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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.

Keith Mannes

Keith Mannes is a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. He has started a Facebook site and an email group called “Peace, Love, Justice – Breathe.”  To learn more, email him at manneskeith@gmail.com

35 Comments

  • John vanStaalduinen says:

    Oh, this ‘tragic toxin’ of our first amendment. I see it waving from the highest points of our churches in downtown Grand Rapids promoting Marxism and other indecency. And thank you for judging the boat owners as Trumpies, never in a million years would the Bidets have remorse for voting stupidity.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thank you, Keith
    I appreciate the peace-breathing idea. There are a few homes covered with Trump flags that I pass every day. It makes me curious. The campaign flag with “Mike Pence” below the ex-Presidents name whited out always seems a bit unintentionally funny. You mention that this phenomenon seems part of the Trump mythos. While that may be the case, I’m confident it didn’t start there. It feels thoroughly American. In my mind, it is the myth of redemptive violence on steroids. We fly fighter jets over big games. We sing an anthem to start these same events about bombs that make us free. It seems to reflect Rome, and I sometimes wonder if the Church’s idea of the cross holds tight to this same myth. Have we missed the whole point of this saving action? Could it be that God defangs the power of Rome with the cross and resurrection?
    I appreciate the peace-breathing because it seems to capture that same defanging energy. I wonder if the Church might re-capture the whole point of the cross by proclaiming the actual power of the passion, as it ridicules Rome’s myth in Jesus taking the violence but never giving it back. It seems that we could use a message like that in our hyper partisan, destroy my enemy world.

  • Tom says:

    There is a very important truth in this essay even if it is put forth with a fair amount of arrogance and sense of superiority. I spent the previous four years intentionally reminding myself (not always successfully, I must admit) to say a peace-prayer in response to all the “F–k Trump” signs, flags, and bumper stickers I saw.

    • Jane Vroon says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sign like that.

      • Marty Wondaal says:

        https://www.etsy.com/market/fuck_trump_sign

        Maybe not too many in the hinterlands of West Michigan, but I assure you in more cosmopolitan areas where wealthy white people live (Oak Park, Evanston, etc) they are plentiful. In the same neighborhoods that have the “Hate has no Home Here” and “Coexist” signs.

      • Tom says:

        not completely sure if that’s a serious question or sarcastic question, but just in case – if you didn’t see any of those, you either live somewhere quite different that I or weren’t paying much attention. Not sure how many examples you’d need (I did not take my own photos). Do a little Googling – I would include some links, but they would include the full word, so I won’t do that to you all.

        Anyway, my point is actually very similar to Scott’s point below. I’m not a Trump guy and, even though I’m conservative, I’d be as offended as Keith by the flags he saw. And, I completely agree with primary point of this essay. I’d just like to point out that when we “ask for peace (and maybe some transformation) to come to that house”, it sounds a lot like the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. “Judge not!” is a pretty strong and consistent admonition throughout Jesus time on earth and methinks we’d be much better off as a church community if we paid more attention to that.

  • James C Dekker says:

    Thank you, Keith Mannes, for this convicts the vengeful spirit in us all, sending us to our knees in self-recognition confession and to intercession the hearts of the angry flag wavers and middle finger jabbers.

  • Rodger R Rice says:

    Thanks for this essay, Keith. I needed to hear your message. I’ll be practicing peace-breathing, thanks to your suggestion, because you’ve convinced me that this is the way Jesus is calling us to.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Thanks, Keith, for this piece. That it has elicited a couple responses so far that themselves nudge me to offer a peace prayer for some brothers in the commentariat here is only the more reason to affirm what you are trying to do and to say. And to those who do not find offense in the areas Keith wrote about but find offense in the alleged Marxism and indecency of the left, I think Keith’s message here is to do the same: breathe out a peace prayer for also those with whom you disagree or find otherwise offensive and see if it helps. See if it maybe even makes you think twice about posting certain comments on a blog trying to suggest something positive.

    • James Louis says:

      Scott, this is a very helpful instruction, thank you. I think all of us have an important pause to ask ourselves and anyone condemning or dismissing the message here to first consider why anyone would be better off with this counter and alternative contribution of shaming or arguing or attacking and discrediting a transcendent love, a skill and wisdom in something or someone we have yet to accept or understand…I don’t gain from commentary from people taking the author’s inventory. I’d rather know who you are or share who I am, as you are far more an expert on the path you have been on.

      If it’s too much to ask for that prayer to be send elsewhere, then please begin with one’s self. It is our breath, after all. We need more people mending and healing—not optional anymore to pass up—and it is perfectly acceptable to know when the self has to be tended to.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Reverend Hoezee,

    I agree. I said a “peace prayer” of sorts for myself last week when you refused to acknowledge that fib of a story in your essay. I also forgave you. That really helps.

    I also said a peace prayer just now because you again referred to people who reply in disagreement to you as the “commentariat.”.
    That just sounds patronizing and haughty, even though I know you score very well on empathy.

    Finally, I’ll say one more peace prayer for refrain on my part. I’d like to explain why there are so many Trump flags on boats, why Toxic Masculinity is much less damaging than weak effeminate men, and how real actual political violence is overwhelmingly the work of the Left. But, according to you, we in the commentariat have no moral ground on which to place our stake. So, I’ll refrain.

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      I did not invent the word “commentariat.” It is a legit word that Webster’s defines as “a powerful group of commentators.” I apply that word to myself and to all of us who post comments on The Twelve or in the NY Times or anywhere else. I do not mean the word negatively whatsoever. We editors regularly refer to this part of “The Twelve” that way. It is neither a haughty nor patronizing term, which is also why I referred to even those who disagree with today’s blog as “brothers.”

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      Marty,
      Are toxic masculinity or weak effeminate men our only choices?
      I hope not.

      • Marty Wondaal says:

        No, of course not. But, in the salons and dining clubs in fly-over country, midwestern, private, Christian colleges it is quite fashionable to focus on the former. My point is the latter has done much more damage to the culture.

        Guys with flags on their Sea Rays or spiked lug nut covers aren’t rioting and burning down Portland and other cities. The biological males who are doing such things don’t exactly act or look like John Wayne or James Dobson.

        Or, in other words, the ideas of Michel Foucault are rather more destructive than any patriarchal oppressor since, say, Mohammed.

    • James Louis says:

      I think you mean “ahem”
      You didn’t refrain. How did you know that the message above was intrinsically addressed to you if it didn’t hit a nerve and you are somehow forgiving and above it?
      I think that’s the point. I took your bait too, does that make either of us any better? What is your constructive contribution? Someone wrote an article with a skill you and I can apply. Someone who has practiced that skill. Are you suggesting that counter arguments in a comments area is a more reliable skill for living a fulfilled and joyful life?

      From reading the room, I don’t think I will be visiting here ever again.

      • Andrea DeWard says:

        Oh I hope you will stick around James Louis. The Twelve has so much good content and thoughtful engagement is valuable. I won’t deny there can be troubling interactions in the comments sometimes but there can also be encouraging enriching dialogue.

  • RLG says:

    Isn’t it strange the passion by which Trump lovers and Biden haters uphold their American ideal? And yet their passion is so offensive to those on the other side of the equation.

    Isn’t it strange the passion by which Christ lovers are supposed to uphold the person of Christ and the Christian ideal? And yet their passion is so offensive to those on the other side of the equation. Where’s the inconsistency?

    • Andrea DeWard says:

      RLG,
      I’m having a hard time deciphering if you’re comparing passion for Trump and passion for Christ as being on the same side, and conversely, those who are offended by each as being similar (offended by Trump = offended by Christ?)
      OR
      if you’re making the point that people put passion for Trump in the place where passion for Christ should be, and therefore someone who IS passionate for Christ will naturally be offended by Trump.
      Can you clarify?

  • Thanks Keith. You affirmed a habit of mine to quietly pray for strangers that I happen to see on the street, especially to those who are apparently powerless: children, beggars, a woman pushing a shopping cart down the street, a mother in the airport looking stressed, a bicyclist on a busy highway, anyone walking out in the open spaces where most of us are driving, etc…. I’ve been doing this automatically but not so much for those sporting obnoxious bumper stickers or flags, so thanks for this reminder. Is this the Proper Role for Followers of Jesus? Not to become political or economic power brokers, but invisible intercessors? Does this engage the powers and principalities, per Ephesians 6, even though unnoticed?

  • Beth Jammal says:

    Thank you Mr. Stravers. We are not called to judge each others politics, but to pray for each other.

  • Keith De Witt says:

    So I suppose none of you ever noticed all the F—k Trump signs leading up to the election? Or did that not bother you?
    Asking for a friend.
    Keith De Witt

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      I will say only that I have never seen such flags or signs with that verbiage for either Trump or Biden. But had I seen one for Trump, I would have been offended by it and had anyone I knew ever shown such a sign, I as a Christian would have chastised them, challenged them, and urgently recommended they take such a sign or flag down. It is not conducive of anything but rage and hate. So yes, that kind of language (not just the foulness of a swear word but the tone) offends me in a bipartisan way because it is very simply un-Christ-like no matter how much a person disagrees with a President or any other public figure. Indeed, I wrote at least a couple blogs here on The Twelve urging people to pray for also President Trump as the Bible calls on us to pray for all leaders. And you could not possibly sincerely pray for someone and also apply such a vile sentiment toward him.

      • Rodney Haveman says:

        Thanks Scott,
        Your comment seems to reflect the best of what this blog post offers–a prayer of peace for anyone in distress or anger or violence. As much as I disagreed with our former President and find much lacking in our current President, I can’t help but feel the repulsion of any sign that uses that language. It seems the epitome of disregard for love of neighbor and love of self.
        Come, Lord Jesus.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thanks, Keith – – I too will be practicing the peace prayer.
    And I’ll look for you on FB.

  • Pam Adams says:

    Thank you Keith. I will try that instead of getting annoyed. Thank you for another way of acting out the gospel.

  • Carissa Buursma says:

    Pastor Keith, thank you for this timely and helpful article. I will be trying to take this approach into my world with me. Even got to practice it just now sitting here at my desk 🙂

  • Brianne says:

    I love the encouragement to respond to the hatred in the world with breath prayers of peace. Thank you!

    I will add though that the “simpler times” you discuss where “there was a day when guys would use boats to parade their women” is not a world I am all that interested in. I like being a co-leader in the church and not something to be paraded.

    Much of the hatred we see in America seems to stem from a group of people who are losing power and their desperate attempts to stop society from transforming.

    But our God is good and the world bends towards justice. On the other side of this hate, more and more of God’s children will a voice and opportunities to thrive in the world and the church.

    That is the world I want to live in, and I join you in prayers for peace as we walk through this season towards greener pastures!

    • Andrea DeWard says:

      I do agree with you Brianne. Though knowing Keith, I suspect he meant it tongue in cheek, as an illustration that some things haven’t really improved all that much and that the sometimes expressed desire to go back to “simpler times” overlooks the problems that those eras had as well. To me I took it as “Gee, remember when this other crappy thing was the norm? Now we’ve got this new crappy thing.”

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for caring so much to discuss these important things. I’ve been checking in from time to time, and have been absorbing everything. So, people did ask things, and I should respond.

    For one thing, no, I have never seen an F-Trump sign, but that doesn’t mean they do not exist. There has been plenty of aggression pouring out of every orifice of humanity, and from “both sides of the aisle,” on signs, flags, and from whatever other thing you can print words on. That is why I am desperate for Peace – more of God’s peace within me, and flowing from me, and more of Jesus’ Peace in the world.

    Also, I can now see why my reference to women on the back of boats left the wrong impression. If I had shared this with my wife before I sent it in, she would have gently helped me correct that! Andrea explained my intention about this, better than I could. It was dark humor about men at their worst – then and now. It was intended to poke a hole in the whole myth of “the good ole’ days.”

    And then I was thinking about how tough it is to find and to live out the kind of Peace Jesus was telling us about. Peace-breathing, so many people have told me, is very difficult, sometimes. Peace is hard work, and is a rare gift.

    Hopefully, God will help us find more of it, and will make it gently rain down upon us.

    Thanks, Keith

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