eCare - Put a Napkin on It!

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eCare - Put a Napkin on It!

Dear Friends in Christ,

While standing on line in the grocery store, my primary source for good sermon material, the lady behind me turned from her animated conversation with the lady behind her and, throwing her hands up in the air said, to no one in particular “What difference does it make what size hands Donald Trump has?”

Obviously, she had just been engaged in a conversation about the latest Marco Rubio insult hurled at Trump and she had just as obviously missed the (nasty) double entendre his comment was meant to evoke.  In a campaign in which we are experiencing new (low) levels of crudity and crassness the hands reference was one of the most vulgar.

That is not to say that hands have not been a topic of conversation in past presidencies.  In 1884 a newspaper article about President Grover Cleveland, who was known for hanging out with what was referred to as a “coarse crowd” of gamblers and saloon frequenters, mocked him for eating with his hands and a knife and no fork.  What difference do hands make in a president, indeed!

Cleveland’s dining proclivities sans fork was an issue for some because the use of the fork was just coming into fashion in America.  Though the humanist Erasmus had advocated the use of the fork as early as the 16th century the practice was slow to catch on both in Europe and in the new world.

What was the big deal about eating with a fork?  The practice did not necessarily make eating easier – hands were much more functional.  The practice did not help the spread of disease – the switch to individual plates from a common plate accomplished that.  The practice did not help to keep ones hands clean – the arrival of the napkin accomplished that, or did it?

The 20th century Swiss sociologist Norbert Elias proffered an interesting theory on the use of the fork and the napkin.  The fork was not designed to keep the hands clean, he theorized…the fork was meant to keep the napkin clean. If, by eating, the hands got soiled and the soiled hands were wiped on the napkin, the napkin would be reduced to nothing more than a kitchen rag and therefore, defeated the purpose of the napkin which was to demonstrate that the one eating was not vulgar or common at heart but socially advanced, of higher breeding, civil.

The napkin was meant to provide a cover for the baser, coarser nature of man, to distract others from the unseemly things that are at the heart of who and what a person is.  When Grover Cleveland ate with his hands, a charge he vehemently denied, he revealed that he was crude, base, vulgar and uncivil.

What surprises me about the low level of discourse in our current presidential campaigns is the extent to which people are surprised by it.  For decades we have been on a steady decline in civility in America.  The American public has shrugged off the prophetic message from cultural observers of all stripes, the clergy included, as coming from alarmist and old fashioned fuddy-duddies who take themselves too seriously and refuse to keep up with the times.

Well, the times have caught up with us and we have gotten what we refused to see and what we deserve:  a despicable lack of decorum, appropriateness, etiquette and civility.  It has characterized our classrooms, our board rooms and our living rooms for years and now it passes for appropriate political discourse coming from most, if not all the candidates from both parties.  Upon hearing of the latest locker room barbs traded by our national candidates acting like undisciplined kids running for student council president one is tempted to shout “Put a sock in it!”  Maybe someone should start a campaign to call these guys to put a napkin on it!

There is a famous line in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:  “If God does not exist everything is permitted.”  Of course, we know that God does exist but, regardless of whether one self-identifies as evangelical, a term, by the way, that currently has no real meaning consistent with historic and classic evangelicalism, men and women today live as if He does not exist.  God does not shape what they think, what they say and what they do.  All things, therefore are “permitted.”

What are we to do you may ask?  “If my people, who are called by my name will…”

Faithfully in Him,