Church

Magic

I flip through the pages of the New York Review of Books regularly and order titles that look promising from my local bookstore. Last week one arrived, a biography of Irish poet Seamus Heaney. It’s lovely, and reading it is taking me back in time.

I have a water-damaged paperback of selected Heaney poems on my office bookshelf. There’s an inscription on the back of the cover and a letter tucked in the middle. The letter and the water damage are related. It’s a whole story.

The magic of a book is its ability to summon other books that cast a spell over you in some earlier time. You may have forgotten about that spell, but any new book will recall it.

See? Magic.

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Church

Confirmation ExZoom

Yesterday our church Session examined a slate of Confirmation youth over Zoom, and now we all have another thing in our ministry repertoire. It felt so daunting back in April, when the exam would have normally occurred, so we punted. But we’re months yet from being back in-person for things like this, so now was the time. And it worked.

The same things we’ve found critical to ministry in this milieu came through here: a dedicated technician to arrange breakouts so that the person moderating isn’t juggling multiple tasks at once, printed materials sent out well in advance, and clear prompts for feedback. Those things are all in our control and make a world of difference.

But the more meaningful factors are the best ones—the people. Elders who are curious about the church’s young people and eager to hear their stories. Youth who are earnest and open-hearted. Time and space for the Spirit to bob and weave among them. That’s the secret sauce. It always has been. It’s no less secret for being online.

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Church

Lies

I think I’ve sent my last fact checking article. I’ve gotten so used to investigating suspicious links on Snopes and sending rebuttals, to copying and pasting Politifact URLs into messages, that I have failed to notice the utter uselessness of those activities. I keep sending them to the same people.

The facetious promise of fact checking is that liars will be held to account and forced, by a truth-demanding public, to reign in exaggerations and to tighten up misleading claims. And that seems to work often enough. But the bald-faced lie, the pants-on-fire falsehood, actually seems impervious to fact checking in a way that spin is not. And I don’t know what to do with that.

Our discourse if now filled with claims and official statements that nobody defends as true. The inauguration crowd was not the largest ever. “Under God” was not omitted from the Pledge of Allegiance. The map was clearly altered with a Sharpie, for heaven’s sake. Exposing the falsehood of these assertions is easy, and it is useless.

Lies like these are a weapon against which fact checking is defenseless. Because they are not actually attempts to establish an actual state of affairs or even to spin a narrative. They are assertions of power. The ability to contradict reality in broad daylight and to be lauded for it is a fearsome ability. It means that people fear to contradict you. Lies and fear go hand-in-hand.

What’s the alternative to fact checking? Building honest power honestly. When we use our influence to advance transparency and integrity, we strike a greater blow against falsehood than a lifetime of fact checking.

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Church

Credulity

Credulity: noun. readiness or willingness to believe especially on slight or uncertain evidence.

Cell phone videos on Twitter are “slight or uncertain evidence,” whether they feature apparent violence perpetrated by uniformed officers or depictions of crowds tangling with police. Things are really happening, and those things can be known adequately, if not fully, enough to form responsible opinions and advocate for effective responses. But the first video clip you see calls upon your credulity, and you should be honest about what you are doing when you opine about it without further substantiation.

Credulity is an act of will. We believe what we want to be true.

“There’s a lot we don’t know” is as true of the actions of demonstrators in Kenosha as it is of the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police. When you grant credulity to 15 second video clips of “mobs” and “riots” but not to footage of a black man’s murder, you are making a choice. Of course, the opposite is also true.

We employ credulity in service of conviction. It is worth asking, then, if the convictions driving our deployment of credulity are about the value of human life and a revulsion at violence against an unarmed civilian, or whether those convictions are about “order” and the sanctity of property.

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Church

Bags

For as long as weather will permit, the dog gets a little walk around the block first thing every day. I crawl out of bed, slide on my Rainbows, and grab the leash before opening the front door for him to bolt out. We live on the second floor, so he runs ahead of me down the stairs to the exit to the street. That’s where the leash goes on.

I probably won’t be doing this once it requires socks. Definitely not once a coat is required. Or gloves, or a hat. We bought him a Puppy Apartment and we keep it well supplied with pads. But it’s beautiful every morning now, so what’s the trouble really?

The trouble is the dog messes with me, and it’s making us broke. His leash holds a spool of poop bags, and ever since this morning walk routine started I’ve been using 2-3 of them every time out. I’ve reordered boxes of them twice since June!

He’s trolling me. We’ll walk about 50 yards from the front door down the sidewalk where he’ll crouch and do what he’s here to do. Dutifully, I will pick it up with one of the bright green bags and we will move along back toward our building. But invariably, within a couple of minutes–bam!–he’s crouching again and I’m un-spooling a second bag. It has been known to happen a third time.

Today I took him the other way around the block, where there are patches of grass on which he can linger. If he’s going to double up, at least I can wait before picking up the first one so I only have to use one bag. I waited. And waited. After about three minutes I concluded that today must be a one-off and I made the pickup and tied off the bag. Wouldn’t you know that less than a minute later, right on the front doorstep, he made me use a second bag?

I’m being trolled by a toy poodle.

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Church

Conventions

Let me suggest that if you’re looking to make a good faith effort at hearing your opponents out and assuming the best about them, skip their convention (and pray they skip yours). Skip all the fact checking articles the next morning, too.

Conventions aren’t for the opponents and they don’t run on factual precision.

Don’t let the offensive convention bombast deter you from actually listening to the people who love it when given the chance.

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Church

Platform

I spoke with someone yesterday about the November election when I knew that person and I are not going to vote for any of the same candidates for literally any office. I’m trying hard to listen and understand more than simply fulminate, and this conversation was a useful come-down after four nights of one-way DNC messaging that I found satisfactory, at times even compelling.

Speaking of the DNC, my friend quipped: “I’ve read the platform. I can’t vote for that.” Now, I’ve not read the platform. I don’t think she really has read it either. I expect she’s read missives about it on her preferred media outlets. But I checked it out, and it’s hardly notable, at least not to anyone who has a basic understanding of the broad priorities of our country’s two main political parties. And yet, it is, for my friend, this cycle’s disqualifying evidence. (I’ve since learned that the party she’s committed to support won’t be writing a platform at all at their convention. Will that cause my friend a problem?)

I’m really torn right now between my desire to listen to and understand the convictions of my ideological opponents and a gut-churning discomfort with that the fact of who they’re supporting. That is mostly because in conversations with some of these opponents in my formative years, character mattered more than anything on a ballot. That shifted four years ago–and largely hasn’t moved–to “the platform,” though hardly anything changed about the platform to make it any more loathsome to them than it would have already been, presumably.

Watching that change in them with my own eyes has filled me with anger and sadness. It also makes me a little bit afraid. Because, if their convictions about character turned out to be so thin, then how confident should I be in my own convictions–about character, but also about fairness and justice and equity and how we prioritize all that stuff?

Maybe a benefit of listening to understand is that it goads us into taking stock of what we’re telling everyone we believe and what we value. Because those things will be tested, almost certainly before we’re ready.

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Church

Call

I woke up sneezing and sniffling this morning, took my daily allergy tablet with two cups of black coffee and read the news. Grog city. Not getting anything done. Blame the allergies and blame the news.

Then I made a few phone calls, just check-in jobs with students who graduated high school last spring and are starting their college careers. And click! Engaged, ready to get stuff done.

Don’t underestimate the power of a hopeful human voice over the phone (or, in my case, over wifi on the Google Voice extension for Chrome). This is my advice for when you’re feeling stuck and in a fog: call someone.

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Church

Home

I heard from a childhood friend that my house was a safe haven for him when we were kids and I didn’t even know it. That my house was a safe haven for anyone during those years is surprising to hear, since my older brother was always stoking conflict with everyone. And yet there it is.

The experience you have of your home is not the same experience that others have. We know this in the bad way; everything-looks-good-from-the-outside-but-everyone-is-miserable is a trope mined by dozens upon dozens of weeknight drama series and Oscar contenders (see: American Beauty).

But we should also know it in the good way. Maybe when our home is disappointing our expectations for peace and harmony it’s meeting a neighbor’s in a way that is saving their life.

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Church

Attending

Yesterday I was seen by a doctor, a resident (I’m fine), who made a confident diagnosis and prescription, then instructed me to wait for a consult with the attending physician. Decades older than the resident, the attending took 30 seconds to reverse his diagnosis and prescribe something completely different.

I was grateful.

The resident wasn’t wrong, exactly, as far as I could tell from the way his attending explained the alternate diagnosis. The attending recommended a different method, a different philosophy of treatment, a different strategy, based on decades of experience the resident doesn’t have yet. That’s to my benefit.

I would have benefited from an attending when I was new to ministry. I probably still would.

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