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The News of the Day

A while back I was talking over coffee with a young man who had spent several months studying primate social behaviour in Africa. I asked him what, if anything, had surprised him about how chimpanzees behaved toward one another. “Yeah,” he said. “Sometimes they can be pretty awful toward each other! Almost as bad as humans.”


 As we were reminded yet again today with the shocking events in Paris (and Yemen… and Iraq… and Somalia… and ____), human beings are unique in their capacity for ideologically fuelled violence, hatred, and murderous rage. Chimps can be selfish and cunning and brutal, yes. But it takes a human being to be evil.

I have no penetrating insight to offer on the news of the day, no defiant fist in the air, no doomsday prediction, no howl of lament. Nothing but a heavy heart and a weary mind. Who can make sense of these things? Who can understand why we kill and hate and burn and destroy? Who can understand why words and images and differences of belief are somehow seen to be reason enough to stamp out the life of another?

One often hears talk of “world peace” and “setting aside differences” and “coming together” around “shared values” of all humanity. This sounds pretty good. But not terribly likely, given the news of the day. Given the news of any day. Sometimes I wonder if we would be better off forgetting about lofty ideas and ideals, and just acting like the chimps, selfishly scrambling after food and sex. The world wouldn’t be perfect, certainly. There would still be plenty of struggle and mayhem. But I wonder if it might not be a bit better place than it is with the horrors unleashed by all these overdeveloped frontal lobes running around with their big ideas and their slavish hunger for rightness.

Often, after hearing the news of the day—particularly when the news is as shocking as it is today—I instinctively murmur under my breath, Christ have mercy. But what business have I introducing Christ into this tangled and toxic mess? Is it not in Christ’s name that evil has also been done throughout history and even in the present? Are not the claims of Christ—or at least of his followers—equally divisive in a world destroying itself over difference? Would not Christ be better off left out of things altogether?

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to these sentiments. But, at the end of it all, I cannot leave Christ out of the news of the day or my reaction to it. He is a part of me and I of him. I cannot but look at all things through the lens of this man and his way. And while I have my questions and my uncertainties and maddening frustrations about even Christ, about what it means to claim him alone in a world of difference, there are some things that attain shattering clarity when looked at through the lens of this man and his way.

Chief among them would be how this man deals with difference. He does not seek to conquer or compel, does not threaten or storm the gates, armed to the teeth. He does not take life.  Not even from his enemies, from those who wish him great harm, from those who persistently and willfully misunderstand and slander him. Rather, he invites. He loves. He touches, embraces, forgives.  He astonishes with grace.

And, of course, he lays down his life for his friends and his enemies. He does not lower himself to our death-dealing, fearful ways. Actually, come to think of it, he does lower himself. All the way to the bottom, precisely to show us the price of our desperation to be on top.

And he commands his followers to embrace and adopt this way.

It is only because of this man and his way that I can whisper, in the face of the brutal and blood-soaked news of the day, Christ have mercy.  And give us some of it for each other, too, if you don’t mind.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. mmartha #

    Walter Blackstock has a poem with this line, “Who knows how many dead are marching by.”
    Experiences can have been so bad or words spoken so annihilating, even living for some is broken, so much of life has been taken.
    Excellent paper.

    January 7, 2015
    • Thank you for this.

      January 8, 2015
    • mike #

      mmartha,..such poignant expressions!!
      If we could but remember your words in our day to day interactions with others.

      “…,Christ have mercy. And give us some of it for each other too,…”

      January 8, 2015
      • mmartha #

        Thank you, Mike.
        Dr. Blackstock was my major professor, Methodist and a fine Christian. His poetry wasn’t on the whole religious but his principles reflected. This is a line I like, catching the competitive and “worldly” world:
        “It interests me how friend and foe seek evanescent glory.”

        And I always read your posts with appreciation !

        January 8, 2015
  2. mike #

    A throw-back to the 60’s when Transformation of Humanities psyche actually seemed like a real possibility.

    January 8, 2015
    • “We are stardust… We are golden… We got to get ourselves back the garden.”

      Wow. Sounds optimistic. 😉

      January 8, 2015
      • mike #


        January 8, 2015
  3. Paul Johnston #

    ah yes the woodstock generation… I think back on it as a “middle child”, well intended but caught up in a self absorbed image crisis that felt neglected and craved attention…how all their world changing piety collapsed so rapidly when the draft ended… “caught up in the devils bargain” indeed. I belonged more to the “youngest child” generation. We dropped the pretense of world peace and love and ramped up the sex drugs and rock n roll…..something about good seed and shallow ground, thorns and bristles comes to mind….

    January 9, 2015
  4. Ryan, I needed this today and, most everyday. You’re writing is clear, honest, and hopeful (always relieved for the rare times that honesty and hopefulness aren’t treated as mutually exclusive). Thank for this heart-opening and grounding hope. (…we who have fled for refuge have this hope as an anchor….Hebrews 6:18 & 19)

    January 9, 2015
    • Thank you for these very kind words.

      January 9, 2015
  5. Reblogged this on 2greatcommandmentpreschooler and commented:
    THIS from Ryan Dueck “The News of the Day”

    January 9, 2015

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