St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Censorship Through Noise”
Collect: Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
John 8:12-20 (Today’s Gospel, read but not focused upon)
Stay with me here, this is about Jesus, and loving Jesus more. But I need to do a little background. I was listening to a radio interview yesterday with the writer McKay Coppins on his new article in The Atlantic. They were talking about the current political climate, and how this year the idea of truth and logic have already been thrown out the window. We are witnessing where one need not counter the opposition, but rather drown them out with such a stream of other (whether factual, or logical, or not) that any opposing voice is drowned out. I got chills as he was describing it.
This is from his article discussing his research on this tactic used by authoritarians around the world:
What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.(Here is a link to the article from the March 2020 edition.)
We no longer need a better argument, or facts, just a better sound system. Now, before anyone gets up and leaves, this is almost the exact attack that Uncle Screwtape instructed his nephew Wormwood to do to keep a new follower of Jesus from growing in his faith in C.S. Lewis’s classic The Screwtape Letters.
“When this, or any other distraction, crosses his mind you ought to encourage him to thrust it away by sheer will power and to try to continue the normal prayer as if nothing had happened; once he accepts the distraction as his present problem and lays that before the Enemy and makes it the main theme of his prayers and his endeavours, then, so far from doing good, you have done harm.”
Remember that The Screwtape Letters are written from demons pulling a sinner away from “the Enemy,” a.k.a. God, so distracting us, in our prayers, in our service, in our devotions, and having us think that distraction, whatever it is, is the main thing, then they have won. Censorship through noise.
This year there will be screaming, finger-pointing, and hate. Love, patience, joy will be the only things that will win the day. D-Day was long before the end of World War II, but after that Germany’s fate was sealed. At Calvary, our Enemy, our true Enemy was defeated for eternity. Right now we are just having skirmishes with a terrified and defeated foe, some as big or bigger than the Battle of the Bulge.
That is why Paul can encourage us to put all our chips on Jesus. It is, as he would say, the only winning hand. The Romans passage encourages us to be all in, each and every day. When the distractions pull us away, we can center, asking God for help as we need to do so, so that we can be who we were born to be in Christ. My favorite translation of this passage comes from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. I have probably read this before. I should probably read it to myself daily. These are just the first two verses from today’s passage.
Romans 8:1-2 from Eugene Peterson’s The Message.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
The Call of Christ is calling us to our best selves, always has been, always will. Uncle Screwtape will distort, distract, and disarm us in whatever way he can. “Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” May we keep the main thing the main thing. Amen