When I was very young I noticed that the more comically impotent a blustery dictator was in world affairs, the more relentlessly he bullied his own people. I wondered whether the bluster on foreign affairs and the bullying domestically was some weird psychological effort to convince himself of his relevance and importance despite the evidence of his failure and smallness. Something I have been thinking of lately.
As Lent begins, people are focused on upheaval and unrest throughout the world. The conflict in Ukraine has distracted attention away from provocations from North Korea and Iran that would normally be headline news. I don’t know why commentators were so surprised at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Crimean peninsula is Russia’s access point to Sevastopol and their warm water naval port. Without reliable access to it, Russia is crippled as a maritime power. It is not important to Russia: it is vital. So even if conflict is Russia’s fault (and it is) she must hold onto the Crimea. That is an absolute. Only one who has no concept of national interest could think otherwise. But the things that must come will come.
In America, the health care system continues to unravel – and it is far worse than you think – as officials blame and actually sue dying cancer patients for daring to tell their story. A California high school bans the American flag so as not to offend Mexican students. Boston Children’s Hospital conspires with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) to kidnap and torture a young girl because they disagree with Tufts Hospital’s diagnosis of her illness, while getting a court to enforce a gag order on her parents to keep them from telling what was done.. Now that the once lively young girl is in a wheelchair and in deep decline, officials suggest they are willing to give her back. Hey, when you kidnap and torture a child and are caught, you do not just give her back, no harm, no foul. The officials of both the hospital and DCF who perpetrated this outrage need prison sentences – with an immediate order to return the girl to her parents and back into the successful treatment regimen she was receiving at Tufts. The administration seeks to deport a German home-schooling family who came here to escape oppression AND followed all the legal rules…goes all out, in fact…even as it labels anyone who calls for enforcement of immigration law a bigot. The game is obvious: if you are Christian and scrupulously follow all the rules, this government will do everything to punish you. If you are flout every rule and law, demand that the American flag be banned, demand that benefits be denied military families so that you can get yours, but can be counted on to vote for leftists, you’re good to go. In Arizona, the language of tolerance is used to enact new Jim Crow laws, forcing Christians to actively participate in celebrating homosexual unions or be fined, go to jail or lose their business. Yes, the world has gone mad. But the things that must come will come.
The world economic system is at the verge of collapse even as the markets, inebriated by vast amounts of newly printed money, party like there is no tomorrow. Party on, but tomorrow is almost here. The social fabric is being shredded; people who merely want to be left alone under unrelenting assault from those who insist on politicizing everything. Alas, one of satan’s most successful gambits of the last few decades has been to persuade otherwise good people that weighty spiritual matters are merely political. In every corner of the globe, violent tensions rise. The very air crackles with dark foreboding. Your chest tightens in anticipation of the concussion to come. The things that must come will come.
Meantime, an air of unreality is the constant companion of the spectre of disaster haunting these times. Financiers and investors go about their business of churning out the illusion of profit, even as termites hollow out the foundation of the money supply. Politicians go about the business of making solemn pronouncements and jockeying for position like passengers of the Titanic scrambling for the best seats on deck from which to watch the sinking. The chattering classes relentlessly tell us the NSA is our friend, Christians and conservatives ought to be targeted by the IRS and that discrimination is tolerance and tolerance discrimination. Some pursue these inanities in relentless denial of the doom even they can smell weighing down on us. Others do it because they don’t really know what else to do.
It is a great secular conflagration and spiritual awakening that is upon us. But even the faithful are deceived. Erudite churchmen and theologians confine Christ to the box of their intellectual musings, thinking they have got it. Charismatics and fundamentalists chase restlessly after the latest apparition or new decoder ring to translate the Bible and know God’s secret plan, thinking they have got it. People who rarely crack a Bible open except to look at the 20 or 30 passages they know by heart look with contempt on anything that challenges their conception – even if it is directly from the Scripture they claim to follow. A lot of folks who, like Job’s pious companions, think they are God’s best friends, search eagerly for splinters to remove from other Christian’s eyes. Many will get the same surprise Job’s companions did when God lifts the veil.
I have written here about the sometimes radical shock I had when I walked across the country on my pilgrimage. When you give up everything, the simplest things become a chore, a hardship and an adventure. I met a few people who tried something similar, but gave it up because the hardships and uncertainty were too much. I met one who persisted.
For this Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or meat or whatever, try this: if you get your security from your money and possessions, imagine what you would do if all were gone. Don’t just shudder and dismiss it. Think deeply on it. If it is your power and position, think about the same thing. If you are theologically erudite, spend some time with charismatics or fundamentalists – not to turn up your nose; but to see the real virtues they have that you are missing. If you are charismatic or fundamentalist, set aside the prophecy and apparitions and read some hard theology or church history, to see the foundation they offer. What I am suggesting is that you give up what gives you security and look at things from a different perspective. If it is religion, go in not to prove it wrong, but to see if for what it is instead of the caricature we usually make of those things we don’t personally subscribe to.
If you deny yourself now, it will be great preparation for those things that must come. Beat the rush.