There are times, even amidst the gloriously lazy days of bright sunny mid-summer, when it’s difficult not to despair of being human. I was sitting with friends at various points yesterday, enjoying casual conversation, catching up on the news, on current events, on stuff going on in people’s lives… At least three different times we came to a point in the conversation where someone said something like, “Ok, this is getting depressing. We need to find something else to talk about.”
My gloom-inducing list would be familiar to many people, I’m sure.
- Read another article about the Republican National Conference spectacle that has been playing this week in Cleveland. Was dismayed in new ways by this perverse and expensive bit of theatre that grinds along seemingly without end and seems perfectly engineered to, a) exacerbate existing divides; b) accomplish not much of anything at all politically; and, c) cost an indescribable amount of money. Oh yeah, and keep us entertained. Repented of being human.
- Read an article about the toxic effects of violent video games yesterday morning. Thought back to high-minded ideals that I used to possess on this. Thought about how many young men are responsible for the violence our world is currently seeing. Worried about how carelessly we consume violence for entertainement. Figured that I was probably failing as a parent.
- Talked with a friend about how our lives are in many ways defined by what we pay attention to. Thought about how many of us spend huge chunks of our days grazing according to the dictates of social media, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through a random collection of personal trivia and sloganeering and factoids, allowing our attention to be yanked to and fro by God only knows what. Thought about what kind of people these habits are turning us into. Are turning me into. Thought about deactivating my Facebook account.
- Was told by a friend about (young) students of his in the public system who confide in him about being blackmailed by sexually explicit pictures taken in the attempts to procure (different) sexual favours. Heart began to hurt at the sexually commodified and exploitative cultural context that we are daily creating and within which vulnerable young people are being told to figure out who they are and what they want and what’s appropriate and whether or not it should matter to anyone but themselves. Said a prayer for my kids.
- Read an article about the “shame culture” we are creating and maintaining online, where we are constantly displaying ourselves to others, constantly seeking affirmation for our identities and our ideas, constantly policing the reactions of other to this or that content and constantly praising or shaming people for not reacting appropriately to the news of the day, for not following along with the right-thinking herd. Thought more seriously about deactivating my Facebook page (again). Repented of being human (again).
- Thought about the recent headlines from around the world. Nice, Turkey, Germany, Paris, Brussels, Syria, the endless parade of shootings in America. Sighed impotently.
- Saw a headline from a reputable “news” source with the words “Kanye West” and “Taylor Swift” in it. Despaired of a world where such a thing could possibly be considered “news.” Came close to weeping openly. Rubbed my eyes and settled for being self-righteously angry.
All in all, a steady drip, drip, drip of unrelenting negativity and depressing evidence of what seems like the indisputable devolution of our species. We are in such desperate need of better stories…
Speaking of better stories, this weekend, I will drive up to a little camp northwest of Calgary and do something that isn’t even in the same area code as my comfort zone. I will be spending next week as a chaplain working with 8-12 year olds. Those who know me well (or, let’s be honest, even those who don’t know me very well at all) can probably guess that this sort of thing isn’t really in my wheelhouse. I possess a morally culpable lack of creativity. Organizing and arranging skits and clever activities and other camp-y type stuff fills my soul with dark dread. Also, young kids terrify me. They are actually quite a bit harder to talk to than adults. You can dance around issues and be evasive and obtuse in countless ways with adults, all the while pretending to be learned and wise. Kids don’t tolerate these sorts of shenanigans as easily. Kids ask hard questions and they (incredibly!) expect simple, intelligible answers. Why can’t I see God? How do I know God loves me? What about when I pray and nothing happens? Why did Jesus have to die? Um, well, you see, I read this book… and many scholars suggest and… there are a diversity of perspectives that indicate…
[Appropriately blank stare]
In light of the news of the day, though, and in light of my unholy reaction(s) to it perhaps there is no better place for me to be going than this, no more appropriate (and appropriately small) task to be giving myself to. I can’t do much of anything to fix these massive problems that plague our world and which threaten our souls. But I can tell a bunch of 8-12 year olds that God loves them. I can tell them stories about Jesus. I can listen to them and laugh with them and pray that they forgive me for my lack of creativity. I can walk in the forest and sing songs by a campfire. I can thank God for silence and for spaces to step out of the stream of stupidity that I daily subject myself to and participate in. I can plant a few small seeds to combat the mountain of ugliness.
I can do these and all kinds of other tiny little things that are probably quite a bit more useful than cursing (or ridiculing) the darkness. I can allow my soul to be shaped by worthier (and smaller) things.