Plant Gardens And Eat What They Produce

[A friend wrote to me the other day, asking as a Christian if I had any advice for not letting the evangelical support of Donald Trump color our views and feelings on religion. The following is slightly expanded from my response to them.] It's going to be a long haul. I was reading Jeremiah the other day, looking up a particular verse. Basically Jeremiah had been warning the Israelites they were going down hard if they didn't repent, but once they were conquered and taken away in captivity, his message changed from one of dire warning and criticism to one of compassion and encouragement.[1] Here’s the verse, and I think one can find words of wisdom in it regardless of what one believes:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” -- Jeremiah 29:4-14

We are going to face a tough number of years. Figure we're going to be fighting for a generation: 20 - 22 years. I'm not wholly convinced by the Strauss-Howe hypothesis[2] but it's not a bad model to keep in mind (the period Jeremiah cites above would fit into that cycle).

We are in a Crisis period; we will follow that with a High period, one where the country prospers materially but is stunted by conformity. Then comes an Awakening, then (alas) an Unraveling, followed by another Crisis.

So what do we -- both as Christians and as individuals -- do? Well, we need to take the long game view. We must endure the Trump years. They will be bad, but hopefully if enough people call him and the GOP on their bullshit the worst of it can be blunted. We're not entering a Nazi era (the country is much too diverse for that, regardless of what the alt-right says) but we are entering a period of corruption and exploitation that's going to last until the next generation has its fill and decides to turn the rascals out.

When that happens, some promise will arise, some progress will occur, but it's not going to be as much as we would hope for. But we have to get through that to get to the next phase, the Awakening, in which the real progress will be made.

And real progress will be made. As bad as things are going to be in the next few years, we have already made tremendous steps forward that cannot be undone or taken back, simply delayed and hindered for a while. Go back in history and you will see this ebbing and flowing, this generational change in all times and places and cultures…and while it may go retrograde for a short while, it always returns further ahead than it was.

But that's 40-44 years from now. I probably won't see that coming Awakening in full flower; you may and I hope you do. What we are to be today are the encouragers and the helpers and the mentors of those who will carry through the Crisis era into the High that follows. We need to be telling people hedged in by this society and culture that they can make a change, that they can restore the promise and dignity of this country.

We are like the old school folk singers of the 1920s and 30s, the Woody Gutheries et al who carried the message around under the noses of those on top until it eventually sank in and permeated the culture. We're not going to be the Dylans or the Beatles or even NWA; it's not our time, not our moment. But we can make a mark and be a positive influence.

As for specific things to do as Christians, there I'd say we have to find like minded people -- not necessarily in churches but online or in non-traditional venues -- and lift up and encourage one another. Even now we're seeing some evangelicals starting to have buyer's remorse, and when Trump fails them and then disappoints them and then finally turns on them, they'll start coming apart as a church culture.

That's when the real church (i.e., the body of believers as opposed to any denomination) will need to step forward, to carry the message of love, justice, and compassion instead of judgementalism and a thirst for power.

It ain't gonna be easy.

One thing we cannot do, however, is give up. There's is an ancient Jewish teaching found not in the Old Testament but in the Pirkei Avot, one of the many Talmudic commentaries, which says "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you at liberty to desist from it".

God bless you and keep you and give you peace of mind and soul in the days and months and years to come.

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[1] There’s an old word we don’t use much any more -- “jeremiad” -- derived from his earlier prophetic fire and brimstone utterances. There’s a nice, polite way of defining what a jeremiad is but I think the modern paraphrase is more to the point: “To carve someone a brand new asshole.”

[2] “The Strauss–Howe generational theory, created by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, describes a theorized recurring generation cycle in American history. Strauss and Howe laid the groundwork for their theory in their 1991 book Generations, which discusses the history of America as a series of generations.” -- from Wikipedia

A Walking Contradiction…

"This Is What You Shall Do" by Walt Whitman