I knew a giant of a man who called himself Minnie Mouse. His hair was shoulder length and sprawled like straw, stiff and tangled. His beard too. Often he wore a tee shirt cut off just below the nipples, his large hairy stomach extending bare into the air. Whatever pants he wore were held up with clothesline rope.
If you have in mind a dirty, deshoveled man in ragged clothing standing 6’4” and 220 pounds, then I succeeded in describing Minnie. This was the late 1980’s and he lived on the streets as did many people with mental health disorders in urban areas. The church I served attracted dozens of “regulars” who came for assistance, or to sit and sleep in a quiet place where they felt safe.
Though I never knew his clinical diagnoses, I guessed Minnie had integration disorder, better known as schizophrenia. In addition to disorganized speech, he was often delusional and hallucinated at times. His size disadvantaged him since people with severe mental disorders tend to scare others to begin with.
The congregation I served had become wonderfully adept at living with such people in their midst. That is a story in itself, but here is an example of what I mean. The church had a large parish hall and each Sunday a circle of older members would form. It could number as many as twenty people in their late seventies and early eighties, drinking coffee and chatting before worship.
One day Minnie walked in with a car radio strung around his neck by a piece of rope, and a second strand of rope attached to the radio with a piece of wood tied to the end. I greeted him to discern his mood that morning and immediately he began to interview me. The car radio – and who knows how he got it – was his tape recorder and the piece of wood at the end of the rope a microphone. I don’t remember his questions that day but I do remember watching him move around the circle of our sages interviewing each one. Even cantankerous Grace Stine went along with it, never batting an eye or challenging his reality.
I learned not to challenge Minnie’s reality or others, who like him, hung out there. It only incited resistance and sometimes much worse. Minnie taught me a great deal.
When at my best as a preacher and writer, I offer alternative views to prevailing ones without insisting mine are the absolute or final truth. Even so, I struggle to keep with that wisdom when it comes to the citizens of Trumpworld. While plain old cynical dishonesty emanates from the political leadership, in his followers it can become a delusional lens distorting reality.
We all have lenses of course, but some are more data-driven than others. Whatever lens we wear, it is a mark of wisdom when, if our reality is challenged, we stop and consider it seriously. The frequent severity of response when challenging Trumpian distortions reminds me of the hazard of working with Minnie. We can only hope that enough of those who donned the hats and accepted the prescriptive lenses have since had their vision restored and will vote differently this time around.
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