What's Tony Thinking

At Week’s End, June 2


Ted Lasso, just the best show ever, ended this week with the conclusion of season 3. If you read my sermon of last Sunday you know that I drew on the previous week’s episode for a great example of “grace in everyday life.” But the whole show is a study in grace in real life, in giving other people the love and mercy they need even when they may deserve something different. This is the very heart of the gospel. This is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Christianity is not about the Law, all the things you must, should, better do or feel or say in order to get on God’s good side, to measure up, or to show other people how virtuous or superior you are. Christianity is about grace, about God’s mercy for sinners, for all who fail, who say things we wish we hadn’t said, who do things we wish we hadn’t done, who let down those who have loved us. If you’re looking for “inclusion,” welcome to this most inclusive club of all — sinners in need of grace.

Alas, all too often Christian churches major in the Law, in the realm of “must,” “should,” “ought” and judgment instead of grace and second-chances. The Pharisees got nothing on us. This is true of both the Christian right and left, though each proclaim their own “Law.” And if there’s one thing that is in short supply these days in American culture it is this: grace. Judgment, cancel culture, censure, public shaming, name-calling, us/ them and outrage are everywhere. That’s why “Ted Lasso” was such a breath of fresh air. If you haven’t seen it, do. It’s on Apple TV. You can buy a subscription for one month if you don’t have that cable or steaming service.

The next two items relate to these themes of grace and its absence.

Feeling good does not equal mental health. Ezra Klein has done an excellent series of podcasts on “The Teen Mental Health Crisis.” In the one linked here he talks with psychologist, Lisa Damour. One of Damour’s themes is the value of negative emotions like sadness, anxiety, anger or discouragement. She says that one of the problems contributing to the teen mental health crisis is pathologizing all negative emotions. If you feel bad, it can translate to there’s something wrong with you. We tend to equate “feeling good” with mental health, but that says, Damour, is untrue and misleading.

Difficult or negative feelings are human and actually good. They can be the best and right response to at least some of life. When we get the idea, and communicate it to kids or grandkids, that having difficult or unhappy feelings is a no-no, all that does is encourage people to fake it, leading to repression and shame. Disallowing negative feelings doesn’t prepare kids for life’s challenges and difficulties. Life is beautiful and it is hard.

The minister who meant the most to me when I was a teen, John Wightman, died a couple years ago. One of John’s gifts to me was to legitimate troubled and angry feelings. He tended not to trust it when kids said, “Everything is great, awesome, fantastic.” And, as I’ve written before, one of the reasons Christianity spoke to me, as a young adult, is that it has a place for suffering, brokenness and failure. There’s a cross on the house. Yes, there’s joy and gratitude. But you don’t have to feel upbeat all the time.

Pandemic Amnesty. Time to declare an amnesty on pandemic grudges, criticisms and second-guessing argued Paul Miller in Christianity Today. Miller quotes an earlier piece by Emily Oster, then calls on Christians to lead the way in cutting others, and maybe ourselves as well, some slack. Here’s Miller,

“Now is a good time to declare a “pandemic amnesty.” As Emily Oster suggested in The Atlantic last fall, let’s start assuming each other’s good faith and ‘forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge.’ Christians especially can lead the world in an attitude of grace for the things we collectively said and did during a confusing and unprecedented time.” Amen to that!

On a different note, this article from Seattle-based Sightline on Being Stuck on the Wildfire Treadmill is important and helpful. Here’s the treadmill we’re on: “Cascadia, along with the rest of the West, is caught on ‘the wildfire treadmill’: the more we suppress fires, the worse they get; and the worse fires get, the more we suppress them.”

The wildfire issue has been framed in the usual polarized terms. One side says its all climate change and global warming. The other says its all forest management practices, or lack of the same. Truth is, as this article lays out, it’s both and more. The more is the homes and structures being built in increasing remote areas or surrounded by lots of acreage. The technical term is “the expansion of the wild land-urban interface.”

I notice this in Wallowa County. Back in the day, say my grandparents day,  maybe people needed each other more and so clustered in towns and villages. Nowadays, the idea seems to be to put distance between yourself and everyone else. So more and more houses pop up on virgin hilltops, on otherwise unbuilt mountainsides, or in remote forested areas or five acre parcels. Perhaps we are all now disciples of Sartre who famously said, “Hell is other people.”

But this stretching out creates problems, not the least of which is demanding that fire suppression occur in larger and larger areas in the aforementioned interface. People smarter than us, in at least some respects, a.k.a. Native Americans, used controlled burns, reducing the danger of mega-fires. Maybe if we practiced more grace toward one another we wouldn’t construe privacy and isolation as the ideal to be sought and the sign of success?

And, finally, the debt ceiling settlement. Let us stipulate two things, this — driving the car to the edge of the cliff — is a crappy way to govern, and second, there are problems in the bill, particularly on the climate change issue. But I noted while watching various new channels at the gym that the extremes on both side are fit to be tied. Compromise with the bad guys is a no-no. They seem to want total victory, which is an even crappier way to govern.



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