January 5, 2022
Years ago I knew a kid named Mark. We both belonged to the youth group at our Methodist church, and the summer after my senior year, a bunch of us traveled to Kentucky on a service project, helping people fix up their houses.
Mark was a couple of years younger than me, a big, good-natured guy and very dedicated to our mission. Like everyone in the group, he worked hard to raise money for the trip and equally hard during our week in Kentucky. I remember the two of us cleaning windows, him scrubbing away on one side, me on the other. He had a strong, caring faith, offering a prayer one evening for a local boy whose family was facing hard times.
I lost touch with him and the others after I went off to college. I never heard his name again until my hometown paper reported that Mark Finchem, a former city police officer, was now a far-right state lawmaker in Arizona and among the insurrectionists at the Capitol.
He says he didn’t go inside, but he may have been closer than he’ll admit. He described the riot as, “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.” (He also called the white-supremacist Charlottesville rally, “a deep-state psyop.”) Trump endorsed him in his race for secretary of state. If he wins, he’ll be running the election in Arizona in 2024.
Needless to say, all this came as a shock. I don’t know how Mark got to this point. What I can’t get over is the contrast between his present self and the kind of Christianity we learned and did our best to practice back in the day.
When we made the trip, we were following in the footsteps of the Rev. James W. Wright, our senior minister, a powerful voice for equality and justice as well as a friend to the needy. A church member recalled in his obituary that, “He always had a love for people who were down and out. He lived the Gospel.”
In one sermon he said, “With the vision God gives, a better world is possible. Our place is not on the sidelines sighing over the woes of the world or the failings of our fellow men. We are not called to be spectators. As Christians, we are called to be participants.” Those beliefs may have been shaped by his service as an Army chaplain in World War II, which included the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Buchenwald.
My mother used to say, “He makes you feel like he’s talking directly to you.” I can hear him now, telling us to love each other, lift up those who are struggling, and resist fascism with all our might. Take care and be safe.