There is an old story about a Maine farmer who gets up before dawn, as he did every day, to walk over to the barn to milk his cows. As he returns to the house, the dawn breaks in full glory — casting its incandescent beauty over the fields and the distant forest. As he looks out the window while drinking his early morning coffee, his wife breaks the silence: “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” He looks at her with a cold eye: “Yeah, and we’re going to pay for it, too.”
I know that story. Most of us do. Maybe not the cow part, but I know the hesitation, if not resistance, to accept beauty or grace or hospitality without wondering if there is a catch — or if the proverbial shoe is going to drop, or if some price is needing to be paid.
It is an issue of trust. Or, more properly, mistrust. Mistrust is sweeping over the cultural landscape like an emerging dawn that threatens to never set. And is anything but beautiful.
There is a growing number of people who have a deep mistrust of the government, fearful that it will reach ever deeper into pockets to pull out more taxes, or reach into bedrooms or holsters to take away guns, or standing idly by as a medical procedure reaches into a womb to take what they insist is a baby (at six weeks). The mistrust can metastasize
Into narratives that deny mass shootings, or conjure up voter fraud — or insist that America’s southern borders have become welcome wagons for refugees and the dispossessed.
When mistrust reaches a certain threshold, as is happening more and more these days, people have a tendency to invest their trust in a demagogue, a dogma or a distraction. The idea is that giving over complete trust can make life easier. Instead, it makes life more precarious, if not more dangerous — for everyone; because what is really going on is that people who put their blind trust in a person or an organization are surrendering their agency. Surrendering — not to a faith, but to an unambiguous view of the world that doesn’t exist. Surrendering their thinking to someone or something else. The rigidity, and the certainty that accompanies it, may reduce anxiety, but it only makes the complexity of the world’s problems worse.
The journey of faith necessarily involves wrestling with doubts, which is a form of mistrust. Frederick Buchner, prize winning author and theologian who died on August 15 at age 96, wrote that doubts are the “ants in the pants in faith. They keep it alive and moving.” (Wishful Thinking, 1973).
Mistrust is always either lurking on the horizon or seeping into the stomach. It is always showing up. We have to deal with it. Wrestle with it. Facing mistrust eventually moves us to a deeper and more abiding trust — which then enables us to greet a sunrise — not with hesitation or fear, but with a full gratitude.