Saturday, August 9, 2014

Logs in Eyes and Thorns in Sides: Some thoughts on staying human in the face of the world's latest madness

"Cure thy children's warring madness, bend our pride to your control." -- from a hymn by Harry Emerson Fosdick

This is probably not an objectively accurate assessment, but the world seems to me to be in even more turmoil than usual.

Because of my time in Palestine/Israel, my email inbox and Facebook news feed are both overflowing with articles about the devastation in Gaza and the turmoil in '48 Israel and the West Bank. Iraq is once again in the news, and I pray for Middle Eastern Christians and ethnic minorities there even as I pray, desperately, that my government doesn't, once again, assume that we can fix things with more bombs. The numbing level of destruction in Syria continues. Meanwhile, the ebola outbreak ravages on; unaccompanied children cross lonely deserts in desperate hope that the source of the policies wrecking their countries of origin can also be a place of sanctuary; friends get themselves arrested to try to bring some compassion and sanity to our treatment of these children; Leigh's experiences this summer have made me aware of the absurdity of the U.S. incarceration system; a friend is undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer.

And, from July 18-24th, I embarked on a week long reminder that I (a) do actually need sleep and (b) am not actually particularly skilled at working with youth, all the while coming face-to-face with all the hurt that is present even here in 'paradise.'

I know it's a privilege to even be able to say this, but I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Which explains why, after a long week of working with my 'Concrete Christ Service Project' youth at a variety of community organizations on Oahu--all the while sleeping little and unsuccessfully trying to ignore the "warring madness" of the world--I found myself crying while I tried to offer a final reflection to the youth.

I really respect people who get energized in the face of injustice and catastrophe; who channel the fierce heat of anger into the focused passion needed for sustained advocacy and activism.

I am not really that person.

I click on article after article, feel more and more hopeless, waver between unhelpful engagement and total shutdown. I default to depression. I get tired of saying what feels the same thing over and over again. I run out of words, and get terrified that I will never have them--words, that is--again.

So I've read and watched and felt useless, and I finally needed to write something, to at least have a word or two. To breathe some sort of life instead of just choking silently.

I'm not going to offer much in the way of analysis about Palestine/Israel or Iraq or the border situation. Hundreds of people are already doing that--some helpfully, and some not so helpfully--and I'll include a couple of links at the end of this if you want to hear from people with some expertise.

What I am going to write a few words about is how I am trying to keep my own humanity alive so that maybe I can do something helpful to protect the humanity of others.

There is a part of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says: “Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye."

The passage is about not judging others by a different standard than the one by which you judge yourself. It's about not being a hypocrite.

But to me, it's also a word of grace. Because it tells me that I am not powerless in the face of violence or destruction or injustice. Rather, I am involved. My gaze is involved. And that means that there is something that I can do. Something we can do. Good news.

There's plenty of specifics I can talk about, many of which I've written about in detail before. BDS is one type of specific action that starts with my purchases and the decisions of groups that I have a voice in--my church and my government. The youth and young adults I worked with this summer wrote letters of welcome and love to unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border through the website simple way to overcome the distancing with which national policy is often decided. And I don't think the U.S. can say anything-anything-anything about the current catastrophic situation in Iraq without looking at the log in our own eye when it comes to violence and chaos in the region.

Of course, this sort of examination of complicity can land me right back in the hopeless pile, so I don't just need to remember Jesus' admonition about logs-in-eyes. I also need Paul's reminders about thorns-in-sides. About how it's sometimes not so simple to remove them. And about how Jesus responds to our prayers about them, sometimes, by saying, "My grace is sufficient for you, because power is made perfect in weakness."

Sufficient. Or, to be less Bible-y: enough.

It's all I could think of to tell the youth on the final day of our camp. I choked up a bit as I told them that God's grace is enough; and that if, as I believe, we are all created in the image of that God and held infinitely in the grace of that God, then we, too, are enough.

We're enough.

I think we all need to step a bit out of our comfort zones, but I think that will look differently for all of us. Some will submit themselves to arrest; others will call Congress; others will bake cookies for a sick neighbor. We will do different things at different times. We will have different selves to offer to the world during different periods of our lives.

But we will be enough.

What we have to offer will be enough.

It's in weakness, Christ tells Paul, that God's power is made perfect. It's in our soft, fleshy, imperfect humanness that God does what needs to be done. We're not called to be superhuman. Just to stay human. That's step number one.

We have logs in our eyes--each of our individual eyes, and our collective, institutional eyes. We have logs in our eyes, and we have thorns in our sides. But we have a God who is sufficient, and who calls us to do, for a world seemingly gone mad:

just enough.

So pray, with me. Trust God, and do the next thing. And please try to stay human out there, friends.

a very few of the more helpful pieces I've seen over the past week or so:

-- resource packet from the California-Pacific Annual Conference (UMC) Interfaith Weekend of Compassion and Prayer for Unaccompanied Migrant Children

-- statement and prayer about Gaza from folks at Bethlehem Bible College
-- analysis of the implications of international law for the crisis in Gaza from the excellent Noura Erakat 
-- reflection about listening to marginalized voices, such as those incarcerated, by Leigh Finnegan
-- I'd read anything that Robert Fisk writes; he's a fierce truth teller
-- some thoughts on Christian responses to Iraq from Jeremy Courtney of Preemptive Love
-- video from the UMC General Board of Church and Society on a simple way to 'vote' for justice and peace in Palestine/Israel (hint: don't buy SodaStream)
-- reflection on children in war, from Mark Schaefer at American University 

and of course there are dozens of great organizations to support with your social media presence and your cold, hard, cash. let me know if you want details on that.