Asch was almost shouting during the coffee hour at the Poplar Park Community Church on the Sunday right before Memorial Day. “I don’t like the way Trump behaves, but by God the Democrats are going so far left that if they get in power we’ll have to rename our country the United Socialist States of America!”

“Asch, quiet down,” said his wife Dorothy in a futile attempt at an intervention.

“Don’t shush me, Dorothy,” Asch shot back. “Some of those 20-something candidates running for presidents have publicly admitted they’re socialist.”

Asch’s rant was triggered by Sharrissa Hawkins declaring that Jesus, if he were here today, would support open immigration and a single-payer health care system.

Pastor Walter Mitty was the kind of church leader who feared open conflict, so he was happy that at least Asch’s outburst came towards the end of the coffee hour when most of the church members had already left for home.

As the day wore on he forgot about the mini emotional storm he had witnessed that morning until he tuned in the Rev. Johnny Christian’s live broadcast from the Miracle Faith Tabernacle. “God has bestowed his favor on the United States of America,” Rev. Johnny had declared to the 2,000 faithful members drinking in his sermon, with shouts of amen reinforcing his message. 

“Pray for President Trump in his fight against the socialist global conspiracy that would impose their anti-religious ideology on the Godly nations of the West and take away our freedom.”

Mitty went through the rest of the week without hearing any more Cold War rhetoric until he entered the Main Café on Saturday and passed a booth where he overheard the word “socialism” again.  

Sarge, who owns the army surplus store in Poplar Park, was telling three of his friends, “I heard on Fox News last night an interview with a refugee from Venezuela who has seen with his own eyes what going on down there. The guy said, ‘Socialism not only takes away from people the access to basic food and medicines, but also creates an environment in which life is worth nothing,’ and warned America to not go down the same path.”

As he sat down at the big table in the back corner of the Main, Pastor Mitty tried to shift his focus to the Bible study he was about to lead on the value about early Christians placed on community, but he couldn’t chase that word—socialism—out of his mind.

When he looked up, he saw that Bernie Rolvaag had brought a guest to the meeting.  Bernie introduced him saying, “This is my nephew Arne here for a two week visit from Norway.”

So, Pastor Mitty asked Bernie and Arne to hang around till after everyone had left, not wanting to repeat what had happened the Sunday before.  

After everyone had hugged and said “see you tomorrow,” Pastor Mitty told the two what he had heard Sarge and others had said about socialism and turned to Arne.

“I have heard that the Scandinavian countries are socialist,” he began. “Are they as bad as Venezuela?”

Arne laughed. “I’m sorry, Pastor,” he replied, “but I’ve been asked that question often since I arrived. First, you have to be careful how you use that word. We are socialist in Norway in that we pay almost half our income in taxes, but in return we get so many benefits. We have a single-payer health care system, free college, long parental leave and heavily subsidized childcare.

“And in terms of the economy, we are a hybrid. It’s partly a state-owned and partly a free market economy.”

Arne paused to let that sink in and then added, “You know, the United Nations has what they call a World Happiness Report. Of the happiest countries in the world all four Scandinavian Countries are in the top ten, while the U.S. is ranked number 13.”

On the way home from the Main, Pastor Mitty bumped into Fr. Bob Sullivan who was out jogging in what was finally spring-like weather. When Fr. Bob paused to chat instead of continuing his run, Pastor Mitty summarized the mix of opinions he had been hearing regarding socialism.

When his clergy friend finished, the Franciscan began to laugh. “People forget,” he said, “that the book of Acts says that the early Christians had all things in common and focused more on the welfare of the community as a whole rather than on individual rights, much less private property.”

“You’re saying that sounds a lot like socialism?” said Pastor Mitty.

“Sure does,” Fr. Bob replied, “and you might say that my Franciscan order is also a socialist society.”

After supper, Mitty turned on the PBS weekend news which reported that The New York Times had fact-checked President Trump and found that he had made 10,111 false or misleading claims since taking office.  

His thoughts segued to the Fox News interview of the guy from Venezuela, and he concluded that although the report wasn’t exactly false, it was highly selective. Then he remembered that Norway, like Venezuela, had been blessed with huge oil reserves, and that both were labeled as being “socialist”.  How could one be a social paradise and the other hell on earth?  

And, he wondered, how many of his neighbors bandy terms like “socialism,” or “democracy,” or “freedom” without thinking deeply about what those words mean, like matadors who hold up red capes that are nothing but pieces of cloth, but which get the bulls enraged enough to charge. He also wondered if the difference between the two countries wasn’t socialism vs. capitalism, but dictatorship vs. democracy with full participation.