Searching for a little serenity

Opinion: Columns

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By Tom Holmes

Pastor Walter Mitty hasn't gotten a good night's sleep since Justice Ginsburg died.

Part of his spiritual restlessness is rooted in his fear of what the next four years will be like if President Trump is reelected. Another part of his inner turmoil is due to not understanding how so many millions of Americans seem to love 45. And part of the absence of serenity in his soul comes from not knowing the outcome of the election.

"It's just like the year the Bears won the Super Bowl," Mitty, said the man who grew up 40 miles from Green Bay, to himself. "The Packers would be ahead at half time but I'd have this nagging dread that Payton and the Fridge and Singletary would come from behind and send all of us cheeseheads into a deep depression."

Hearing that Biden has maintained a constant lead in the polls for months now hasn't made the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church feel any better. That's what they said four years ago.

And what has amplified his anxiety is the number of phone calls and emails and facebook postings he has received from church members and friends asking him for some word of hope, some assurance that everything would be OK.

When he talked to Davis O'Connor, who was raking leaves around the church, the man who never seemed to get out of poverty confessed that he and his wife were anxious about how the election would turn out. The $600 they had been getting, he explained, had barely kept their heads above water and now he wasn't sure what would happen.

When Mitty got back in the parsonage, he saw that he had received an email from Sharissa Hawkins. "I'm OK myself," she began, "and then continued with, "Well, no I'm not. I'm really worried, Pastor. I mean, you know how I feel about Trump boasting that he's done more for the Black man than any president since Lincoln.

"Well, I just heard on BEZ that 18 percent of my Black brothers, according to one poll, now approve of Trump, and it's because of that the macho image of masculinity that Trump projects."

That email made Pastor Walt feel even more anxious about the election, so he decided to switch to Facebook and see what local gossip was circulating. Instead he found posts about the fear that liberals will take "all our guns away," both sides of the abortion issue, worries about the cops not getting enough funding, law and order, and one from Michael's rabbi.

RABBI LEVINE: How can Johnny Christian claim to be Christian when he says he is pro-life but preaches that businesses should reopen and "get back to normal" if doing so prematurely puts thousands of lives at risk?

Pastor Walt's spirit went on an emotional roller coaster as he read each post. Feeling little relief from his anxiety, Mitty decided to take a time out from social media for a while.

He went to the kitchen and reheated leftover slices of the pizza that had been delivered the day before. Comfort food! Butter pecan ice cream, brandy old-fashioneds, Garret's cheese and caramel popcorn, New Glarus Spotted Cow beer, bratwursts and onions marinated in beer.

The only trouble with that stuff, he realized, is that it only comforts your anxiety while you're eating; an hour later you need another fix, and then the next morning when you step on the scales …

After six slices of pizza and two brandy old-fashions, Mitty decide to go to YouTube and check out exactly what the Rev. Johnny Christian had to say last Sunday.

"God has chosen Donald J. Trump," boomed the mega-church pastor to a cheering, in-person congregation much larger than Gov. Pritzker's guidelines allowed, "to be president of this blessed nation for four more years."

And as if responding to the objections Mitty was thinking, Rev. Johnny explained, "Oh, I know that those antifa, socialist liberals object that President Trump isn't always politically correct, but he is a modern day Cyrus.

"For those of you who don't know your Bible, Cyrus was a Persian who worshipped idols, but God used even a non-believer to accomplish his will and free the people of Israel from their captivity in Babylon."

With all that uncertainty about what would happen on Nov. 3 gnawing at his insides, Pastor Walt started to work on his sermon last Friday bearing in mind what almost everyone — left, right and in the middle — seemed to be feeling anxious about.

After a lot of false starts, he narrowed his text for preaching down to two passages.

John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

And Psalm 146: "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing."

Saturday morning he decided that both passages were salient but had a hard time fitting them together in a harmonious way.

As often happens, as Pastor Walt was taking a break, drinking a bottle of iced frappuccino and not thinking about anything in particular, a new thought appeared. A visitor from Norway once told him: "There's a saying in my country. There's no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing."

Pastor Walt wasn't sure if the sermon he wrote after that made sense to him or his virtual congregation the next day, but one thing did make sense to him. What our anxieties are asking us in this historical moment is, "In this terrible cultural weather, how good is your spiritual clothing?"

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