When “Here” is better than “There”
I wake up this morning in Colorado and, as is typical, make my coffee and then go to my ipad where I catch up on the news before reading my Bible. It’s just getting light as I scan the news, the craziness that is Ukraine. Last night on the newshour, a professor of Russian studies said, “even if you’re not religious, you should be praying, because if this becomes war, all bets are off.” Toss in some stuff about Syrian refugees, and I’m mindful that our world is filled with suffering, and though the cup seems overflowing already, still there’s more pouring in, moment by moment, as lives are plunged into war, hunger, poverty, trafficking, disease.
I read my scriptures for the day, something about nations and kingdoms fighting against each other, and food shortages, and epidemics. It’s a reality, of course, as the news a few seconds earlier corresponds with Jesus’ timely words.
Then I turn around, and there’s a sunrise happening that can’t be described, because it’s not just the colors: it’s the cold, it’s the clarity of the air, it’s the silence, it’s the raw beauty, and significantly, it’s the fact that I am here – in this place, and not there, and any of those places I’ve read about this morning. I’m awestruck, but conflicted at the same time.
“Why am I here” is the question that haunts me, and at many levels there’s no answer. There are responses though, and some of them aren’t helpful.
Guilt isn’t helpful. We’re here, in wealth and, relative to most of the world, peace and safety. There are hard working, honest people throughout the world who are victims of oppression and injustice, so the causal sense that we’re here instead of there because we’re better must be evicted from our thoughts. Equally wrong, though, is a sense of paralyzing guilt, a sense that we, for some reason ought to be there and not here.
Fear isn’t helpful. Our collective narcissism is evident when the questions and comments of journalists extend no further than how the events over there affect our “self interest here” It can be strangely dis empowering to watch various parts of the world collapse around us, filling us with anxiety about whether we’ll be next, and how we should arm ourselves for protection. But no, over and over again, Jesus tells us that he’s warned us about these things precisely so that we ‘will not fear’, which is the message that heralded Christ’s birth, and rings throughout his ministry for our benefit and well being. We need to give fear a swift quick.
Isolation isn’t helpful. “Not my problem” we see, as we change the channel to some rerun, or go out for a run, or pour another glass of Merlot. It’s far too easy to believe that the stuff that over there is outside the sphere of our influence and should therefore be outside the sphere of our concern. This, as we’ll see, misses that mark. I’m surprised at how many people no longer digest the news because it’s simply “too depressing”.
To the extent that we allow these mindsets to carry the day, our worlds will shrink down into petty preoccupations with our own personal survival, or crippling depression and anxiety. One need only read the Bonhoeffer story or this favorite diary read from WWII to realize how tempting these options are. Gratefully, there’s a better way:
Instead of guilt, gratitude. Every sip of cold water, every good night kiss, every moment of this very precious life. It’s vital to recognize that our culture is well beyond the boundaries of comfort, having become guilty of lavish excess, and surely guilty of increasing injustice too. Gratitude though, is for the fact that there no bombs on the roadside, that people gather in public places to express their views, mostly without fear of reprisal, that there’s food on the table and the possibility of friendship, love, education. It’s far from perfect, but there’s much for which we can be grateful. This is a starting point to living here well.
Instead of fear, hope. It might sound shallow and cheap to offer hope from the scriptures for those living and dying in the midst of suffering, but what other hope is there? Nations will rise and fall. Justice will ebb and flow. People will die in the crossfire, and the friendly fire, and the forest fire. And those of us who escape these ravages? We’ll die too, and it will always be inconvenient, and seem wrong.
This tired script, though, is coming to and end. History is headed towards a new script, where every molecule is shot through with the glory of King Jesus. You know, the one who loved lepers, and women of the night, who told stories that hinted his kingdom would be utterly other – a place where the lame, blind, oppressed, broken, would not only find healing, but a place at the table with the king – a place where all war, and cancer, and rape, and genocide, and AIDS, and tribal divisions will vanish in the flames of a just judgement, leaving nothing but healing and joy in its wake. MARANATHA… it can’t come soon enough.
But until it does, it’s our calling to live as people of hope. If the sun’s not yet fully up, we are, nonetheless, called to be the Colors of Hope – the sunrise foretelling a better world. This isn’t about a short term mission trip; this is about a total overhaul of our values so that our daily lives embody, in increasing measure, the very hope of which Jesus spoke. That way, Jesus is no longer a theory – he’s a living king, and our lives reflect his reign. That’s the best response I can think of to the nightly news.
Instead of Isolation, Prayer. We feel helpless, watching the news like that. We’re not. We can pray, believing that God intervenes in history in response to the prayers of God’s people. Years ago, a dear friend whose husband was a British Major in WWII showed me the program from a prayer service held in London after the war. In it, there were quotes from Churchill, Roosevelt, and other spiritual and national leaders, calling the nations to prayer. There were even specific prayers offered, having to do with weather. History tells us (I believe) that God intervened. Prayer matters.
Of course we’re not necessarily called to spend all of every day in prayer, interceding for each nation and activity. That would take us out of the game. Instead, we’re invited to live lives that are permeable enough to let God in, to let God break out heart over some specific thing, whether its Sudan, Congo, Crimea/Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, homelessness, sexual slavery, or something else in the seemingly endless list of brokenness. Maybe all you can do is pray over the thing that breaks your heart. But prayer’s a big deal, or so we say we believe. And of course, we could all pray this a little bit more, since Jesus taught us to do so:
May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen? Amen!
I welcome your thoughts.
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