acid reflux, national politics, Audiofeed…all tied together

Posted: July 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

Recently, I had a health issue arise, pretty suddenly, kind of dramatically, and somewhat severely:  gastric reflux.  I’ll spare you the details, but this was way beyond “heartburn,” with severe chest pain that left me spending way too much time at work clutching my chest and being quietly afraid, unable to function and really do my job right.

I hurried to the doctor after googling “gastric reflux” (when scary amounts of acid repeatedly come up into your mouth, it’s not hard to guess what’s going on) and learning that not dealing with the issue could lead to esophageal cancer.  The doc did some tests to make sure there was nothing else going on and agreed with my own diagnosis.  We have a plan and are working on it.

I wanted to keep it a secret at first, because we who are obese know that quite often when health stuff comes up, even people who like us are most likely thinking something like, “Well, you shouldn’t be so fat, and then you wouldn’t have that problem.”  Not wanting to think about people thinking that about me, my first impulse was to only tell people who needed to know.

Upon further reflection and examination of my family tree, which is extensively populated with sufferers of this malady – and not all are obese – it occurred to me obesity (while a contributor for sure) might not be the whole answer here.  Immediately a book that I love to hate (it’s about spiritual causes of physical maladies) came to mind, and I quickly changed the subject, since I’ve never once opened that book without wanting to throw it across the room, stomp on it, and perhaps burn it (it tells the truth, I just hate it, okay?)

I guess God really wanted us to have the conversation, though, as it came up while I listened in prayer:  a gentle reminder that basically every single day (perhaps without a single exception, I’m not sure) since our current president was elected, I have heard some kind of news about him that has made me viscerally, physically angry – my body has responded sharply.  Not just irritated thoughts or angry theorizing, but an actual I-feel-this-all-the-way-through-my-body anger.  So that’s….what…more than a year and a half of daily physical rage.

Could that kind of stress push a body into something like gastric reflux?  My answer would be:  duh.  Of course it could.

My natural reaction to this news would be, of course, to be mad at the president once again, for making me sick in my body.  But I’m an adult, and we adults don’t get to play the “look what you made me do” game if we are reasonably mature, self-aware, and at least somewhat mentally healthy.  I get a choice about how I respond to a world that is simply not going to change just because I am bothered by it.  My life, my mind, my body, my choice – I can make myself as sick as I want to be, and no one can stop me…but also, no one can make me.

Having said that, the answer of what to change was not immediately obvious to me.  When my pastor said in last week’s message that some of us might be idolizing our identity as “the resistance,” I had two responses at the same time.

One was:  okay, I will ask God if that’s what I’m doing, though I don’t think it is.  I will ask, I will listen, and I will accept and act on what God says about it.

The other was a series of very pointed mental questions:

  1. When early American slavery kicked in, what should the “good people” have done?  Surely SOMEBODY saw that it is evil to separate families, rape women, beat them, buy and sell them.  I don’t care that the culture was different – SOMEONE knew it was wrong.  What was their moral obligation to God in that moment?  How might things have gone differently if the good people had pushed back and not just let it roll?
  2. When early immigrants to the USA took the children of Native Americans away from them and put them in schools to take the “Indian” out of them, alienating them from their culture and separating them from their families, what should the “good people” have done?  Somebody, somebody’s mama, somewhere…they KNEW this was evil, and still it happened.  What did God want them to do?  What might have happened if they had pushed back with all their might?
  3. When Japanese Americans were rounded up and put into internment camps, robbed of their businesses and livelihoods, etc., what should the “good people” have done?  Sure, fear was running the table in that time.  But moral courage is a real thing, and SOMEONE could have had it.  What did God want the “good people” to do, in that passage?  How might our shameful history be different, if people with strong convictions had found their voices and used their power?
  4. Same questions about the Jewish Holocaust in Germany.
  5. Same questions about the Hutu & Tutsi tribes in Rwanda during that genocide.
  6. Same questions, ad infinitum, across every human atrocity in the history of mankind.

I know we’re not “there yet” to the point of starving people to near death, lining them up along trenches, and killing them to be buried in mass graves.  I get that some recoil at comparing what is happening in our country to that.  But…read history.  I read A LOT of history about these things, because when I was a kid my dad told me to learn it well, because someday people would say it never really happened…and he turned out to be right.  I read it, I study it, I hold onto the information.  I look for patterns.  What we’re doing is not at the level right now of what was done to Africans brought here into slavery or what Hitler did to the Jews.  I know.

But none of those events STARTED with the horrors.  They started with reworking the language about certain people, normalizing brutality against specified groups who “deserved it”…getting the “good people” numbed to the evil so that it could go forward.  I have no idea if that is what we’re headed for, but when I compare it to what I study, it frightens me.

I don’t want to be a “good person” who agrees with evil acts against human beings because I was lulled there by language changes and brutality normalization.  I don’t want to answer later for not trying to turn it around.

So….how to balance this?  How to do the right thing in the face of what looks frighteningly familiar to me (and to me, my faith demands that I stand against that which is familiarly evil)…and at the same time strike some “trusting God” balance that helps me not to ruin my own health with daily rage episodes?

I went to Audiofeed Festival this week with those questions tussling within me, and answers seemed far, far beyond my reach or capacity.  What’s the right thing?  What’s the right balance?  I can’t just turn off the news and pretend it’s not happening, as I don’t want to be a “good person” in another history book who let another mass atrocity go by, happy as long as I am not the object of the torture.

Audiofeed, like Cornerstone Festival that came before it, is not just a time to listen to good, non-mainstream Christian music.  It’s not just a time to reconnect with my fellow oddballs who feel like outsiders in the bigger Christian culture.  It’s not just a vacation getaway.  Oh, it’s all those things.  But it’s not JUST those things.  It is a place that refuels me, restores me, and brings me voices of counsel in the seminars and other gatherings that equip me to go back out and do another year of life in a world that is hard to navigate.

This year was no exception.  The current division and almost complete inability for varying sides of the arguments to have any kind of reasonable discourse, to work together for the common good, to think well of each other despite disagreement, to speak respectfully of one another despite different perspectives…this was the stuff of talk after talk, everywhere I turned.

Glenn Kaiser hit on the subject repeatedly, pointing out to us that God disagrees with us every day of our lives about stuff, but still loves us, still blesses us, still works with us.  Could we disagree so graciously?  He pointed to the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum, asking in his usual plain-spoken way, “Which false balance would you like to become an abomination in?  Which fruit of the Spirit am I manifesting ‘in your face’?  Why do we continue to plant flags when this kingdom is gonna fall like all the others before it?”

I could hear these words from Glenn because I’ve watched him live out his faith, serving the “least of these.”  Because I’ve heard him call evil what it is, not being mealy-mouthed to keep all sides happy, but also not looking to fight – just looking for what God requires.

“No matter what part of the body of Christ you are,” he said, “you’ve got ‘bad breath’ theologically, doctrinally, etc.  We only have partial knowledge here on earth.  Contending for the faith doesn’t mean being contentious.”

“Okay,” he urged, “You’ve received grace – how you doin’ with sharin’ it?”  He was unflinching, holding up that mirror.  “What am I imparting, when dealing with others?  Compassion?  Grace?  The love of God?  You can’t earn it!”

“The church,” he said, “thank God, is not God.  Give them, give others, the same grace and mercy that I want for me.”

I don’t exactly know what to do with that, but my first response is that I probably need to spend less time focusing on my rage at what is happening and more time praying with my heart as broken as God’s surely is.  Being mad is easier, and certainly less painful than being brokenhearted.  Brokenheartedness feels like powerlessness, while anger somehow (deceptively) feels like power.  I’m still thinking and praying through how the shift works, but I’ve got the first pieces and I’m working them with all my might.

At an interactive seminar with folks from the “Liturgist” podcast, including band members from Gungor and the hip hop artist called “Propaganda,” the call was to actively see the world from other perspectives, to step back and listen, to let the powerless have power, to vote for change.  Somehow in the mix of that and so much more, I found some practical, more local focus where I can direct my actions for change.

So I guess my plan is:  revamp the prayer and attitude approach on the national level, and revamp the action approach on the local level, and listen hard for whatever else God has in mind.  It’s not an easy plan, but it might be a recipe for both living up to what my morality and faith require, while at the same time not further ruining my own health along the way.

So there’s my self-centered perspective on the topic.  For sure it’s imperfect and quite incomplete.  May something here be helpful to you…and may I return to reread this in a year and be joyfully surprised at what God has done.

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