If You Are Afraid the World is Ending

If You Are Afraid the World is Ending

I used to have this childhood fantasy; it was so real you could almost call it a vision.  I used to wish every place I’d ever stepped, and every thing I’d ever touched could light up.  That way I’d always know if I’d been somewhere before, or if I had held a thing before. Rest stops somewhere in Iowa would glow with the footsteps of family vacations from my childhood and I would always know if I had held a dollar bill before.  I just wanted to know I had been there.  Like real time graffiti.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as troubling news reports and scary things scroll by on my newsfeed and Facebook page. With every article I share I feel more useless. With every response to misinformation I am tempted toward a bit more of existential despair. Where have I been lately? Does any of this information sharing matter at all? When I put down my phone and go to do something mundane like wash the dishes, or even something better like playing with my kids–am I just shutting my mind to the problems in this world when I should be fighting? How does a person function when the world is so stressed out? How stressed out should I actually be?

I told my husband today, “I keep being horribly tempted to be afraid.  But then I remember that we are not supposed to be afraid. Then I think, ‘so what on earth am I supposed to be feeling right now?'”

Jonathon said, “Faith, and that it IS all going to be ok.” I thought for a moment.

“But is it the kind of ok where I still need to be worrying about where my kids are going to go to college, or the kind of ok where first Armageddon comes and then Jesus comes back? Because those are very different kinds of okay.”

He laughed. I laughed.  We both got that far away look you get on your face when you know what you’re laughing about isn’t really that funny.

The thing is that I’m bone tired from the cultural and political climate we find ourselves in. I know I’m not the only one, and I highly doubt that I’m even anywhere near to the most tired. It’s easy to want my Facebook to go back to nothing but cat pictures and babies. I do not blame people who are desperately trying to steer it back that direction with lobbed pictures of kittens or ANYTHING, that can distract even for a second from the panic. Even total despair feels like a rest from the constant weeding and combing through articles for truth. But here is what I believe, what I think I know if I know anything at all.  We have to keep caring.

Do you remember in 1999 how the world was flipping the heck out over Y2K? How people were preparing bunkers and fallout shelters for the end of the world? And then when it came it pfft’d by with no more than a few outrageous overdue fees at video stores. It’s easy to make fun of ourselves for that pandemonium, but one could easily argue that Y2K didn’t happen because we flipped out about it beforehand.  I am hoping this is like that. We have to keep flipping out. Take breaks, tag team, whatever you have to do. But we can not give in to apathy and lay down.

This is a hard message for a lot of reasons. First, the world is not newly broken. It’s been broke for awhile and it’s easy to wonder why it’s special enough to drop everything for it now. Second, we disagree wildly about exactly WHAT is broken and HOW it’s broken. How do we come together over that?

I don’t know.

But I do know that caring about things is important. I generally don’t affect my world by standing back until I know what to do and how to do it correctly.  Personally it has usually involved running into the mess and making an awful lot of mistakes, backing up, and then making a lot more. People tend to bounce off of each other really uncomfortably even when they end up doing a lot of good. I know I’m being vague. I look at the problems of the world and it seems like one big Schrodinger’s cat problem. Is it right or wrong? Good or bad? Alive or dead?

It is really really tempting to decide to leave the box be and walk away. Maybe it will all be ok if I just don’t touch anything. Or maybe I am walking away from something I could actually change if I just did the scary thing and looked into the box. But that’s hard.

The thing is, we don’t generally get to keep track of a great amount of what we have done or where the things we touch go. So it can start to feel like we’ve gone nowhere and touched nothing. It’s not as easy as opening a box. And the problems of the world are a whole lot worse than a potentially dead cat.

And we don’t even agree on what needs to be done. The political fences are high and the perspectives could not be more different. How do I work with my neighbor to improve the world when we just don’t even seem to be talking about the same world sometimes? As far as I can tell, it’s this: I do it anyway. I find people who want to take care of people the way Jesus taught us, and I assume we are on the same team. Maybe we think that means different things. Maybe we think that works different ways. But I have to believe that if our goal is to serve God and keep our fight against evil and not each other that we will get there. No matter who we voted for or what policies we disagree on.

The truly difficult part is giving up our ability to feel any amount of control over the pain of the world or how our actions affect it. We must take up what we believe is right and do it knowing that we may never know if or why it was important. We might be planting the seeds of a good life for our children if not for ourselves. God can rule between the different actions and perspectives we take. But we can’t give up. Please don’t give up.

Because you know what I believe? Even though I cannot say a magic word and cause all the steps and touches I’ve ever made light up–that exists. Those things are known. The God who knows when every sparrow falls knows where I’ve been and touched. And he makes these efforts toward peace and love matter.

So do not grow tired of caring, friends; or of witnessing other people care. Care on the Internet and off. Care if you’re washing dishes or being an activist. Care if you are running into the fight or taking a break for awhile. But apathy is such a dangerous enemy. Good people need to hold apathy as a greater enemy than making mistakes or disagreeing.

Because I think, and I hope that caring is what makes all those fall-out shelters useless and the doomsday prophets silly. It’s what keeps the darkness at bay.

Do not ever stop.

If Hindsight Looks like Regret

If Hindsight Looks like Regret

Maybe redemption has stories to tell

Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell

Where can you run to escape from yourself?

Where you gonna go? Salvation is here.

–Switchfoot, “I Dare you to Move”

I’ve had a very hard time following politics lately. I know, it’s ugly out there and I’m definitely not the only one who wants to permanently delete Facebook. But the thing is–that’s never bothered me before. In fact, the uglier it was the more I wanted to run into the fray and put in my two cents. Not in real life, mind you, just on the internet where I could walk away from my computer and pretend I hadn’t just pissed a bunch of people off who I might see tomorrow. My favorite fights were with people I wouldn’t see tomorrow anyway.

And last year, I was really, really into politics. And it started because I saw that little three year old Syrian immigrant boy wash up on the beach in Turkey.  And all it really took was one solid look into what was going on in the world for me to end up sitting in a corner crying and hugging my own son and shaking over the horror of it.  I could feel what that boy’s parents felt.  Or at least imagine it, whether I wanted to or not.  I followed up with reading more stories of beheadings, babies hanging from trees, and the Arabic letter nun written on houses.  Bad stuff guys.  More than I had let myself be aware of in awhile.

So I wanted to save the world. Ok, I knew I couldn’t do that.  But I wanted to do whatever I could from my rather shut-in position as a stay-at-home Mom in NYC.  Which mostly meant making people aware and praying.  I felt helpless, but I wasn’t content to do nothing at all.

Follow that up with the attacks in Paris by Muslim extremists.  And the moment that happened I knew what was coming–people were going to be even more afraid of letting in Muslim refugees than they had been.  The children washing up on beaches was going to increase.  I grew frantic.  And then it happened–one of my family members, my cousin Sam, made comments against the importation of refugees.

We argued on the internet for the next year.  Or really, if I’m being honest, every time he posted something I thought was wrong–I called him on it.  Relentlessly.  I corrected, criticized, and made it basically unpleasant for him to post anything against my own political views. I wasn’t nasty, but I wasn’t empathetic for a moment.  Why should I be?  He was wrong.  That was all that mattered.

And then, in the middle of the election and Trump vs. Clinton craziness, and after several exchanges between me and Sam about who was more evil, it happened.  Sam died.  Suddenly.  On the way to his birthday party in a motorcycle accident. On the way to the house he grew up in that I had always visited every summer as a child. He was just gone.

After I got the call from Dad I went out into the field next to our house and did something I never do.  I swore.  A lot.  I screamed it.  I scared a few hikers on the pathway nearby.  And then I swore some more.  It came from somewhere deep in my soul I didn’t know was there.  I try so hard to be good.  To be fair.  I do everything I can to do what is right.  And there I was, feeling like I couldn’t have gotten anything more wrong in the entirety of my life. It was so incredibly and horribly unfair. After I was done screaming I just laid down with my face mushed into the grass feeling the awfulness in total silence.

And then I walked quietly back to my house and told Dad that I was flying to my Aunt and Uncle’s house as soon as I could.  I didn’t know if I would be wanted, or needed at all.  But I told him I’d sleep under a rock for just the mere chance of being helpful.

And so I spent a week sitting in Sam’s childhood home, learning about the life of my cousin who I hadn’t really talked to since we were kids. I met his girlfriend and learned about their life together. I met his friends and heard so many stories about Sam, a joyful man who protected his friends and worked hard and with integrity. I listened, and then I listened some more. And I died a little every time I realized just how much I didn’t know about Sam, even though we were family. I was horrified about how little I had tried to learn about him in the middle of needing to be angry at someone, of being convinced that my so differently opinionated family didn’t have a place for me any more.

And for a week they welcomed me into their house, told me stories, and cried with me. I was still family. I was still welcome. I was overwhelmed to find something remaining from a childhood I thought was completely gone.

And I watched my Aunt and Uncle embrace the girl who hit and killed Sam. I watched them do it without reservation or hesitation. I don’t know if I would have actually expected them to do otherwise, but there was something so breathtaking about watching them give a girl back her life like that.  With complete generosity and humility of spirit.

And just like that, Sam’s death gave me back so much of my own life. I didn’t deserve it, but there it was. I couldn’t be angry anymore. Not like before. I’m still devastated about children washing up on beaches. I still want to help. But maybe, just maybe, people who don’t have the same eyes for global trauma and politics are often heroes in their own backyard. Maybe they are giving life to their neighbors and friends right where they are. Can I even say that I am doing that?

I’m not saying all people who voted for Trump are good.  Or that I have changed my political opinions. I’m saying that I feel like I don’t know anything anymore. I’m not entirely sure if my lack of desire to engage the political conversation anymore is a result of deep sadness, or maturity.  Maybe it’s both. But I do know that I missed out on the opportunity to really know someone who was worth knowing. And that I have a serious hunch that no matter what it feels like sometimes, the mix of people, of selfishness and blindness, of good intentions and heroism–is exactly the same in people who voted for Trump as it is in those who didn’t. And truly good things can come out of truly awful things. And I have so little control over any of it. And I have a peace about all these things that I can’t explain.

So I’m devoting my time these days to trying to help people really see each other. To being a peace keeper. To becoming more than my personal opinions and a person who is gracious to people who are difficult to be gracious to. To making sure we keep in mind who we are really fighting against. And it’s not each other.

Nothing ever steals our ability to keep doing the right things that are in front of us. Nothing prevents us from carrying out compassion every day in small ways and calling our Senators and attending political marches. Nothing can prevent us from learning about and bonding so tightly to those with whom we disagree that we can’t help but move forward together.  That goal is not dead. Don’t forget that we live in a country where not only are we not in total submission to our leaders (and in fact have many reasons to believe the opposite is still true), but we live in one where we do not have to sacrifice our relationships because of politics.

So forgive me if I seem shallower these days, or if I have less fight in me. It’s not apathy. I’m so afraid of being too hard or too soft all at once–but my gut says I have it right this time. I do know that now more than ever I am praying that we can all transcend the political situation we find ourselves in to make something new out of it that doesn’t seem possible now. None of that is at Donald Trump’s feet, or any political leader’s. And I refuse to move ahead by keeping my eyes on what I want to destroy, but instead I will keep them on what God is calling us to create, and how we are called to be a part of his great story of redemption.

I haven’t forgotten about the little Syrian boy on the beach who reminds me so much of my own sons. But now I see all boys in that little boy, including Sam. Truth and reality are so much greater than the tiny parts that I am able to focus on with my limited ability. I simply cannot see the whole of it. I will no longer deny the humanity and lives and stories of the people around me who are just seeing the world from a different vantage point, though I may not yet know them. God can judge.  He calls us to love–lavishly, unreservedly, inconveniently, and sometimes with great sorrow and sacrifice.