CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
It has been warm enough the past few days that I have been able to walk to City Park. I do the same route each day. It takes 48 minutes. Except this year it takes 52. I am walking at exactly the same pace as I have the last 7 years, at least it feels to me like I am, but my chronograph says differently. Well aware that it could not be that I am getting slower because of getting older, I tried a different chronograph. The results were the same, 52 minutes for a 48 minute walk.
The facts tell a different story from what my feelings tell. Facts are facts. Except in the world of emotions. And politics.
When I was a campus minister at Illinois State University, we had a very successful Sunday evening supper and program series. The students cooked, and a professor or some other luminary did a presentation. But the program began to decline. Not as many students came. The presentations were not as stimulating. I decided it was time to end that program. We needed a different time, a different format, to get the students to come back.
Then I checked the facts, which I myself kept each week, a careful count of attendance. The Sunday evening program was not declining at all. Indeed, it was better than ever. The average attendance was the highest it had been in its six years of existence. Why did I misread the facts so badly? Because I felt at odds with the facts. As I thought about it, I realized that I was tired of having all my Sunday nights used up, tired of missing out on Sunday night suppers and TV and popcorn with my children. It was I, not the facts, who saw a decline when there was not one.
That’s why we use statistics, because it is very easy for us to misread the facts in order to make them fit what we want. I once had an argument with a District Superintendent about our denomination’s focus on measuring success by numbers. “Numbers don’t matter,” I insisted. “They do when they get to zero,” he insisted right back. He also thought we should pay attention to numbers before they got to zero. He was right about that, too. Facts are facts.
In our day, the problem seems not so much to be a misreading of the facts, in our churches and in our politics, but a perverse ignoring of them, claiming that they are wrong, claiming even that they don’t exist, claiming that if, through government mandates or legislation, we ignore them, even make it illegal to talk about them, that they don’t and won’t matter.
Let me give two opposite, sort-of, examples.
Almost all scientists, including medical people, either ignore the power of prayer in healing or claim that it is useless or irrelevant. But every scientific, double-blind, experiment on prayer and healing, done in the same rigorous manner than physics or chemistry experiments are done, has had the same results: prayer works in healing. It isn’t perfect. It does not always work. But surgery doesn’t always work, either. Neither does chemotherapy. We keep using them, though, because they work sometimes. Prayer is the only healing method for which we require perfection. Facts are facts, unless we don’t want them to be, because we have something to gain by ignoring them.
Almost all evangelical, conservative, right-wing preachers and politicians claim that climate change is either a hoax or just not true or irrelevant or that human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, has nothing to do with it, or all of the above. Some try to ban research into climate change or even ban talk about it. The only reason to ban research or conversation about a topic is because you know that the facts will prove you wrong. Because facts are facts. Unless we don’t want them to be, because we have something to gain by ignoring them.
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and it is the truth that will set you free.” [John 8:32] Ignoring the facts leaves us in a prison of faithlessness and futility. It is God who is the Creator. “It is God who has made us and not we ourselves.” [Psalm 100:3] The facts belong to God. When we ignore them, be it facts about prayer or about the world, we are ignoring God.
John Robert McFarland
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]
I tweet as yooper1721.