My wife and I were driving over a bridge in Florida, and we noticed a big, white, fancy, boat, which had two large flags flying from its rear-end. Though the flag’s colors were familiar, my increasingly geezerish eyes were struggling a little to read the words. Then the flags smoothed out a little, and there it was: “F_ _ k Biden.”
I was remembering how, back in March, David Hoekema had written, in this space, a cool piece called “Talking with Flags.” This boat’s flag was talking, alright – at another level, I thought. Later in the day, we saw the boat again, sailing the shoreline. . . just cruisin’ the beach with its double-barreled flags. There was a day when guys would use boats to parade their women. Oh, for simpler times….
That flag touched the core of what troubles my soul most from the toxic root of Trumpism: The naked, arrogant aggression of it.
Later that same week, we were in town, and found ourselves walking past this massive white pickup truck. The whole monstrosity of it was jacked up on huge, knobby tires. On its back window, it had a decal of a military-style rifle. On its windshield, there was a decal that said, “American Force.” To enhance the message, the vehicle’s lug nuts were pointed, like spikes.
The truth is, I have no direct proof that the Boat-Flag guy is from the same camp as Spike-Truck Guy. I admit to a judgment that it’s likely.
Either way, there it was again: That sense of raw, entitled, aggression. Is that America’s message? And to what degree does The Church attach itself to those kinds of messages, and to that attitude? Surveys tell the tragic truth: The Church, to large degree, either zealously champions that messaging or sits on its hands with a prim smile and acquiesces to it.
How do we counteract this tragic toxin? Lately, I am leaning on prayer. Specifically: peace-prayer. Prayers for my self-perceived enemies. Moment-by-moment peace-breathing. I do this because just getting angry a hundred times a day and countering the cursing flags with cursings of my own has not been working very well for my soul. And anyway, it isn’t what Jesus prescribed in his Sermon on the Mount.
Now, this sounds self-righteously pious, doesn’t it? Yes, a little. And, yes, I do have a very active and quantitative prayer-life. It just wasn’t “cutting it” in the real world, however. I needed a way to stir a wave, like a butterfly-effect, of Christ’s peace. I needed this moment-by-moment.
These days I’ll be driving and see a house bedecked with flags, and I’ll just quietly raise the palm of my hand and ask God’s blessing on that person. I ask for peace (and maybe some transformation) to come to that house.
This isn’t just for political stuff, either. Case in point: I was waiting at a red light the other day, and two Harley Dudes came up behind this little blue car, the driver of which must have done something wrong, because one of the Harley guys starting revving his engine, and releasing the clutch just a little, so that his bike made quick, hot lurches, forcing itself ever closer to the bumper of the car. Then the Harley guy leaned and put his left hand into the sight line of the blue car’s side view mirror, and raised his middle finger. He kept jabbing that fist and its finger forward, as if he were trying to materially transmit the message of it, in waves, toward the driver of the car.
I quietly raised my hand, took a breath in, and then breathed other-worldly waves against that aggression. When I do this, I view myself as praying for Jesus to take the heat out of a situation.
The world is on fire with such heat and aggression, with people’s hearts and minds lit by hell itself. We are in a fever of anger, fear, pride, and belligerence. People’s minds and hearts are fragile and easily misled by wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Phillip Keller, in that loveliest of little books, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, reflects on the phrase, “He anoints my head with oil.” A shepherd applies the oil for two reasons. For one thing, often sheep are afflicted by flies which lay eggs in the sheep’s nose. The larvae crawl up into the nasal passages, making the sheep crazy with pain and confusion — they can be seen beating their own heads against rocks or trees. Sometimes they go blind. When I breathe out peace-prayers, I have this wildly idealistic thought that I am praying against The Crazy and The Blindness of hell, which has infected people’s minds (including mine).
A shepherd applies oil, secondly, so that when sheep are fighting and trying to ram each other, their heads are too slippery to make direct contact. Keller wrote that it was sometimes kind of fun to watch the sheep run at each other and then “glance off each other in such a ludicrous way they stood there feeling rather stupid” (p. 122).
Sometimes, when I peace-breathe, I have this idea that maybe God will make us glance off each other, and that this fever will pass, and that we’ll all look at each as if waking from a nightmare and wonder what we were doing, anyway.
Keller wrote that book 51 years ago. See if this sounds prescient: “Our thoughts, our ideas, our emotions, our choices, our impulses, drives and desires are all shaped by exposure to other people’s minds. In our modern era of mass communication, the danger of ‘mass mind’ grows increasingly grave” (p. 120).
When I peace-breathe moment-by-moment through a day, I feel like Jesus breaks the poisonous coil of “group mind” and gives me more of his own mind, his own sanity, just one little bit at a time.
Then I think about multitudes of peacemakers, holding out hands of blessing and breathing out prayers for Christ’s peace into the world and upon us all. Little waves of peace, moment by moment, against the onslaught of flags, fingers, fires, and cursings of this earth.