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Opinion >  Column

Faith and Values: As temperatures heat up, we should consider our own cultural drought and how to change it

UPDATED: Sun., July 11, 2021

Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for The Spokesman-Review.  (COLIN MULVANY)
Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for The Spokesman-Review. (COLIN MULVANY)

Turbulent fire seasons are the result of drought conditions. We’re warned to be careful. But those warnings don’t prevent human-made fires in our region, even this early in the fire season .

I believe we’re also wallowing in a cultural drought our country hasn’t seen in many decades.

The drought shows itself in the aridity of social imagination and distorting selfishness that has settled in our souls. Extreme political and religious fears are the tinder being used to fire up this drought. They fuel anger like I don’t ever recall seeing in people. Truth becomes merely a transactional commodity to be bought with the loudest megaphone.

During a physical drought, water is a highly precious commodity in so many ways. Since Jesus is famous for turning water into wine, let’s consider his take on old wineskins and new wine (Matthew 9:16-17). In effect, he reminded his audience that the old and the new must fit together or both will be lost. That requires one or both to change.

For example, let’s consider two of the tinder-words we experience every day: liberal and conservative. It takes very little tinder from either side to set the arid emotional landscape on fire. A fire that consumes, not warms. So work with me here as we look for softening the old “conservative” wineskin to accommodate the bubbling “liberal” enthusiasm of the wine.

If neither chooses to change, both will be lost. It takes just one to do what conservatism is basically meant to do: save the best idealism and hope in both political and/or religious intentions in both life approaches. A pastor of many years ago, James D. Glasse, wrote a sermon about this tension, “Don’t Put Your Patch on my Wineskins.”

As he grew into adulthood and into his ministry, he saw himself go through three life phases: rebel, revolutionary and radical. As a rebel, he “kicked the church until my foot got sore.” Nothing changed. As a revolutionary, he tried to change things around him, change people around him. But he didn’t feel any better for the effort.

Then he became a radical. As I’ve mentioned before, “radical” comes from the same term as “radish,” which means “root.” Glasse discovered that, to get at the root of his frustration, his anger, he had to deal with his own drought, the aridity in his own soul. Ouch!

Part of his learning impacted how he saw “liberal” and “conservative.” He discovered that both liberal and conservative people (himself first of all) saw the “other” as closed-minded. I suspect he even threw some kind of tinder onto the fire to consume another person’s argument, rather than to warm them both as they tried to understand one another.

His conclusion? “There’s something in me that wants to hold on to what is familiar and precious, but that bores me. There’s something in me that wants to reach out to what is new and exciting and challenging, but that frightens me. So, I move back and forth between the two,” Glasse wrote in his 1978 book, “The Art of Spiritual Snakehandling and Other Sermons.”

I’m very liberal (inclusive, progressive, etc.) in some things; but I’m quite conservative (reluctant to change, holding traditions, etc.) in other matters. Perhaps you are too. But if you can’t change your metaphorical wineskin or wine, you may create a fire that consumes, rather than warms.

Care to change something?

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at elderadvocates@nctv.com

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