HEADlines: Responding to Your Opposition with Grace and Love

Published in The Mustard Seed Sentinel, 7/24/21~

“Even biology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Imagine being in a terrible place. The food is beyond bad. The clothing is inadequate. The weather is unbearably hot in the summer and way below what we in the continental United States consider cold in the winter. The work is hard, menial, and endless.

Then imagine you get to go to a better place. The food is better. You can be warm in the winter. You’re not afraid you’ll die from the bad treatment.

But you find out that, in order to stay there, you have to do things you don’t want to do. You have to help your oppressors spy on your fellow citizens. You have to help them send others to the place that is so bad.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn did not have to imagine this scenario.

After spending years in a Siberian gulag, he went where the Soviet government was doing research. In the 1940s, they wanted Solzhenitsyn to help them develop voice recognition technology. If he didn’t cooperate, they would send him back.

So send me back, he told them.

“Even in the camps, human dignity matters,” says Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Alexander’s son who tells the story of his father’s choosing discomfort over betrayal of his fellows. “We always have choices. Even in the camps. Even where everything is decided for you. What clothes you wear, what food … you’re given, and everything is regimented. There is always the choice to behave with freedom and a sense of dignity.”

Freedom in a gulag? Always. Freedom and dignity everywhere? All the time. Solzhenitsyn is proof that Soviet tyrants overplayed their hand.

“You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power—he’s free again.”

And that statement can apply even more deeply to Christians.

Rod Dreher writes: “The Christian life, properly understood, cannot be merely a set of propositions agreed to, but must also be a way of life. And that requires a culture, which is to say, the realization in a material way—in deeds, in language, in song, in drama, in practices, etc.—of the propositions taught by Christianity. To be perfectly clear, at the core of all this is a living spiritual relationship with God, one that cannot be reduced to words, deeds, or beliefs, (emphasis his).

With little fanfare from the mainstream media, the Washington Supreme Court [in 2017] . . . unanimously sided against Barronelle Stutzman, a 71-year-old florist who refused to provide flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Stutzman battled the legal challenge, which threatened to relieve her of her life’s work and earnings, including her home.

She appealed to the US Supreme Court. A ruling favorable to religious freedom seemed unlikely since the court had already refused to hear an appeal from a New Mexico photographer, also sued for refusing service for a same-sex wedding. These cases are a harbinger of things to come.

Dreher: “Traditional Christians ought to see Barronnelle Stutzman as one canary in the coal mine (and there are many). The State of Washington, the ACLU, and two gay plaintiffs are trying to crush her, financially and otherwise. They may succeed in taking away her livelihood and then bankrupting her. . . . Whatever happens to her, they will not take away her faith and her dignity. She is a rock.”

And Stutzman’s faith has been rock-like. She has consistently reached out to those who oppose her with Christian grace and love.

It’s naive to think that this issue will never land at the doorstep of our churches and private schools.

The SCOTUS ruling legalizing same-sex marriage would seem to reassure churches that in the pulpit religious freedom is secure. But the devil may be found in the details of the local laws that made a florist a civil defendant.

America has reached a point where the primary social imperative is the personal impression of the individual. This impression now trumps all. And it didn’t just begin with same-sex marriage. It’s been going on for quite some time. We have largely looked the other way as moral foundations of life and marriage cracked then crumbled.

Along the way, the Church or at least pieces of it have twisted themselves into pretzel-like contortions trying to—as many might put it—stay relevant.

“50 or 100 years ago, [conservative Christians] were convinced to broaden verses like “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female in Christ” (Galatians 3, Colossians 4) to justify our support of progressive agendas like feminism, while passing over other verses about sexual roles in the church, family, and society (1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 3, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 11…). This led us down a road that converged with the Enlightenment’s view of the individual.” David Goodwin

We stopped asking God what He wants for us and began to ask ourselves what we want. And that became our priority.

We have reached a line we cannot cross and still remain the Church because crossing that line would mean we have become something else, no longer the Church. Crossing the line means becoming a false church with a false gospel. The one that tells you it’s okay to worship yourself.

The one that tells you that you are not here to serve God; He is here to serve you.

Baronnelle Stutzman is here to serve Him. Even if it costs her everything. And perhaps it already has.

On July 6, 2021, the US Supreme Court declined to hear her case.

Stutzman’s lawyer Kristen Waggoner says, “This denial paves the way for Washington State and the ACLU to financially ruin Baronnelle.”

The picture is not optimistic. But we are not without hope.

The world rushes in with its noise and threats of coming persecution. We can set ourselves apart—even in the midst of chaos and decadence. We can be the people of hope who shine light in darkness. But only if we stand in the light against the darkness. And we can know we do not stand alone.

And if we do stand, we may see that the American left has overplayed its hand.

In prison, Solzhenitsyn found he could speak freely. He was already in trouble. What else could they do?

Even later in exile, he spoke. His iron will was forged behind the iron curtain. He was a man whose heart was full and whose character was steel.

He said,You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

HEADlines: The Constant Battle of Fighting the Numbness of Our Comfort

Published in the Mustard Seed Sentinel, Saturday, February 22, 2020~

There you are, Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don’t you give it its freedom?” (161)

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, author and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn presents Ivan, a man yearning to be released from the Soviet gulag. Near the end of the one day the book depicts, Ivan has a conversation with Alyosha, a Christian whose joy defies the prison atmosphere.
In their exchange, Ivan acknowledges the existence of God but he’s seen corruption in the church. Alyosha replies, “It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.” Only those with steadfast faith go to jail.

Only the faithful pay a price.

As the conversation continues, Ivan questions the power of prayer. “However much you pray it doesn’t shorten your stretch. You’ll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow.”

What Alyosha says in response is surprising. Stunning, in fact.

“Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds” (163).

Now there’s a thought that seldom creeps into the minds of American Christians. For two centuries, America has been the land where faith is free. There is little if any cost. We only see advantages to our freedom, never disadvantages.

But in Russia, where Solzhenitsyn hailed from, it’s been a different story for a long time. And Solzhenitsyn wasn’t the only Russian writer to understand that story. And he wasn’t the only Russian author to name a faithful character Alyosha.

In “The Grand Inquisitor,” Fyodor Dostoevsky presents Alyosha, a priest, who is generous and loving. His brother Ivan is an atheist who plans to live until he is thirty and then commit suicide.

The two discuss a parable Ivan has written. The conversation is a chapter in The Brothers Karamozov—“The Grand Inquisitor.”

In Ivan’s parable, a 16th century Cardinal/inquisitor talks to a silent Christ who has returned to earth for the day. Christ sits silently while the inquisitor tells how he and others in power have replaced God and improved upon His plan. They have convinced the populace to willingly relinquish their freedom.

Christ had brought freedom with the promise of heavenly bread. But He did not bring guarantees of earthly bread or even happiness—something we American Christians tend to think should naturally proceed from freedom. The inquisitor instead offers people earthly bread at the cost of their freedom. Not having to pursue their own bread, the people will be happy, the inquisitor claims:

“Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? ‘Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!’ that’s what they’ll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple.”

Published in 1880, Dostoevsky was prophetic. Much of the world has turned to the bread of socialism. They don’t, however, seem any happier for having done so.

In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson promised America freedom and happiness. He admitted he did not have the “full answer” to America’s woes. But he determined to find “the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America.”
His speech marks a turning in America, certainly not the first—or the last—from the wisdom of God to the wisdom of man.

“The purpose of protecting the life of our nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a nation.” The government’s new goal was to effect personal happiness in its citizens. Without it, according to this administration, the nation was a failure.

Johnson’s Great Society would result in “abundance and liberty for all” and require “an end to poverty and racial injustice.”

It’s been more than half a century since LBJ promised that programs could produce a heyday of peace and prosperity, a heaven on earth utopia. But it was not to be.

It cannot be.

The pursuit of happiness is not something that anyone–including the government–can chase on someone else’s behalf. It comes, not in bread, but in purpose—a specific purpose.

In response to the inquisitor, Dostoevsky’s Christ remains silent. His only response is kissing the inquisitor before He departs.

Ivan thinks he has figured out how to fix the world. But Ivan still isn’t happy. Before they part, Alyosha kisses him.

Alyosha knows happiness does not come in the form of bread. It comes in the form of love. And that kind of love comes only through Christ—not through personal comfort. Solzhenitsyn agreed.

He said, “Even biology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

At Harvard’s commencement in 1978, Solzhenitsyn spoke to the graduating class, the future academic, business, and political leaders of America. He told them that “intense suffering” had produced spiritual development in the East, and that our comfortable lifestyle in the West had produced in us a state of “spiritual exhaustion.”

Solzhenitsyn said that Americans had “lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.” He said we needed “voluntary, inspired self-restraint” to “raise man above the world stream of materialism.”

We needed to step away from our comfort because our comfort had made us numb. Comfort had put us to sleep. Self-imposed discomfort would awaken our spiritual senses and take us back to God.

The Harvard students booed him off the stage.

It’s difficult to accept discomfort intentionally, difficult to convince ourselves we need to pursue less comfort, difficult to see happiness in giving instead of in receiving.

And comfort is always a relative term. In 1978, Americans weren’t nearly as comfortable as they had been in through the fifties and sixties, nor as comfortable as they would be in the eighties.

But through those years, we were always more comfortable than much of the world. Comfort softens us. Discomfort stretches us to new purpose.

Discomfort makes us look up. Peggy Noonan tells us to “embrace” crisis “as a blessing” and that, if we have not been so blessed, to “pray for one” (82).

It’s always my natural bent to claim that my blessings in that department have been more than adequately fulfilled, thanks anyway.

We always want to avoid the pain of trials. And for the most part, we don’t get to choose. But even after suffering some involuntary (but largely self-inflicted) discomfort in life, I still have to work to enter someone else’s grief and see their need.

Fighting the numbness of our comfort is a constant battle. Many Christians of the East today choose discomfort simply by choosing faith. At the least they realize that they are at risk of suffering for the sake of the Gospel.

Along with Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn was a prophet. America didn’t listen to him in 1978. But we can listen now. If we can shake off our numbness and embrace the discomfort of giving, of purpose, of love.

Photo Credit: Ben White

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Always a Choice

Imagine being in a terrible place. The food is beyond bad. The clothing is inadequate. The weather is unbearably hot in the summer and way below what we consider cold in the winter. The work is hard, menial, and endless.

Then imagine that you get to go to a better place. The food is better. You can be warm in the winter. You’re not afraid you’ll die from the bad treatment.

But you find out that, in order to stay there, you have to do things you don’t want to do. You have to help your oppressors spy on your fellow citizens. You have to help them send others to the place that is so bad.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn did not have to imagine this scenario.

After spending years in a Siberian gulag, he was able to go to a place where the Soviet government was doing research. In the 1940s, they wanted Solzhenitsyn to help them develop voice recognition technology. If he didn’t cooperate, they would send him back.

So send me back, he told them.

“Even in the camps, human dignity matters,” says Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Alexander’s son. “We always have choices. Even in the camps. Even where everything is decided for you. What clothes you wear, what food … you’re given, and everything is regimented. There is always the choice to behave with freedom and a sense of dignity.”

Freedom in a gulag? Always. Freedom and dignity everywhere? All the time. Solzhenitsyn is proof that Soviet tyrants overplayed their hand.

You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power—he’s free again.” 

In prison, Solzhenitsyn found he could speak freely. He was already in trouble. What else could they do?

Even later in exile, he spoke. His iron will was forged behind the iron curtain. He was a man whose heart was full and whose character was steel.

You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.” 

The choice is ours–always.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”