and will therefore cede authority to whomever can most convincingly portray themselves as the weak or marginalized or disenfranchised. Or Muslims will simply continue to out-reproduce their materialist, secular neighbors until they can vote for a Muslim government and sharia law and all the other things the Quran commands Muslims to accomplish.

But the Christian faith is grounded in beliefs anchored in human history and geography, an empty tomb and eye-witnesses of a man who claimed to be nothing less than the Son of God and insisted his resurrection from the dead would vindicate this claim.

That faith won’t abdicate to Islam. It might be conquered by Islam geographically or politically. It might be executed by Islam, as Christians around the world continue to suffer and die simply for insisting on believing the Word of God, oftentimes at the hands of Islamic extremists. But it won’t simply give up and go away.

That’s the real threat radical Islamists rightly perceive and seek to weaken or destroy. That’s why as the attacks in France continue, the targets are worshiping Christians, priests, and others visibly living out their faith. I pray that Christians around the world will rally in solidarity of their French brothers and sisters in Christ who are currently under attack.

Movie Review: Signs

October 27, 2020

I enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense when it came out, but it never created a burning desire in me to see all of his films. And so I didn’t. This is no doubt not a reflection on his work but rather my somewhat tepid response to movies in general. So the wife and I sat down to watch a movie the other night and opted for Signs.

The movie is 18 years old now, but I don’t intend any spoilers regardless. The film is essentially a discussion of faith. Not a specific faith, though a thin veneer of Christianity is displayed but not articulated as anything more than the most gossamer of realities. It’s a typical Hollywood understanding of faith and, frankly, a typical Hollywood understanding or caricature of Biblical Christian faith.

A faith that can drive a man into ministry, (in this case, presumably the Episcopal Church since the main character was a priest but was also married and has children while people still refer to him as Father). But a faith that can be rejected and tossed aside by tragedy. A faith that can turn to bitter dust when suffering comes and steals what we value. Frankly, perhaps it is an accurate description of many people’s faith, which is sad and frightening.

Regardless, the main character when we meet him is no longer a priest, a backstory gradually brought out through the length of the film. His lack of faith – or perhaps his desire to push God away and keep him at arm’s length – runs through the entire film, surfacing occasionally in more explicit moments. He is angry with God.

Despite this very Christian context, the film is devoid of Biblical Christian faith. God is apparently here to ensure our personal happiness, and if He does not do so in the way we would like him to, He deserves our anger and rejection. Only if God redeems himself by making it up to us – and also by getting through out thick skulls and blindness so we actually see what He’s doing – does He become worthy of our love and service again.

All of this wouldn’t be so irritating if it weren’t really the fundamental story of the entire movie. The movie is an interesting character study, and it’s primarily a character study, not unlike many stories by my favorite author, Ray Bradbury, or the television series The Twilight Zone. However in a two-hour movie I hope for something a bit deeper than what a short story or a 20-minute television show can provide, and I feel Signs falls short on delivery.

Let’s talk about the life of faith and the challenges of life which can lead a Christian to despair or to anger with God. But let’s do so with more nuance and depth than a missing crucifix on a wall or a worn or unworn clerical. A bit more Job, actually. There’s a real discussion of what faith looks like and how it struggles amidst the suffering in this world. That would make the payoff of movies like this even more powerful, and more than just popcorn fare.

It’s not a bad movie, and much more qualified cinema experts agree. Perhaps that’s what drove Mel Gibson to switch sides of the camera to direct a film showing a far greater Biblical depth. Certainly in light of Gibson’s much chronicled personal demons, it’s something he’s well-qualified to enact, and a more powerful reminder of how great the love of God in Jesus Christ is.

Education & Family

October 20, 2020

Here’s a fantastic speech by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. I find it interesting that despite scathing attacks by critics, and by a White House characterized more often than not as an unstable regime, DeVos has remained in her post since Trump appointed her in February 2017.

As our culture grapples with the need for reform on any number of fronts, family is the first place reform take place if any other kind of reform is to be successful. Repriortizing family as the fundamental unit of all the rest of society rather than usurping it through increasing governmental intervention and substitution is crucial. This means the gradual unraveling of the Gordian Knot our culture created in the turbulent revolutions of the 60’s. It means acknowledging that a two-family income is not the best way to improve families and that public education must serve the family rather than replace it.

A tough row to hoe, without a doubt. But it’s heartening that some in positions of influence see what needs to be done. I pray they – and we the people – are able to remain steadfast in accomplishing it!

Parents as Teachers

October 12, 2020

COVID has forced many parents to become teachers to their children. Our society in the last half decade has worked hard to convince parents this is a job better left to experts. But parents are their child’s first and best teacher. Not sure you agree? Here’s a great essay that defends that notion not just with Scripture but with a lot of data.

How could congregations better resource future and current parents to take on this task? How could congregations become the place where cultural assumptions – such as that both parents must work – begin to be challenged? How might congregations begin to insist that the well-being of children is not necessarily served best by economic advancement of the family unit at the expense of time for children and parents to be together?

Important questions for the future, not just in a time of pandemic.

When the King is Law in a Democracy

October 7, 2020

I’ve been battered by my news feed this morning. Issues local and larger driven not simply by a pandemic but by government fiat about how we must handle this pandemic. I’ve touched on this topic before, particularly on the issue of the goals of state policy over the last seven months being shifted from flattening the curve to driving pandemic cases to an arbitrarily defined minimal number.

California has led the way in this from the very beginning. And the rules continue to change. Rules that have not been presented for a vote to the population but rather are dictated by the governor for implementation at the county level. The governor has created a tiered system of restrictions based on criteria he defines – and is free to alter at any point.

Case in point, for the past two months there have been two major criteria determining how restrictive a tier any given county is in – case rate and test positivity. But now a third criteria has been added. It is no longer enough that a county drops below arbitrarily defined thresholds related to case rate and test positivity. Now counties must also demonstrate – by arbitrarily defined means – that their efforts to combat COVID-19 are adequately distributed among all population groups in their county.

This new Equity Metric theoretically intends to make sure that disadvantaged groups in a county do not lag “significantly” behind other groups in the county in terms of case rate and test positivity. But in reality, the Equity Metric requires that disadvantaged groups report case rate and test positivity scores below the mandated metrics for the county as a whole. In other words, the county as a whole could meet case rate and test positivity requirements to move into or remain in a lower tier of restrictions, but if the disadvantaged groups in that county (which the county itself must identify) have higher rates in either of these two categories, the entire county will not be allowed to progress into the lower-restriction tier, or could be pushed up into a more restrictive tier.

On the flip side, the Equity Metric could potentially help a county move into a lower-tier of restrictions. If a county hasn’t met the requirements yet for the next lower-restriction tier, but the county’s lowest quartile disadvantaged groups not only meet that criteria but the criteria for the next level in lower down restrictions, the county would be allowed to move into the next lower tier.

Obviously, the intention is to encourage (force?) counties to invest more money in treatment, education, etc. for their most disadvantaged groups. At the same time, since these groups often consist of ethnic minorities known to be impacted by COVID at higher rates than less-disadvantaged groups, it means an entire county could be prevented from progressing to a lower-restriction tier just because one small subset of the population is struggling with higher rates of reported cases and test positivity ratios.

All of which may or may not make sense, but all of which is also a completely arbitrary addition to what the counties in our state (and country) have been focusing on for the last seven months. It smacks of ideological profiteering – taking advantage of a situation to distribute wealth and resources differently, rather than a strictly “scientific” approach to limiting the spread of a worrisome contagion.

I’m sure the governor had advisors on this, but I’m also pretty sure those advisors are similarly inclined to him, ideologically. And once again, we the citizens have to deal with the effects of his laws without getting any say in them. Presumably then, “science” in a very loosely defined sense supercedes rule by law and the American concept of rule by the people. Since these rules are ostensibly “for” the people (as defined by an unidentified subset of the people), it is apparently not necessary to get our feedback and approval on these rules.

For a short-term emergency situation this can be dealt with and accepted. That’s what we all more or less agreed to back in March. But seven months on, the restrictions are only piling up, and the impacts are being borne solely by the citizens of counties and states and not by the people elected to run the government. As I argued months ago, if our elected representatives are not impacted by the rules they make, there is no natural braking system for just creating more and more rules and restrictions.

For instance, our governor dictated that law enforcement was not allowed to enforce any laws regarding overnight camping on public property (beaches, parking lots associated with beaches, etc.). Citizens have frequently been banned from going to the beach on major holidays due to concerns about crowds and contagion, but if you pitch a tent on the beach and sleep there over night, nobody is allowed to bother you. Increasing numbers of tents are cropping up on beaches. Again, the governor can issue his order – don’t enforce the law – but he doesn’t have to deal personally with the ramifications of his ruling.

Presumably this is because of an acknowledgment by our elected leaders that homelessness is going to increase as a direct result of the economic restrictions they’ve put in place for the last seven months. Rather than mandating the protection of the most vulnerable populations, they’ve simply shut down – arbitrarily – large swaths of society. Small and mid-sized businesses are being devastated by not being able to open or only being allowed to open at a far reduced capacity (25% or 50%). Any economics major or businessperson can tell you that a business owner determines the viability of renting or buying a space and hiring workers and offering goods or services based on a certain minimum threshold of business. You can’t arbitrarily slash that threshold and expect a business model to still work. It might, for a short time. As long as stimulus loans are out there, for instance, but it isn’t sustainable.

I’ve heard predictions that anywhere from 30%-60% of restaurants will close and never reopen. The figures are as high as 85% for small, independently owned restaurants. They won’t be able to stay in business. The economic impacts of COVID restrictions are going to start cascading into the coming months. It will be a devastation of our economic landscape the likes of which haven’t been seen before. Could unemployment reach Great Depression rates? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

And when a restaurant closes it isn’t just the owner who loses – everyone they employ loses. The community that enjoyed or relied on their service loses. The community also loses tax revenues from that business. The impacts are massive on this scale.

And this is just one particularly business sector.

So we’re going to have more homeless, our leaders presume, and therefore we just aren’t going to enforce laws against homelessness in communities. Never mind that beaches don’t have bathroom facilities or running fresh water. Never mind the trash and debris that accumulate under these conditions. Instead of mandating (and providing) resources for counties to address this grim reality proactively, the governor’s order to not enforce laws simply creates new or exacerbates existing problems while simultaneously limiting the ability of any given community to deal with them.

Or consider the law in our state preventing landlords from evicting tenants because they are no longer able to pay their rent due to being unemployed because of COVID. Why are property owners expected to bear the burden financially for problems created directly by executive orders from governors? How are property owners expected to remain viable leasing property to people who aren’t paying them? How is it fair for one group of people to create a situation where another group of people bears the exclusive repercussions and losses for decisions the other group of people dictated?

If our elected leaders are not directly and immediately impacted by the results of their decisions – especially their directed decisions that don’t go to popular vote – then we’ll continue to suffer under laws and rules arbitrarily conceived and applied. I don’t doubt the intentions of most of these laws and rules is good. I do doubt whether good intentions equate to actual benefits or the desired results – it’s notoriously tricky to directly correlate closing a broad section of the economic sector with reduced transmission rates of COVID. You can argue for a correlation but it’s hard to prove causation. There are just too many variables. And again, for a short period of time correlation may be enough. Is it enough seven months later? At what point – if any – does it cease to be enough?

I maintain that if our elected officials are going to declare that certain businesses simply aren’t allowed to open, then the salaries of these officials should be directly affected. I’m sure a smarter person could determine an effective ratio. I’m sure it’s rather draconian to say that if you arbitrarily shut down any one kind of business for an entire state or county you oversee, your entire salary as an elected official should be withheld. But then again, maybe it isn’t too draconian.

Of course, elected officials would not be penalized for laws approved by their electorate.

Not until our elected officials personally and directly feel the devastating effects of the rules they are making up on the fly can we the constituents be assured they are really, really, really grapping with and making the best possible choices rather than the easiest ones. If they’re personally having their life’s savings drained away by the very policies they’re demanding the electorate abide by, I would feel a lot more confident they’re trying to find the best way forward. A way that doesn’t simply create an explosion in homelessness when they’re in no danger of living in a tent themselves.

We’ve allowed our elected leaders to extricate themselves from real life as the average citizen experiences it for too long. Whether it’s a separate retirement plan from Social Security, or a separate healthcare package from what citizens have available to them (even with the ACA!), or salaries guaranteed from tax dollars and therefore only secondarily linked to the decisions made in state capitols or Washington D.C., we shouldn’t be surprised our leaders seem unsympathetic to the plight of their constituents if they are not dealing personally (and financially) with the effects of the rules they put into place.

Replacements and Rhetoric

September 20, 2020

With the death of long-time Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the battle over her replacement begins. At least the public battle. Have no fear, folks on both sides of the political aisle have long been considering how this would go down, and her unfortunate failing health in the last year only accelerated those back room discussions. But now that she’s gone, you and I begin to be privy to the battle over her replacement.

The battle is accentuated because Ginsburg was noted for her steadfast ideological concerns over issues of reproductive health and gender. It’s unfortunate that the career of anyone should be boiled down to issues that probably occupied a relatively small percentage of her 27-year tenure, but there it is. Those who share her ideological views are adamant that her successor must embody those same ideological views and carry on her legacy. Those who disagree with her ideology see an opportunity to create long-lasting change in the Supreme Court.

Obviously, this disagreement is going to cause problems. And the problems have already begun. Prominent liberals are already threating violence if RBG’s seat is filled by the Republican controlled Senate and Oval Office prior to the election (and before the possibility of a shift in control to the Democrats of one or both branches of government).

Speaking of government and branches. Y’all remember your basic civics lessons, right? The division of our government into three different branches – Executive, Legislative and Judicial? Checks and balances, to ensure that no one person or group gains to great control over things? And as part of this checks and balances system, Supreme Court vacancies are filled by Presidential appointment with Senate approval (a process some have humorously expanded)?

It’s all about balance, presumably. And the funny thing about balance is that it’s rarely a matter of stasis. Like driver’s education used to teach, staying between the lane markers requires constant adjustments, which means at any given point in time you might be straying a bit to the left or a bit to the right, but through constant corrections you hopefully stay in your own lane and don’t go veering off the road. Or into someone else.

Ginsburg apparently forgot this concept when she allowed herself to disparage the process of checks and balances and judicial appointments. And both she and her supporters conveniently forget (and the media certainly isn’t going to help us with a pertinent history lesson) that Ginsburg replaced someone else, a Supreme Court justice by the name of Byron White. White was appointed to the Supreme Court by John F. Kennedy. White cast a dissenting vote in Roe v. Wade, meaning he voted against legalizing abortion. He also voted not only to outlaw capital punishment but to reinstate it under allegedly better legal conditions.

So Ginsburg herself hardly carried on the ideological bent of her predecessor. I’m sure if someone had suggested to her at any point in her career that her duty was to carry on the ideological leanings of a particular predecessor, she would have dismissed the idea as ludicrous and odious. It’s unfortunate if she really did express a desire that the process should be short-circuited intentionally, and that others would take the opinion or wish of any single person, no matter how beloved, as a pretext for a call to violence on a national level.

Supreme Court appointments are usually passionate affairs, at least in the last 40 years. The decisions have long-term effects on judicial rulings that impact law on a national level. It’s right that people want to see someone they agree with given the honor of serving in this capacity. But it’s unconscionable that anyone would advocate violence or a deliberate disrespect of the mechanisms that protect all of us by rule of law. Our elected legislators are quite good at utilizing or inventing all manner of mechanisms to sway things in their preferred direction, and there has only been one Supreme Court Justice nominated to the position in an election year (early in 1988, rather than a month or two before the election). But to call for violence, as though the law of the land has now become mob rule or might-makes-right is a sign of just how dangerous our current cultural and societal situation is.

And a sign of how important the law has become – or not become – whether at the Supreme Court level or otherwise.

Words Matter

September 19, 2020

As I’ve tried to argue here repeatedly over the last 14 years (!), words matter. Language matters, and we need to pay attention to what is being said and how it’s being said.

For instance, for the first time I can remember, the flu is being called a pandemic. I don’t argue whether or not the flu qualifies as a pandemic. I’m pretty sure it does – it affects a good portion of the world (at least I assume it does – I think press coverage of world health issues is normally pretty light, and since the flu recurs every year, there has been little interest historically in talking about it unless it’s somehow more dangerous or otherwise distinctive) and it affects a good portion of the population (in the neighborhood of 19 million Americans annually (as opposed to the estimated 6.7 million cases of Coronavirus reported in the US after 6 months).

What I do question is the curious fact that this year, the flu is being called a pandemic. Most of the news stories I see using this terminology are fear-mongering, painting dire possible scenarios since COVID-19 is ongoing as flu season begins. The other common denominator in stories referring to the flu as a pandemic is the emphasis on getting the flu shot.

The overall impact is one of creating fear. Fear is a particularly useful emotion as it is very powerful and hard to resist. It’s also hard to live with over a prolonged period of time (like, say six months or more) without some debilitating psychological, social, spiritual and even physical side effects beginning to manifest in some people. In a situation where one is afraid, the urge to remove the source of fear somehow can become nearly overwhelming.

How do you remove fear of illness? With the flu, the insistence is not on proper rest or diet or hygiene or anything else – it’s almost exclusively on getting the flu shot. It’s not that these other things aren’t recommended, it’s just that you never hear about them. The only thing that appears in the news and media is the importance of getting the flu shot, despite the fact the flu vaccine at best has effectiveness rates of 60% and regularly (four times between 2014 and 2019) still clocks in at less than 40% effectiveness. Still, the answer to easing fears about the flu is to get vaccinated.

Likewise, much emphasis has been placed on a vaccine as the answer to our Coronavirus fears. Certainly, government mandated social distancing and mask wearing is also emphasized, but particularly in the last month or two, the emphasis increasingly turns to vaccines and when they might be available. Part of this is due to the fact that like it or not, most people are resigned to the reality of masks and social distancing. There are mandated signs and other repeated emphases locally to reinforce these measures (though they are, at best, questionable as to the degree of their effectiveness).

So media decides to focus on the vaccine. As a political football (of course), and as the source to the end of our COVID-19 fears. Despite the fact there are nagging suspicions that immunity is short-lived (I’ve seen allegations of someone getting reinfected just a month after recovering from COVID-19. Other reports question anti-body likelihood after 12 months).

Vaccinations are the answer to our health fears. Health fears stoked in large part by incessant and uncontextualized media reporting. Big numbers provided in isolation from other numbers that might give them different meaning. Big numbers intended to create fear, and fear intended to be dealt with by recommended (and eventually, I’m sure, mandated) measures such as vaccinations.

Watch the language, folks. And watch what it does to you. I’m not saying there isn’t anything to be worried about. But what I am saying is the change in the way language is being used this year should be an equal source not just of curiosity but of concern and intrigue to you as well. Stay informed, but recognize that simply watching or reading the news is not enough to accomplish this.

Fear of Self and Others

September 18, 2020

Here’s an article that starts off interesting and wanders basically into a defense of wearing face masks during COVID-19. The initial part of the article is interesting, documenting scientific evidence of what common sense and cultural shifts should make clear to most anybody – human beings are communal creatures and as our contact with others (known or unknown) decreases, our well-being decreases.

Obviously COVID-19 has been a huge source of social isolation. Physical distancing might be helpful in reducing the transmission of the Coronavirus, but it’s definitely harmful in fostering a climate of fear, where anyone who gets to close or – God forbid! – sneezes or brushes against us leaves us feeling violated and endangered. The self-righteous pride some people take in shaming others they think are too close is chilling.

Masks also lead to isolation. Difficulty in reading facial expressions complicates even mundane and traditional interactions. Add to that the added difficulty of being heard and hearing others clearly through masks and another barrier to interaction arises. And for many places who rely not only on masks for both sides of the transaction but also those thin sheets of plastic between everyone? It’s barely possible to communicate a food order or a service request, let alone engage in a conversation.

Those most at risk of complications from COVID-19 are further isolated as assisted living facilities and senior care facilities exclude any access between residents and family members.

And even family members treat one another with distrust and fear these days, demanding COVID testing and other measures just to allow for a family visit. Certainly this is a time of extreme and unhealthy isolation. I won’t bother here whether or not such measures are necessary or useful for reducing transmission of the Coronavirus to some people – let’s assume they are. But let’s also admit and acknowledge they are most definitely detrimental to the psychological and emotional well-being of literally everyone.

But this is only the latest stage in an increasing isolation mentality in American culture. Studies long before COVID-19 indicated Americans were lonelier and reported feeling more isolated, despite a plethora a technological apps and programs that should enable us to be better and more frequently connected with all manner of family and friends. As our ability to connect with others has risen, there has been a corresponding decrease in the desire to do so.

The idea of stranger danger that arose in the 80’s has dominated our social awareness and perception of one another. As reporting news from distant locations became easier and cheaper, we perceived a rise in the number of child abductions. The fact that we were hearing about more of them in more locations contributed to this perception, even though statistical data eventually demonstrated there was no increase in the number of abductions (or rather child abductions were decreasing as a whole). Further data also demonstrated that contrary to the stranger danger mantra, which taught (and teaches still) children to be fearful and wary of anyone they don’t know, the vast majority of child abductions were not perpetrated by perverted ice cream truck drivers or other malevolent strangers but rather by trusted family members and friends of family – people the abducted child already knew.

But despite the data, the perception of strangers as a danger persists. We distrust others. We worry excessively about our children in a dangerous world where biking the street or walking to the store are now seen as worrisome activities. My generation wasn’t parented that way, and yet I suffer with a certain degree of anxiety about my children’s safety, despite knowing they need age-appropriate independence to stretch their wings and prepare them for lives as healthy adults.

This also causes ourselves to see ourselves through fearful eyes. We hesitate to reach out to strangers, fearful we will be perceived as a potential threat or danger, because that’s how we would view others – at least momentarily. The fear of being perceived or even called out as inappropriate or pervy or disconcerting pushes us back into our shells, keeps us a safe distance (whatever that means) from others and from life-changing interactions with people – just because we haven’t met them yet.

This is not accidental. As I’ve mentioned before, watching of The Twilight Zone series (or probably any mid-century television series) provides amazing glimpse of an American culture where the stranger was welcomed and indulged to an extent I find incredulous – even when that stranger exhibited odd behavior. No, our fear of others and our fear of ourselves in turn has been cultivated. And while the original intentions might have been good, there is considerably greater harm being done now than mere isolationism.

That fear of the other and the unknown is now be exploited for political ends. We are pitted us against them. We’re no longer Americans but rather ideological marionettes expected to leap and dance in anger and indignation at whatever strings are next tugged. We are expected to view anyone who doesn’t hold with our party not as another thoughtful citizen who might have some good reasons for their perspective, but as a threat and a danger to our way of life or to the well-being of a vague set of marginalized persons. And while good argument can be made we have always tended to do this in American politics (hence our two-party system, despite explicit warnings against such an arrangement by some of our Founding Fathers), the situation has reached a new level of vitriol because of our social isolation from one another and our inability and unwillingness to engage with someone we don’t know and who might disagree with us. Social media has only reinforced this echo chamber effect, further discouraging us from interacting not only with strangers, but with people we know, simply because they don’t agree with us.

We’re designed as social creatures, not simply evolved that way out of some sort of obscure, genetically-driven guide towards greater personal success. To deny both our need for connection to one another as well as our need for connection to the divine is to damage ourselves and by extension those around us. Extreme measures may be necessary for a time to protect against health emergencies and other threats, but the there’s a deeper level of isolation and estrangement that has been at work a lot longer than 2020. Rethinking our relation to the stranger is a good place to start in backtracking to a point that we can talk to not just strangers but people we know full well don’t agree with our parenting styles or our political choices or our belief (or lack thereof) in a higher power.

Yes,the Press Is Biased

September 16, 2020

Great article linking to another great article about woefully inadequate press coverage of anti-Christian vandalism and other kinds of attacks – here in the United States (obviously there’s little interest at home in the press for anti-Christian activities elsewhere – we’ve known that for a long time).