Life feels suspiciously bipolar. I’m writing these words from my favorite coffee shop. The sun is shining outside, and a bird-chirpy breeze is flowing through the open storefront. A colorful monster mural next to me reminds me of Grimace, who takes me back to my 80’s Happy Meal childhood. I just finished a Modelo, cold with condensation, and jubilant conversation is streaming from the brewery across the street. Reggae is swirreling into my ears and into my mood, and I am reminded that life is beautiful.
But just two hours ago, I was working on social studies curriculum, which means I was chillin with the ghosts of atrocities past, present, and future. From the past, I absorbed images of the Holocaust, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Transnatlantic Slave Trade, and the USSR’s forced labor camps. Then ghostly current events flashed by (as they always do): the refugee crises, dictators, wars, sex crimes… And finally, the ghost of atrocity future met up with me in China–or shall I say BlackMirrorland? The weight of the future caught me there and crushed me under this: If absolute power corrupts absolutely, and technology empowers its users exponentially, then just how devastating will corruption become?
So with my body in a sunny San Diego cafe, and my mind on unceasing evil, I’m left conflicted and reeling with first world guilt. How can my puny modern mind reconcile these realities?
I’m afraid that for far too many of us, the answer is to smother them with distractions. To silence the nagging solemnity of reality, we bury our poor heads in social media, in reality TV, in mind numbing music, in flashy, empty materialism–in our newfound narcissism. We return to our base, animalistic nature as we surrender ourselves to the power of pornography–to the prolific objectification of one another. It’s all gross. And unhealthy. I’m guilty of [some of] it. You probably are too.
So what then are we to do with our ever-growing knowledge of murderous governments, murderous people, and the surging technology that enables evil to accomplish more evil? I’d love to save the world–I think most of us would. But I can’t. “I am overwhelmed with grief to see such suffering/ for those who lack the voice to speak/for those of us left stuttering”–I am left stuttering. We’re weak. At least I am.
When anxious, I am convinced that if I truly loved Jesus, then I wouldn’t spend $3.85 on a latte while some 2,000 children die daily for want of clean water. It is so selfish to support my luxury while others lack bare necessities.
But I’ve been known to buy a latte or two, so my anxiety kicks in: I’m not doing enough. I’m not giving enough. God is SO disappointed in me. My priorities are so sickening. I am such. a. failure.
I’ve spent *Godknows* how many days feeling guilty for my first-world life and the decisions I make within it. (I do donate to organizations–yet that does not satisfy the anxiety.)
Thankfully, those particular thoughts rarely torment me nowadays. But I do catch myself comparing my reality with a hypothetical alternative, wondering if my faith would be tough enough to *make it* were I born to absent parents in a poverty-stricken, cartel-ruled dumpsite. My imaginary home, like all the others, is patched together with corrugated cardboard, broken panels of plastic and tin. I take care of my infant brother, spending my days struggling to find him bites of food and stagnant water. We often play on the dirt floor, finding joy in rolling a small ball back and forth. In the nights I shiver from cold–but mostly from fear, for our door has no lock, and abusers roam.
I wonder, would I survive? Could I hold on to my faith?
What does Jesus say to all of this? A couple things, I think.
Thing 1 comes from John 21, where the resurrected Jesus tips off his disciple Peter as to “the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” The news wasn’t pretty. Jesus said, “When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus knew all about the stretching out of arms: he was referring to crucifiction. I can feel the chill run through Peter’s bones. He must have been speechless for an agape, awkward minute, perhaps wondering, “WTH* JESUS! IN WHAT WORLD WOULD THIS INFORMATION BE HELPFUL TO ME?! (*What The Heck, Christian-audience version of WTF)” Finally, reeling back to reality, Peter spots his homeboy, John. He points to him, looks to Jesus, and asks, “Lord, what about him?”
Isn’t that such a classic human move? It makes me think of my students, who, even at 18, respond to my “Please stop talking,” with “WHAT ABOUT HIM?!” It’s defensive. Misery loves company. But Jesus does not allow Peter that consolation.
Rather, Jesus answers Peter: “If I want [John] to remain until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
I liken Peter’s “What about him?” to my “What about my (hypothetical) faith?” “What about my privilege?” “Aren’t I pathetic for my struggles?” God’s the author of my story, and I am attempting to uproot my character and trade her setting and context for someone else’s. That’s probably a bit insulting.
It’s a stupid game to play, and a futile question to ponder. Not because I deserve the affluent upbringing I had. Not because others don’t. God put me here and now, shaping me as the Potter does the clay, for reasons far beyond me– reasons that will trail into eternity. Meditating on this Truth, I hear Him command the storm in my soul: “Peace, be still!” And then He looks through my eyes and into the space where my soul is. Kind yet firm, he reassures me: “Hey. I got this. You just do today. I got all the tomorrows. And all the other people. And all the other other places.”
To be continued… ? <33