I tried to stay out of the fray. My instincts have been honed through my work in the church and years as a therapist. I’m typically pretty good at moving back to what is actually important, avoiding “straw man” diversions or attempts to bait me into an argument.
My default is to return to the relationship between us versus simply trying to be “right”.
But that part, about being “right”, is where I got stuck recently.
The context was on someone else’s Facebook page, a post about hydroxychloroquine's ineffectiveness against COVID-19. This was immediately followed by several people posting responses detailing how the “real” results are being covered up in a worldwide conspiracy to sink the reelection of President Trump … or more generously that we should “keep an open mind”.
One post was from a reputable news source, but was an opinion piece, so against my better judgment, I pointed that out.
“It’s all opinions,” was the response I received.
And I could feel myself getting angry, frustrated, dismayed, and tempted to withdraw … to move into a nihilistic space where I think to myself “what is the point anyway?!?”.
“You know not to get into pointless arguments on Facebook, right?!?” I say in my head.
“It’s all opinions.”
“It doesn’t matter what you say, they are not going to listen. Their mind is made up.”
“It’s all opinions.”
“Don’t you remember what ‘confirmation bias’ is and that we just continually seek out information that confirms what we already believe?!? The minute you write something, you will be placed in a category as a co-conspirator or ‘sheeple’ or some other pejorative. The point is, no one will listen!”
“It’s all opinions.”
And then it struck me. This phrase, “It’s all opinions” brought to my mind Pilate’s words as he washed his hands before allowing an angry mob to kill Jesus.
“What is truth?” Pilate said.
This phrase is cynical and dismissive yet likely emerges from someone who, like many of us, is overwhelmed and confused. In that stressed place, we can dismiss information challenging our worldview. In the face of an angry mob or a firehose of conflicting information, it is tempting to withdraw into skepticism … or worse yet … a destructive view that says “nothing matters”.
I am tempted to wash my hands of all of it, to turn my back and walk away because it is too much to argue, too challenging to be a voice that someone might listen to, too difficult to find ways to respond with care instead of frustration.
And I am reminded too that “there is no one without sin; no not one.”
For me, having been raised in the Southern Baptist church with “sword drills” and memorizing verse after verse of scripture, my interpretive framework is one where the cynicism of Pilate leads to the death of an innocent man. We are instructed to stop and help others as did the Good Samaritan. We who call ourselves Christian have a responsibility to love God and others.
So I remember that I can’t wash my hands of them.
And I remember Mr. Josey.
Mr. Josey was one of the kindest men I knew during my teenage years as I worked at a small, local grocery store. In his older age, he gardened, typically bringing in several flowers which he would give to the (mostly female) cashiers.
One day, he invited me to have lunch with him and his wife at his home, before I headed to college.
On that visit, he walked me through the garden from which these flowers came. Mr. Josey identified the plants, telling me what they preferred, how they were propagated. Mr. Josey was an expert, based on his research and experience.
And then he said to me:
Test everything; hold on to what is good.
This was a time of transition and change for me as a young adult. And as with any of us, those times of stress and change can lead one to grab hold of something that feels secure but may lead us in the wrong direction. It is hard to walk through the anxiety, to learn enough information. It is harder still when that information challenges something we thought we knew, something we thought was true.
Like scientists, we test. We have our hypothesis (or our assumption). We look for ways to either disprove or prove that hypothesis. We are open to being wrong. Because even then, we learn.
Being wrong is okay; being wrong is the human condition.
This phrase that Mr. Josey gave me, “Test everything; hold on to what is good,” reflects the words of Paul as he encourages the community to love each other, even in the midst of difficulty.
Which brings me back to washing my hands.
We know, based on established scientific research, that washing one’s hands frequently is a great way to stay healthy.
I also know that despite the challenges, it is best to stay engaged, to respond caringly to others as they also experience the stress of this pandemic, and in this particular situation, to not wash my own hands of others with whom I disagree.
Staying in relationship is hard work, trying work, but also God’s work.
If we are called to the truth, then that truth is one where we love God. It is also a truth where we love others, all the others, not just the others that look like us, act like us, or agree with us.
And for the record, I really am following the recommendation to wash my hands frequently, just as all of us should. :)