I’ve tried to sit down and write something substantive here a few times over the past week and a half or so, but for whatever reason(s), the words haven’t come. Maybe it’s just because the last few weeks have been unusually full. Maybe I’m out of words. Maybe my spirit (and the Internet) is in need of a prolonged period of digital silence. Maybe I just need a vacation.
At any rate, in place of a more substantive piece, here are a few unfinished thoughts on unrelated matters for a summer Wednesday morning.
Next week, I’ll be in Harrisburg, PA for the 2015 Mennonite World Conference. I’ve never been to one of these events before (they only happen once every six years) so I don’t have a great idea what to expect. But I’m told these are mostly celebratory events rather than decision-making ones. And I’m all for that.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to is gathering with sisters and brothers from the global south and hearing their perspectives on faith and discipleship. We in the “north” or the “west” tend to assume, implicitly or explicitly, that our issues are everyone’s issues, and that because we’re the ones that brought Christianity to the south, that we still get to set the agenda. We pay lip service to the idea that we are no longer the dominant voice in global Christianity, but there is often a barely concealed paternalism in our views of Christians from Africa and South America whose theology we frequently find unsettling. I wonder if we really are open to learning from and being challenged, taught, even corrected by our fellow Christians from the global south. Or, perhaps as is so often the case, we like the idea of being open to these things much more than actually being open to them.
So, I’m looking forward to the conference itself very much. I’m also looking forward to being there with my family, and to taking the train to New York City for a few days after the conference is done for a short holiday. Five days in NYC isn’t nearly enough time, I know, but I think just being there will probably be an experience. If we can stomach the expense, we may even take in a Broadway show. 🙂
I have thus far refrained from commenting on the recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States regarding sex marriage. This is partly for the uninteresting reason that I don’t live in the USA. It’s also because we crossed this bridge in Canada over a decade ago and the sky has, so far as I can tell, not fallen. Additionally, I think it’s a very peculiar thing for the church to expect the state to legislate their moral convictions. Particularly in a pluralistic democracy. I also think that the institution of marriage is one of these things that people like to have very strong opinions about, but not as much resolve to actually live out. Present divorce rates might suggest that heterosexuals have been doing quite a fine job of undermining the institution of marriage themselves for quite some time now, after all. So, for these reasons (and others), I don’t feel too inclined to wade into the fray of what so often feels like a (foreign) culture war that can have no winners.
I am, however, interested in the shape our cultural discourse takes these days. Particularly online. The SCOTUS decision was, inevitably, followed by the now customary mad rush to social media to register our, a) gleeful triumphalism; or b) shock and outrage. Instantly. And this was followed by our reactions of anger to a) and b). This predictable scenario took a few days to spend itself in righteous indignation, and then we all moved on, feeling suitably… suitably, well, what? Vindicated? Justified? As if our moral duty had been done? What, exactly, does all of this online shouting accomplish?
This morning I read a passage from the book of James that included these words:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Could there be a more awkward passage for Christians on the Internet? Do we even have the capacity for slow speech and deep listening in a context that seems engineered to reduce us to an unreflective herd of bleating avatars? I wonder.
Scripture describes the Lord as “slow to anger and rich in love.” So often we get this exactly backward—we are slow to love and rich in anger. We who are called to be “imitators of God.”
Christ have mercy.
Speaking of social media, as we are now comfortably into summer I suspect that many of our newsfeeds are now being inundated with pictures of friends of ours vacationing in places that are far more desirable than wherever we might happen to be. Just this morning, I scrolled through pictures of friends in Rome… Amsterdam… London… Newfoundland… Wait? Newfoundland?! Yes, actually, it looks quite beautiful! More exotic than southern Alberta, at any rate.
Every time I see one of these pictures, it’s easy to think Aw, that looks so awesome… I wish I was there and not here… And, thus plunged into dark brooding over the first-world injustices that I am subjected to, I often find myself raiding around in the cupboards of my mind, scrounging around for memories of the cool places that I’ve been, the Facebook-able experiences that I’ve had to keep the bad feelings away. Because, really, why bother with difficult things like the cultivation of contentment and gratitude when you could just dive right into the mental arms race that is ranking ourselves based on who’s winning the cool experiences and travel contest?!
But I wonder if there might be some seeds of truth and goodness behind all of this immaturity and petulant whining. Have you ever recalled an experience and felt something like a twinge of longing? Maybe it was lingering with good friends over dinner in an out-of-the-ordinary place. Maybe it was having coffee with someone who you get to see far too rarely. Maybe it was a walk on a beach with your spouse or a memorable afternoon spent with a child. Maybe it was seeing something that took your breath away. Maybe it was visiting somewhere that you never thought you would get the chance to be. Maybe it was that moment when you realized how very big the world is and how very small you are. Maybe it was that time and place where you came to the crashing realization that the love that holds you will outlive all of your frantic striving and clutching and grabbing at things as you pass them by.
I’ve had each of these experiences. Maybe you have, too. And now, when I think of them, I get these twinges. They’re not exactly sad feelings, although there are shards of sadness within them. They’re not even the grasping desire to replicate these experiences or go back and experience them again, although, again, there’s a bit of this as well. As best as I can describe them, these twinges represent the longing for what is temporal and always passing away to be rendered permanent. For the feelings associated with these moments to be stronger and more durable than the less admirable or enjoyable feelings that so many of our days contain. And, I think these twinges—however tainted by self-interest and greedy desire they might be—could even represent some dim sense that we know that we were made for joy, for love, for relationships, for beauty, for peace.
Which is all, perhaps, a way of saying that these twinges are an expression of faith—that they represent a hunger for the God who has set eternity in our hearts, and turned us loose to seek, to love, and to be found.