I don't blog quite as much as I used to, and when I do I avoid topics I used to leap into -- theology, politics, culture. You know, the debatable things. I've been sticking to topics like knitting, farm work, and food because the overwhelming din of unkind arguing out there is painful. I've tried to stay out of it. I've unfollowed facebook friends. I've turned off the radio in the car. I won't talk about it at home or work. It's not just the U.S. election/politics. It's the general meanness in the world, the fear, distrust, emotional distance, and broken community.
I just saw this commercial on facebook:
I think it kind of put me over the edge.
It's not just old people who are mean, or Trump supporters, or young progressives with agendas, or immigrants or immigrant-haters. We're all shoving everybody away. I shudder when I hear Fox News and I shudder when I hear NPR. We are so busy polarizing and pushing away that we don't realize we're killing ourselves and ruining life for our children.
Here's another bite of food for thought, an article from a facebook friend:
"59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out -- And They're Trying to Tell Us Why"
The stats are shocking. Millennials are people 20 - 36 years old, this year. These aren't teenagers. These are young professionals and parents. They aren't "the next generation"; they are the generation. Basically the writer says this: The American church is self-centered, judgmental, out-of-touch, into its own politics, power, and money, and isn't interested in serving anybody. Oh, and there's this lovely quote from the writer's mother (who's probably my age) --
"Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school, and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”
I read this as a pastor's wife, and I know what she means. To people on the outside, church often looks like a nasty little game. There are really fabulous ministries in the U.S. dedicated to helping the poor/addicted/refugee/depressed/suicidal/homeless. But they're not usually based in the local church. I wish they were! If your church is an exception, I'm very happy for you. But if the bigger church -- members and leadership alike -- were as dedicated to helping and loving people in need as they were to the latest building project or covered dish dinner, 35% of people between 20 - 36 wouldn't be anti-church, i.e., think that the church is doing more harm than good.
Then there's the other thing preying on my brain, the Bible study that I'm teaching with older ladies at my church ... because all the ladies at my church are older ... because at 53 years old I'm the youngest adult woman in my church by at least a decade. Sigh. [They're lovely ladies. I just wish our church had a few millennials.] Anyway, we're studying Elisabeth Elliot's incredible book, A Path Through Suffering. Someday I might do a way-too-long post on it. If you struggle to understand why you suffer, or why anyone suffers, this book is helpful. Elliot is bold and unapologetic of her radical positions. Chapter after chapter she pummels you with arguments that suffering is designed, important, essential, useful, and brings joy. Yes, I just wrote that.
Perhaps this is where all these distasteful topics come together for me, right now. Elliot says "the maturing process in the Christian ... is for one purpose, the giving of life." (97) How do we give life? Kindness. Openness. Loving instead of hating. Welcoming instead of pushing away. Sacrificing for others. Ceasing from judging. Why do Christians feel it is our job to judge the world right now?
"All who would bring souls to God and multiply His kingdom must do so through surrender and sacrifice. This is what loving God means, a continual offering, a pure readiness to give oneself away ...." (Elliot 101)
Surrender and sacrifice. Same thing as suffering. A thousand little deaths each day as you choose others over yourself. You choose your political enemy or your nasty neighbor, your annoying co-worker or your selfish family member. You choose them over yourself and your own agendas or ideas.
I refuse to continue judging the culture around me, pointing my scrawny finger at its blemishes and faults. Church, you are to judge yourself. I am to judge myself. What am I doing to be a life-giver? What am I doing to make a kinder community? Reader, who is your enemy? With whom do you disagree? If you cannot reach out in love, can you respond with it? It's quite difficult, simple kindness.
Sometimes I feel like a referee between two bloody prize-fighters intent on murder in the ring. It's one thing to reject ISIS or Westboro Baptist Church or Kim Jong Un or Neo-Nazis. Shouldn't we agree on where the hatred is coming from, and reject that together? But we ought not hate one another, we who say we want peace. "Trust in the Lord and do good. Cease from anger and forsake wrath." (Ps. 37)