For years, I’ve avoided the news. I grew up in a home where the news was on multiple times a day. There was the morning report with the all-important weather and traffic segments, the 5 o’clock broadcast which (before the days of DVR and Apple TV) took precedence over anything else you might be watching at the time, and more in-depth shows like 20/20 and 60 Minutes that revealed stories of injustice – the telltale ticking sound in the opening credits was there to tell me that I wouldn’t be watching Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel anytime soon.
As a child, the news was boring to me. As an adult, it simply saddens me. In the years that I’ve been on my own, I’ve been able to choose to not watch the news, to not read the paper, to avoid the grisly images and disheartening stories that seem to permeate this medium.
But I’m coming to realize that my choice to not watch the news and to avoid talking about politics or current events might just be a sign that something is wrong. Perhaps, my ability to turn off the news points to an imbalance. I can shut it off because I feel like it doesn’t affect me as much. But what if the person I saw on the news was my sister, or my dad, or someone else that felt really close to me? What if the issues presented in the political arena seemed more critical to my day-to-day life?
It’s not as though I think politics aren’t important or that the news is totally irrelevant. On the contrary, I know it matters. But I’m starting to see that it should matter more to me – that I have an obligation to listen to and engage in these stories. Because these stories? They’re the narratives of people. People with souls. People with brothers and sisters and moms and dads. People created and loved by God.
Waking Up to the News
The stream of heart-breaking, violent, devastating current events has left me feeling sad and confused. Sad about the state of our world, sad about the state of my own selfish heart, and confused about what to do about it. I want to affect change, but I don’t know how anything I might do would make a difference in the face of systemic violence, hatred, and injustice?
I’m beginning to wake up. And I think that’s because I’m beginning to listen. Perhaps that’s how change begins. With listening to people’s stories, listening to people’s humanity, listening to their souls. With listening to God and asking him to help us see the soul in people instead of focusing on the things that make them appear different from you or me.
Whenever I’m confused about how to live or puzzled by the darkness in this world, I know I have one of two choices: look to Jesus or look to myself for an example of how to live. When I choose the latter, I only feel depressed, defeated, and totally paralyzed. When I look to Jesus, I see hope and a vision of how to live differently in an unjust world.
Jesus talks about his purpose in many different ways during the course of his ministry. He says he came to seek and save the lost, to call sinners to repentance, and to give his life for people. He also explains that he came to fulfill the purpose of the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets (Matthew 5:17). And what was that purpose? Spiritual politics. Or, put another way, assumptions and principles designed to govern our souls.
In the same passage where Jesus talks about how he came to fulfill the law – to be the new governor of our souls – he explains that the law is much broader than people had once thought. Yes, we’re not just supposed to not murder, but we’re also supposed to give up our rage and resentment. Yes, we’re not supposed to sleep with someone else’s spouse, but we’re also not supposed to think longingly about them either. And yes, you’re supposed to love your friends and family, but you’re also supposed to love the people who hurt you.
This kind of law is hard. We need a helper. And, thankfully, that’s what Jesus’ has left with us – his Holy Spirit. That spirit removes our stony, selfish hearts and instead gives us soft hearts that are heaven-bent and other-focused (Ezekiel 36:26). Of course, this process takes a lifetime, and it won’t be completed fully until heaven.
I’ll confess that this eternal perspective is sometimes what enables me to sit back, turn off the news, and avoid the pain. God is going to make all wrongs right, wipe every tear, and come reign here someday, so I’ll just hold out until then.
But this perspective doesn’t match Jesus’ call to live out his kingdom now. Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, just as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). And he invites us to partner with him in bringing heaven to earth.
Listening to the Stories
Like me, you may be wondering where this starts. Yes, you think, heaven on earth sounds great, but this world looks pretty far-gone. Where do we even begin?
It sounds simple, but I think it all goes back to listening. Listening to other people’s stories is what’s started to wake me up to this greater calling God’s put on my life. I’m not just here to live out my own nice little story. My narrative intersects with others. And the more I listen to them, the more I learn about what matters to God, why each individual matters. The more I listen, the more I increase my capacity for empathy and love.
I’ve started seeking these stories out, talking to friends, opening up space to wrestle through the confusion, and listening to the diverse perspectives of some really thoughtful people. Recently, I tuned into The Liturgists podcast episode on racism in America, and it’s been shaking me up in a really good way. It’s close to two hours long and well worth the listen.
As I’ve been listening to these stories, God has been talking to me, and I can’t help but talk about these issues as a result. So, this week in our community group – a small group of people from church who meet regularly to practice the way of Jesus – we spent the majority of our two hours together just talking about the issues in our country and our world, voicing our fears, and lamenting together.
Instead of meeting at a home in the Inner Sunset as we usually do, we met at a communal space in the Tenderloin. The place offers a beautiful respite in the sometimes gritty reality of the TL, but as we entered the building on this particular occasion, we noticed a less-than-pleasant odor. Our friend who works in the space explained that the smell was due to a leaking sewer pipe in the building, and that the tenants were working with their landlord to address the problem. In the meantime, they were having to deal with the unpleasant and sometimes frustrating realities of the odor.
The seven of us who gathered at “The Well” Wednesday night did our best to cover the smell. We turned on oil diffusers and lit candles, and we got used to it a bit over the course of the evening. But the stench was still there. To me, meeting in that space was a reflection of what’s been happening in our beautiful world. There’s are some underlying issues, and even if we’re not the ones who caused them, we have to act like those tenants and fight to resolve them.
In many ways, I’m waking up to the stench that’s pervading a really beautiful world, and I can’t just cover it up anymore.
There are some systemic issues that have to be dealt with, and I need to sit in this space and get uncomfortable. Confronting issues of racism and violence and injustice is the same way. It’s uncomfortable, but it allows us to voice the truth: This stinks.
Engaging in the Conversation
That’s what comes after the listening: engaging in conversation. Because there’s a tremendous spiritual and cultural conversation going on, and, especially as Christians, we need to be part of that. As people of faith, we need to be “first responders,” ready to help. We don’t have to wait until we understand how to solve things or until we have all the answers – because we never will. We need the courage to feel our way through the dark and shed light on the truth. We need to speak up for the “least of these” – the people Jesus advocated for throughout the course of his life, and now from heaven. Stephen Mattson puts it so well:
“Even though Jesus loves everyone, even to the point of dying for their sins, he went out of his way to intentionally help specific groups of people — the alienated, mistreated, and those facing injustice.”
Jesus was all about “the least of these” – those who had less or were perceived as less important in their society. So, how do we act like Jesus? We love the least. We give them the dignity of being God’s children. We help close the gap.
God has been breaking my heart over the last few weeks. Breaking my heart for what breaks his, and I hope that these new cracks let God’s light out into the world. This broken-heartedness is making me softer, in a good way, and I trust that God will fulfill the promises he laid out in what is known as “The Beatitudes.”
May we realize our need for him, may we hunger and thirst for justice, and may we work for peace because we are the children of God.
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”