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A drought of our spirits

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A drought of our spirits

By Paul Graves

With the extreme heat and drought in the Inland Northwest, turbulent fire seasons are major causes of concern. We’re warned to be careful. But those warnings don’t prevent human-made fires. 

I believe we’re also wallowing in a cultural drought our country hasn’t seen in many decades. ​The drought shows itself in the aridness 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 gut-wrenching anger I don’t ever recall seeing in people. Truth becomes merely a transactional commodity to be bought with the loudest megaphone.

Water is a highly precious commodity during a physical drought 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.

Take 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. 

As an example, let’s look at softening the old, “conservative” wineskin to accommodate the bubbling “liberal” enthusiasm of the new 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. 

James D. Glasse, a pastor of many years ago, wrote a sermon about this tension titled “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 and the people around him. But he didn’t feel any better for the effort.

​Then, he became a radical. “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 a drought in his own soul. 

​Part of his learning impacted how he saw “liberals” and “conservatives.” He discovered that both liberal and conservative people (himself, first of all) saw the “other” as close-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.

What was 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 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. However, if you can’t change your metaphorical wineskin or wine, you may create a fire that consumes, rather than warms. ​​

About Paul Graves

Paul Graves is a retired and re-focused United Methodist pastor and a long-time resident of Sandpoint, Idaho, where he formerly served on city council and mayor. His second career is in geriatric social work, and since 2005 he's been the Lead Geezer-in-Training of Elder Advocates, a consulting and teaching ministry on aging issues. Since 1992, Graves has been a volunteer chaplain for Bonner Community Hospice. His columns regularly appear in the Spokesman-Review's Faith and Values section and he also writes the Dear Geezer column for the Bonner County Daily Bee and is the host of the bi-weekly Geezer Forum on aging issues in Sandpoint.

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