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by Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

It’s January.

It’s been so cold the climate-change-deniers have trotted out their usual “How can there be global warming when its -10° F?” Cue the snarky memes pointing out the difference between local experience and global trends.

It’s warmer now. Still, salty residue covers everything. Oh, and the United States government shut down briefly, too.

I continue to puzzle over how to be a person, a pastor, a Christian in these times, with this president.

I hear so many slogans encouraging people to speak out, to stand up, to resist, to fight. I’m never sure what do with them. Posting something on Facebook, where probably ninety percent of my “friends” would agree with me, doesn’t seem especially fruitful or courageous.

Somehow, for me, this New Yorker cartoon best captures the recent months. Better still, it makes me smile.

Is my reluctance to say too much simply evidence of my privilege? I fly above the turbulence. I can afford to ignore or grow accustomed to the mayhem in Washington. I may sigh and roll my eyes, but I am safe from real consequences. Instead, I ought to be brash and fearless and prophetic. Perhaps. But then I think indignation, climbing up on a soapbox and shaking my fist at “the man” is actually the ultimately privileged response, the male reaction. Proud of my principles. Noble and unbending. The individualist. The hero. The cowboy. Better, I think, to build connections and quietly attend to the soul.

Apparently anger is the appropriate response in the current circumstances. Yet it seems to me that our society is awash in anger. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News may give distorted news, but their greater damage is the rage they pour into people’s souls—continuously.

Here’s the thing with anger and me. It might not be apparent on my placid surface, but low-grade anger, quiet rage, is pretty much the fuel on which I run. My happy place is acknowledging my anger, not quashing it, not trying to douse it. I am a cheery, little reactor, humming along on my own endless supply of uranium. The world will not be better served if I go all Chernobyl. Comparing myself to a huge, green superhero is probably a reach. But these days I can feel like Dr. Bruce Banner, trying not to lose my cool and turn into the Hulk.

Maybe a few biblical prophets could pull off righteous indignation. Even they get tiresome. But very, very few of us are able to wear righteous indignation well. It comes across as haughty and shrill. I hear a lot of it today, often from my friends. I try to avoid it, not always successfully.

The Presidents of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary recently did some nice work on a joint statement after Trump’s  “disparaging” (aka sh**hole) comments. What jumped out at me was the line “This response is in no way political. It is in every way biblical.” Several people have pointed out—rightly, I believe—that “partisan” might have been a better choice than the word “political.” Almost everything is political. Certainly the Good News of Jesus Christ is. It need not be partisan.

Belhar Confession

I don’t mind speaking about the biblical concern for the alien, the foreigner, the outcast, the poor, the orphan, even if it sounds political. That is my job. It is simply being pastoral. But is that too abstract, too comfortably distant from the battles raging on the frontline? What I don’t want to do is to be drawn into every comment and every crisis. That feels partisan. Should I speak out about Russian collusion or about the Dreamers? Is paying hush money to a porn star what should draw a public reply, or is it the sh**hole comment? I just don’t want to go there.

I am not trying to hide in some cozy neutrality. Early on, we were all encouraged to have wider conversations with new partners, people very unlike us. Right now, I don’t think I have the internal resources for that. So I am not saying or praying that “We might all come together and be united as Americans.” That is more stifling than uniting. There is, after all, a time to cast away stones, as well as other times to gather stones together. There is a time to rend and also a time to sew. Maybe somewhere right now there is a holy sect called to gather and to sew. And someday they may teach the rest of us how. If so, bless them. For the time being, casting away and rending is the calling for most of us.

Take good care of yourself is also advice we hear a lot today. It is wise, even if conscientious Calvinists are concerned it is cover for narcissistic nest-feathering.

So here’s the thing that has been best for me in recent weeks, truly tonic for my soul. I don’t know how it came to my attention, probably from one of you. Thank you! I’m not usually a big vocal choir fan, but this is from Dordt College, no less. I’ve watched it many times. More than that, I hum it at work and sing it when I’m alone in the car. It hasn’t changed anything in Washington so far. It has, I believe, changed me.

Let us not become weary of doing good.
The time will come when we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.
So then, as we have opportunities, let us do good to everyone,
and especially to those of the household of faith.
Galatians 6:9-10

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the Reformed Journal's previous iteration, Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

13 Comments

  • Marilyn Paarlberg says:

    Steve, thank you for this. The weariness is real, and in random moments, so is the balm. My go-to choral sustenance lately is a St. Olaf Cantorei Choir rendition of Edward Tyler’s setting of Saint Teresa’s bookmark. “Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing affright thee. All things are passing….Alone, God sufficeth.” Rather than avoidance, it recenters me for the next leg of the march.

  • Jim Payton says:

    Thank you — something I needed, just at the right time. As for all the political turmoil, Kyrie eleison.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    A thoughtful and honest assessment of exactly how so many of us are thinking in these tumultuous times. Thank you for using the universal language of music to calm my oft angry, weary, helpless feeling soul.

  • Kathy Davelaar says:

    Really wonderful, Steve.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I found this very moving. Tonic. I needed this. I am weary. Stressed. Not sleeping well. Burdened. Needs of the church, needs of congregants, my own aging body, the toxic national atmosphere, I needed this.

  • Kathy Jonkman says:

    I shared this song with 2 people in the last 24 hours and was grateful that you shared it with a much broader audience in your post. It’s a beautiful song with a message we all need to hear over and over again.

  • Jan says:

    Thank you for sharing how you feel, a reflection of how so many of us feel.. And especially for sharing this music. It’s good!

  • Ann Carda says:

    Thank you for communication so effectively what I’ve been feeling for so long. And what a lovely, lovely song.

  • Jan Koopman says:

    Thanks…I really needed this today

  • Debra K Rienstra says:

    Thank you, Steve. You are a true pastor. I often wonder how this moment in national history is forming the young people of this country. I want to pray with this image of a huge chorus of young people, singing songs of hope and Spirit-filled defiance against all the powers of evil. May that longed-for harvest come quickly and endure.

  • George E says:

    “Here’s the thing with anger and me. It might not be apparent on my placid surface, but low-grade anger, quiet rage, is pretty much the fuel on which I run. ” Don’t worry, Steve, it’s very apparent!

  • Kathy Jo Blaske says:

    Good words. Wise words. Thank you.
    Kathy Jo

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