Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Wandering Spirits

In my perambulations far from home the other day, I came across yet another educational institution with a new and utterly unpronounceable indigenous name, replacing the original and admittedly blander “Eastern Commerce School”, which could mean anything at all, including an experiment in Chinese democracy. The sign in the photo to the right was on prominent display.

For those readers not up to speed, our Canadian government has taken upon the State the burden of generations of corporate guilt with respect to its ancient predecessor’s dealings with the native Canadian population. That’s a load that does not sit lightly on its bearers, or conveniently evaporate in the sun when we tire of bearing it.

The Only Kap I Know is Kapuskasing

In order to be perceived as offering sufficient penance to the victims of colonialism, the Powers That Be have gotten into the habit of one-upping themselves by changing the names of roads, cities and institutions to ever-more-obscure and increasingly polysyllabic indigenous appellations. Kapapamahchakwew (I refuse to acknowledge arbitrary accents in a language that only exists in written form because of the evil colonialists), or Wandering Spirit School, is another in an endless line of historical revisions leading us who knows where.

Sorry, I digress. For reasons that will be obvious shortly, I found the sign more than a little ironic, and photos ensued. As you can see, at the top right the new sign reads, “Please enter through the main door.” Even a school that celebrates wandering spirits permits no actual wandering on the premises.

Wandering and the Bad Rap

Perhaps there is some small wisdom to that. In scripture, wandering has a uniformly bad rap. Solomon wrote, “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind”, which was perhaps an early way of observing that the bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Meditating on what’s on the other side of the fence rarely ends well. Later, Paul would warn Timothy not to become an enabler of young widows with a tendency to wander from house to house among their Christian friends, becoming idle gossips and busybodies. Nothing positive came of their wandering. Then there is Jude, who makes reference to “wandering stars”, ungodly false teachers consumed with sensuality and self-interest who crept into churches undetected and endangered the faith of others with their libertine reinterpretations of orthodoxy. These particular wanderers leant toward lassitude rather than legalism. All their intentional movement was, shall we say, toward the “left”.

That makes sense. Wanderers love options, at least for themselves. Providing options to others is less of a concern. Wandering manifests early, in the hearts of young women who happily soak up the romantic attentions and intimacies of all comers without any intention of responding with the appropriate level of life-long commitment. And let’s not even talk about young men …

Wandering and the Proliferation of Options

In contrast to wanderers, truth seekers love the removal of options. Find us the thing that we can confidently say pleases God the most, and we’re right on it, ideally to the exclusion of all else. The option seeker is forever looking for a potential out from under the onerous responsibility of living Christian-ly, rather than a definitive answer to lingering spiritual questions to be put into practice consistently. The truth seeker just wants to get his answer and move on to living it out.

Forgive me for repeating an anecdote, but my father had a question he used to put to those who came to him for counseling, and it went something like this: “If I could show you from scripture what the Lord wants you to do about your problem, would you do it?” Anyone who equivocated was cordially invited to go away and waste someone else’s valuable time. He or she was a chronic wanderer. Smart man.

Likewise, I learned far too late in life that the purpose of much feminine conversation is to generate a satisfying emotional resonance from the listener rather than actually solve a problem. Women will wander around an issue or incident entertaining all sorts of fantastical and improbable notions about what may have happened and what it may mean, but are far too often (and I am generalizing here) deeply reluctant to pursue any unhappy personal interaction to its inevitable biblical conclusion. Any male who inserts himself into such a mutually affirming exchange will find himself baffled that his forlorn attempts to pin down who did what to whom and suggest from scripture what should be done about it are considered both annoying and irrelevant. The wandering is all, the ultimate destination of minimal concern.

Wanderers Like to Wander

To be entirely fair, this latter, homely manifestation of the wandering spirit is nowhere near as malignant or hazardous as the doctrinal wanderings of the false teachers in Jude slicing and dicing the first century church, but it reminds us that wanderers like to wander. Like my father, we can save ourselves a great deal of time and frustration if we simply identify and avoid wanderers until they learn to figure out what they actually want and commit themselves to it instead of prattling on incessantly about their innumerable whims and inclinations.

But back to the sign. Like the Wandering Spirit School that has only one door you are allowed to walk through so they don’t have to worry about the wrong sort of people hanging out in the hallways, the wanderer is actually much more defined than he looks: he may not be prepared to spell out for us precisely what he wants, but he sure knows what (and whom) he doesn’t want. In our political world, what looks like wandering when the Democrats and Liberals engage in it is actually going somewhere very specific indeed. What looks like inclusiveness, open-mindedness and tolerance is actually exclusion by another name. The wandering spirit rebels vigorously against anyone who would dare to pin it down and compel it to commit.

The Commitment Crisis

When we find the wandering spirit in churches, pinning it down is the very best way to deal with it. The wandering spirit always favors the broad brush floating blithely over the canvas where hard decisions about line, shape and meaning are necessary. The wandering spirit loves to generalize about “institutional racism” and “patriarchal complexes” rather than getting pinned down concerning repentance, forgiveness and restitution for specific, identifiable sins by people whose errors and missteps can be dated and documented. Why? Because isolating a problem and dealing with it always puts the wandering spirit out of a job.

I suppose the good news, if there is any, is that a wandering spirit is bound to find some new hobbyhorse to chase in short order.

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