America’s Panic Attack Over Trump and 8 Ways To Love Our Neighbor

I try to keep Average Us focused on the intersection of Christian faith and emotional health becuase I’m a Christian with a wife and children who suffer with various degrees of emotional health challenges. Some labels you know: anxiety, depression, panic disorder, bi-polar; some you may not: dysautonomia, cyclothymia.

We live, we trust, we pray, we manage. Dawn and I share morning and bedtime prayer and Scripture meditation as a life routine. This is a good habit of Christian spiritual life, but we also rely on it as part of a mindful, faith-filled defence against the unpredictable challenges Dawn’s brain chemistry can present. I remain constantly wary for the signs which indicate my support is needed in some way or other.

Because of this, I can’t help but be alert to the emotional trends I observe in myself, in others, and in our culture broadly. And I’m saddened by what I see in America right now.

Let’s just say it: America is having a political and cultural panic attack. This should be obvious to you regardless of who you voted for. (Full disclosure: I voted for a write-in candidate). I cannot remember a time when more anxious attention was given to what the President would do, or say, or tweet next. The mood seems to be in turns anxious, fearful, depressed, angry, disgusted, or hateful. In these moods, critical thinking, nuanced commentary, and guarded response frequently get kicked to the curb. Divisions widen. Resentments deepen.

America is having a political and cultural panic attack.

But please don’t think that because I compared America’s current mood swing to a panic attack that I think all of this anxiety has no rational basis. It certainly does.

As a suburban, Christian, white male with a white collar job I must honestly recognize the privilege that circumstance has laid at my door. I must recognize that Trump’s Presidency is unlikely to do me much harm (or much good). But, many others may reasonably fear this won’t be their experience.

So, I would ask you who supported Trump’s candidacy to join me in an exercise of empathy for a moment. What might it feel like to be female with a Trump presidency? Or black? Or Hispanic? Or poor? An immigrant? A Lesbian? A Muslim? A native American? A Spanish speaker? So far, Trump has demonstrated in both personal and political forms that he is a threat to these groups. This is not to mention Trump’s affect on political allies, foreign and domestic, as well as trade partners. His supporters championed him as an agent of change, but what we have from him so far is chiefly unpredictability. Unpredictability breeds anxiety. He seems to delight in keeping everyone off balance, on their back foot. Even his closest counselors must race to manage the chaos he leaves in his wake. The only thing predictable about his presidency so far is that he is behaving like a man who is used to, and loves, to wield power. I might add that Americans have traditionally prefered presidents who gave at least the impression that power was a burden, not a delight.

Unpredictability breeds anxiety.

If we can succeed at empathy at all–what people call emotional intelligence these days–we must factor this into how we speak about the role of government, taxes, the wealth gap, climate change, immigration policy, abortion, health care, gay marriage, the justice system, the war on terror, and America’s place in the world. Whether you are anxious, or ambivelant, or animated about Trump’s presidency, empathy for people who feel threatened must color how we speak to, and speak of, those who don’t share our political convictions.

Here are a few simple ways we can all demonstrate empathy (closely related to the Christian virtues of justice and mercy) for others in these anxious times. These practices won’t ensure that your point of view wins the day, but they will go a long way to toward earning you the respect of an honest hearing.

1. Don’t sloganize.

Slogans rarely tell the whole truth. They often over-simplify and misrepresent an issue while mistreating the opposition. Slogans can demonstrate a lack of respect for the intelligence of others, and invite others to diminish you to the level of an opposing slogan.

2. Don’t demonize.

The other side isn’t the incarnation of evil. Or, at least, let us have the humility to admit that the other guy isn’t any more evil and self-interested than me. Demonizing is the meat-and-potatoes of much political media commentary. So, be selective about who you lend your ears to. Your brain deserves multiple sources with different perspectives.

3. Don’t call names.

Conservatives and liberals brand each other with the same labels: hypocrite, idiot, moron. But, it’s a commonly understood social dynamic that those who use such words fail to prove their point, and only make the audience think of the speaker in a dimmer light. So, let’s be smarter than that.

4. Don’t make assumptions.

We almost never clearly understand the motivations and biases and activities of the other guy. When we assume and pigeon-hole the other guy, we only come off sounding self-righteous, judgmental, and smarter-than-thou. This runs the risk of transforming a valid, intelligent point into a patronizing put-down.

5. Don’t burn a straw man.

It’s all to easy to misconstrue what the other wants or believes or is motivated by, and then attack the belief or motivation no one holds. Be sure to study what you don’t agree with enough to understand what you are arguing against. Let us try to be rationale about our views and the views of others. Answer point with counterpoint.

Be sure to study what you don’t agree with enough to understand what you are arguing against.

6. Do defend the vulnerable.

The Bible is full of references to the ethical duty of the powerful to defend the cause of the fatherless, the widow, the poor, and the alien. (See Jeremiah 5:27-28 for example). We are warned repeatedly in the Bible that all we have is gift. It is not our due, not merely the result of our personal industry. So those who are in a more vulnerable position than us always deserve our support and defense, regardless of who they are. We can “pay it forward” by giving, serving, mentoring, feeding, sponsoring, and healing. We can defend by making our voices heard: Write. Speak. Raise money. March. By all means, let each do all we can.

7. Do love your neighbor.

You know Christ’s golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You don’t need to be a Christian to obey this; every religion on earth shares some form of this ethic. You’ve been taught it in various forms since your youth. So, it should be easy, right? But it’s not. It takes a thick skin because you’ve been wronged repeatedly. It’s takes humility because you can’t understand how those “idiots” can believe that crap. It takes courage because it makes you vulnerable to attack.

In fact, it’s the hardest thing you can do, because it takes actual, genuine love, even love for those you consider your enemy. Can you do that? Would you do that? Only someone who has received an undeserved and unconditional love would ever do that. And we all have.

8. Don’t mix politics and religion.

Finally, I offer this advice to Christians: Whatever good or harm President Trump achieves must not be cast as a “Christian” achievement in any way. The American Church of the 80s and 90s allowed itself to become too closely identified with the politics of the day, and in the process we distorted the message and mission of Christ to an entire generation. In my experience, I have found that more people reject the Christianity we have protrayed than the real Christ we worship.

If you claim Christ, please address our present anxiety in light of this succinct Christian worldview:

Christ is King and by His cross is redeeming a people for Himself out of every nation. He also governs the rise and fall of all nations–including the United States–and will hold every nation to account. The government will be upon His shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6).

So, there is no Christian nation; there is only the Christian Church redeemed out of every nation. The King demands allegiance to Him above our nationalism and politicals, and offers a hope beyond the rise and fall of political fortune to all who will trust in Him.

Christ is King and is redeeming a people for Himself out of every nation.

I hope you were helped by this article. It was written to share one Christian man’s perspective on our national mood. I harbor no illusion that it will solve much in our world. But, I hope it will help you, reader. And, I hope I may live up to it.

If you want to leave a comment about the views expressed here please do. However, any defense of, or attack on, any political view or political figure will be deleted.

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Learning to Pray My Fears (and Phobias)

Living with fear is something that everyone who lives in the world must do; but praying our fears is the privelege of God’s people. All through the Bible, you will find the prayers of people dealing with fear: Moses, Elijah, David, even Jesus.

Especially Jesus. 

His prayer in Gethsemane before the crucifixion is the prime example of how faith prays while in deep fear.

I soon found it was the only way I could pray about my fears, too.

MY FEARS AND PHOBIAS

In two of my most recent posts I was trying to start dealing with, and praying, my fear of back surgery. I have always had a phobia about being cut, sliced or stabbed. I still turn white as a sheet whenever I’m in the same room as a blood test needle. And I’ve always thought of back surgery as the kind of thing that never leaves you normal again.

When Your Surgeon Looks Disappointed was my response to the news that the emergency surgery I had on October 2nd wasn’t enough to fix my back and leg pain. At that time, I only wanted to hope I was “dreaming in slo-mo, or that a genius doctor will find the reboot switch, or that God will grant me a long and active life.”

What Faith Looks Like When You’re Afraid was my response to the news that my L4 and L5 vertebrae needed to be fused together, complete with bone graft and titanium screws. By this time, I was really trying to get past the “I don’t want this. I don’t want this. I don’t want this” stage.

PRAYING FEAR LIKE JESUS

The more I prayed, and the more I bathed myself in Scripture (I have a lot of time on my hands now), the more I found I could only pray one way about my fears: like Jesus did.

The words just can’t help being said:

 Father, heal me. Father, deliver me. But if not, Your will be done.

I couldn’t help praying them because although I know God’s power, I have to constantly learn to trust His kindness toward me.

The central issue when praying our fear is trust—pure, simple, relational trust. God comes to us as Father, and is constantly working in us both to challenge and deepen the quality of our trust in Him, and to re-demonstrate His trustworthiness to us.

The Bible is pretty clear that everyone, Christ’s followers included, will suffer in this life. Pain, misery, anxiety, fear and death are universal. But Scripture is equally clear that God has promised an eternal reward to those who trust Him, a reward that is beyond comparing with our present suffering.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.—Romans 8:18, ESV

 

SURGERY IS TOMORROW

I’m happy to share that a more conservative surgery (discectomy on L3) is planned for tomorrow instead of the previously planned L4-L5 fusion. After getting a second opinion, it seems probable that the discectomy will relieve my pain. The fusion may not be necessary… yet.

This takes a big relief off my shoulders. For now.

I don’t know where this road will end. I hope I’ll be completely repaired and able to re-engage my active life. But, Your will be done.

I hope this will be the last surgery on my back and that I’ll never need the fusion. But, Your will be done.

I hope I can return to a job I love and complete a kitchen for the love of my life. But, Your will be done.

You know what this means don’t you?—It means this fearful journey through (what is, to me) a valley of the shadow of death, is a test of my trust that belonging to God, my God, is worth all pains and fears.

Is He worth it? Your will be done.

Will He take care of me? Your will be done.

Can I trust Him with my life and death? Your will be done.

Will He comfort me in my pain and my fear? Your will be done.

Will I experience His peace when I’m afraid? Your will be done.

DARKER AND LONGER

To those of you who face roads that infinitely darker and longer than mine (just an hour ago I heard that a friend of mine is having emergency brain surgery today!!), I commend you to Jesus, to His work for you on the cross, to His prayers for you. And I hope you are learning, like average me, to prayer like Him too.

Grace to you,

Lon

 

What Faith Looks Like When You’re Afraid

The thing I dread most has come upon me and, I’m afraid.

Since mid-February of this year, I’ve been dealing unsuccessfully with lower back pain. I ignored it for a little while and continued to run and lift weights. One of my joys in life is meeting friends to run 10-14 miles on Saturday morning, followed by Starbucks.  When the pain got worse, I stopped all exercising and dabbled with things I’ve never done before: Seeing a chiropractor (twice) and an accupuncturist (once).

By Memorial Day weekend, I could barely walk more than a few steps at a time. I finally went to see my doctor. He’s conservative like me, and recommended trying physical therapy first. If that didn’t work, he would send me to a physiatrist to get epidural cortisone injections. Last resort: Surgery.

Three weeks of physical therapy did nothing for me. So, on I went to the Physiatrist. He ordered an MRI which revealed two herniated discs, one not-so-bad, the other really bad. My first round of coritsone injections was pretty effective at reducing my pain (procedure #1).

But, by August, the cortisone effectivenees abruptly stopped after 4 weeks. I delayed for a few weeks, and finally decided I had to give it a second go (procedure #2). This time, the effectiveness was almost nil.

Still no running. No weight lifting. But, I was building kitchen cabinets, using a stool in my workshop whenever it was too painful to stand.

Again, I delayed getting a third cortisone injection. But, by late September, I could no longer manage things. I went to see my doctor on September 30th for his advice and to get pain medication. He referred me to a surgeon, and gave me a pain prescription, the first in this months-long ordeal.

I went home and took a pill. I felt better for a little while. But that night everything fell off the cliff. I was delirious with pain, even with Percocet in my system. Dawn had to take over.

At 1 am on October 1st, two EMTs carried me out of my house, put me in an ambulance and brought me to Northside Forsythe Hospital. The ER Staff put something strong in me via IV to calm me down, and ordered another MRI. This time, things looked worse.

They admitted me immediately. The next day they operated  (procedure #3) to remove the material that had leaked out of my L4 disc and was pressing on my nerve, causing the pain. I now have a walker to help me get around the house. And I’m on short-term disability leave from work.

A week later, I saw the surgeon to follow up. I wasn’t doing well. Just getting me to the appointment was a painful ordeal, and my surgeon looked sadly disappointed. He ordered another MRI.

Four days ago, I saw the results. At first, I thought I was looking at a pre-operation image.

It wasn’t.

My post-operation disc now looked like a flat tire squeezing out under the weight of a car. My disc was so badly damaged that there was no longer enough internal material in the disc to support my weight, so now the disc itself was pressing against my nerve.

Surgery has been scheduled to fuse my L4 and L5 vertebrae together. Honestly this is about the scariest thing I’ve ever faced even though I know many people have had this surgery done successfully.

WHY I’M AFRAID

See, I’ve always had a phobia about being cut or stabbed (ironic that I took up woodworking and carpentry as a hobby). And I’ve always had a phobia about back surgeries. I think there was a time in my life when everyone I met who had back surgery had bad results and needed further surgeries. Now, here I am, 0 for 3 with procedures that were supposed to “fix” me, and with procedure #4 glaring at me with its Jack-O-Lantern eyes.

The phobia part of average Lon is trying not to think about what’s coming soon, and whether or not I’ll be “fixed.” The phobia part of average Lon is worried I’ll never experience the joy of running even 2 or 3 easy miles with my friends. The phobia part is worried I might never be quite normal again. The phobia part is worried there will have to be procedure #5, and #6, or more.

WHERE’S YOUR FAITH, LON?

What about the part of average Lon that trusts God’s providence? What about the part of me that believes wholeheartedly that God is always working for my eternal good behind the scenes of every good and bad event in my life (Romans 8:28-30)?

Those of you who are Christians know I have to reach a point where I am able to hand my fear to God. You know I need to trust Him with my phobia, trust Him with the outcome of this surgery—whether good or bad—and rest in Christ alone.

But the honest truth is, at this moment, I’m not there yet.

Because I’m average.

The usual theme running through my head (and prayers) is, “I don’t want this. I don’t want this. I don’t want this.”

So, I don’t have any counsel for you about how to get to that place of quiet rest in Jesus when you face your worst fears. All I can tell you is that it’s a process. It takes time, even when you have a solid, biblical worldview to guide you. I can tell you it will always involve prayer and Scripture. It will always require a clear understanding of who God is, and a solid trust in His purpose for your life. The support of a prayerful Christian community (e.g. a home church) will be invaluable, too.

And yet, even with all this, it may still take time. And, for me, in God’s mercy, I have until November 13th (my procedure #4).

In that time, I would appreciate it if you would pray that God will bring me to that place of peace that passes all understanding. Paul’s counsel to the Philippian church about fear and prayer and peace needs to sink deeper into my soul.

Thanks so much, Lon

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:6-7