Touch me, Heal me

Anyone familiar with the 12-step recovery movement would recognize this introduction: “Hi, my name is Joe, and I’m a recovering QAnoner.” 

I case you’re wondering about QAnon; it is a loose collection of conspiracy beliefs centered around Donald Trump and the Republican Party and the BIG LIE that he had in fact won the election – an election that has been stolen by a secret cabal of bad actors.  The core assertion is that a secret, “deep state,” coterie of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is festering among our elites.  They are conspiring to take over the government, Hollywood, and big business.  They could certainly have the mess on my desk if they want to take something over.  If this conspiracy theory weren’t so dangerous, it would be laughable.

The QAnon conspiracy theory grew up on the fringes of the internet.  The origin hinges on one person, “Q,” with supposed inside government information, who began posting pieces about this plot, His assertion is that Trump is waging a secret war against it.  Trump is the new messiah who will lead us all out of the darkness of this conspiracy.  QAnon has grown from a handful of deluded souls to a mass movement within the Republican Party, with almost sixty percent of Trump supporters claiming allegiance.

Beyond lending credence to the belief that it was necessary to storm the Capitol last January 6th – beyond the death and destruction that the bizarro myth legitimated – is the damage it is doing to its adherents.

Those who have gone down the QAnon rabbit hole are discovering that this cult is as dangerous and as life-destroying as any other.  Those lies spawned by Jim Jones, Ruby Ridge, Scientology, David Koresh, Birtherism…you name it…they’ll kill your soul.  They consume every waking moment.  The Bible calls it idolatry.  And getting out is nigh on impossible.

Those ensnared are often loners looking for answers to the insurmountable problems assaulting them over the airwaves and on the internet.  For some, life has simply become too difficult.  These convoluted ideas provide easy answers to complexities that at the same time, assure them that whatever they are experiencing, it is not their fault.

Deep, mysterious, dark forces are at work beyond our feeble powers to influence.  Do your “research.”  “The TRUTH is out there.”  “Q sent me.”  The unfortunate adherents of QAnon languish in a fever-dream of half-baked reality.  Life is slowly sucked out of them.  Just like with any addiction.

After Trump left the White House, shattering the hopes that He Would be the new Messiah to lead America out of the “deep state” wilderness, even more elaborate stories were needed to shore up belief. 

Many evangelical Christians bought into this fantasy, believing that Trump indeed wore the mantle of heaven. He was God’s anointed to save America.  All that was tawdry, the lies, the women, the cheating – it was all overlooked.  Explained away.  Of no real consequence.

Trump had secretly won the election, and on the original date for the Inauguration, March 4th, he would reveal himself in all his electoral splendor as our REAL PRESIDENT — to wage war against the satanic imposters – read Democrats (socialists) , Muslims, Jews, scientists, the media, and non-believers.

Friends, this is a fever dream.  A sickness of the soul and of the mind.  Difficult as it is, there is an exit ramp.

This is every bit as much a fever as we read of in the Gospel story this morning of Simon’s mother-in-law.

“When Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” [1]

I wonder what Gloria Steinem would have made of this story.  I’m sure that I know what my friend Marilyn Reynolds would have made of it.  “Only a man could have written it.  What is this anyway?  Jesus healed the woman just so she could go make lunch?  Indeed, only a man could have written this.

The point here is not a discussion about sexism and the marginalization of women.  The point is that she was restored to usefulness — as limited as that might have been in a patriarchal society. 

That is the point of healing, restoration to agency and purpose.  That’s why at House of Hope we insist, “There is no recovery without a job.”  A job provides a source of inner satisfaction, a network of relationships, a means of making a way in the world.  In short, community and purpose.  A reason to get up every morning.

“Touch me.  Heal me,” might have been her silent prayer.  And at the touch of One who cares, is healing.  Every bit as much as in that closing song of the 1960s rock opera, “Tommy,” by The WHO. 

Here’s the take-away from this lesson.  In and through touch, love is communicated.  Touch as vivid as Michelangelo’s painting of God reaching to touch Adam amidst celestial splendor.

Touch as immediate and healing as the hand on a shoulder of another wracked with loss.  Touch as powerful as hands anointing the head of another in prayer.

Touch me.  Heal me.  And there are the beginnings of wholeness.

In our present day of COVID-19, touch has of necessity taken on an electronic form.  I know; this is not near as satisfying and comforting.  But, trusting in God’s Spirit, it shall suffice.

Back to those stuck in QAnon Wonderland. 

 One escapee from the QAnon cult, Ceally Smith, had spent a year chasing QAnon phantoms and mysteries.  She was recruited into it by a boyfriend, with whom she has since broken up.  It was now destroying her life.

Ceally would spend hours at her computer monitor doing “research,” attempting to validate the web of lies and stories she was discovering at these fringe sites.  Until her eyes glazed over, until she could barely keep them open — often until three and four in the morning, chasing one shadow after another.  Sleep deprivation had turned her to a zombie.  She could no longer be a fit mother to her children.  Her work and studies took a nosedive.

Her life destroyed, emotional exhaustion her daily fare, Smith now wanted out.  Through the healing touch of those who did not condemn, she was slowly restored to the usefulness of her own life – having a reason to smile at the morning.  Restored as a mother with children who loved her and missed her terribly when she had disappeared down that dark hole of the QAnon cult.  The warm embrace of those who care is the necessary healing touch.  Even if it’s only possible over the internet.  Touch me.  Heal me.

As in any addiction, these followers soon lose family relationships, are fired from their jobs and sometimes end up homeless on the streets.  No different than if the drug were alcohol, a gang, the home shopping channel, gambling, a toxic relationship, or opioids.

For those fleeing the QAnon addiction, restoration of connection to trusted friends and family is essential.  Touch me.  Heal me.

Michael Frink is a Mississippi computer engineer who now moderates a QAnon recovery channel on the social media platform Telegram. He said that while mocking the group has never been more popular online, it will only further alienate people.  Derision does not promote healing.

As the old telephone commercial put it, “Reach out and touch someone.”  Or in the recovery movement, “Make a friend, be a friend.”

That is what Michael Frink does electronically.  His digital touch is healing for many who enter his electronic recovery community.

Frink said he never believed in the QAnon theory but sympathizes with those who did.

“I think after the inauguration a lot of them realized they’ve been taken for a ride,” he said. “These are human beings. If you have a loved one who is in it: make sure they know they are loved.”[2]

Healing becomes reality as it’s given away.  One ex-believer, Jitarth Jadeja, of Australia, has formed an internet recovery community to help others like him who had been sucked into this death cult.  QAnon Casualties offers advice to recovering QAnoners and to the relatives of those still meshed.

Within weeks of Trump’s loss, the membership of QAnon Casualties exploded to now over one hundred thousand.  It has grown so fast in the last few weeks; three new moderators have had to be added.  In this compassionate work, I would affirm that a greater reality is involved.  The One who is the Source of All Healing is offering a warm embrace.  Touch me.  Heal me.

The approach is empathy through electronic touch: “They are our friends and family,” said Jadeja,. “It’s not about who is right or who is wrong. I’m here to preach empathy, for the normal people, the good people who got brainwashed by this death cult.”[3]  That is the offramp for people like Ceally Smith.

His advice to those fleeing QAnon? Get off social media, take deep breaths, and pour that energy and internet time into local volunteering.  Give your recovery away.  Touch me.  Heal me.  Heed the desperate cry.

The tragedy of COVID-19 is that for those hospitalized, the touch of friends and family is not possible.  Our dear St. Francis sister, Alicia, died this week without the comfort of family to hold her.  So often this last ministration to the dying falls to a nurse, doctor or orderly – a complete stranger — to hold a hand in the final fleeting moments of life.   We can only grieve that that reality is what we’re forced to endure.  The best we can do.  And pray.

To touch, to heal, is the vocation of us in the church.  As with Simon’s mother-in-law, as with those caught up in the QAnon death cult, as with those is the last hours of life in an ICU ward – we are called to reach out.  Touch.  Heal.  If only online or by phone.

Our nation will heal as disillusioned souls find their way out of the shadows of lies and conspiracy fevers.  Even if, for now, virtual touch is the only possible means of healing.  Today, let us simply listen to the cry, “Touch me.  Heal me.” 

For those living alone, as the saying goes, “Reach out and touch someone.”  Offer comfort.  Encourage them to be vaccinated ASAP.  Make that call.  Today.  Amen.

[1] Mark 1:29-39, New Revised Standard Version.

[2] David Klepper, “Some QAnon Supporters Checked By Reality Seek A Way Out,” AP, January 28, 2001.

[3] Op cit.

“Touch me, Heal me”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

February 7, 2021, Epiphany 5

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23;
Mark 1:29-39

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