I lay across my bed thinking. One of my cat walks up and over me, insistently purring as she lays down on my feet. My dug rustles in her kennel, and sighs dramatically. “Same here, Rika”, I softly respond. She trots out of her kennel, thinking I’ve said her name to some greater purpose; soon she realizes I’m not taking her on a walk and dramatically plops on the cold tile in the en-suite bathroom. Here we all are, a languid tableau of inaction.
My phone lays unlocked beside me, the screen open to my Facebook app; I can’t bear to look at it because the scale of vitriol and grief has reached a nauseating pitch. Twitter isn’t better, as I’m afraid a new hashtag will be circulating that turns out to be the name of another dead African American man. Or the location of another terrorist attack. Or the newest scandal in an election cycle seemingly designed by The Elder Gods. I’m a talker, a writer, but I’m paralyzed at the moment. What in the world could I say that wouldn’t just be more noise in the crackling atmosphere? See earlier: languid tableau.
I used to think simple solutions were possible. But my experience of adulthood has mostly been learning to see the intricately, impossibly, complicated webs of cause and effect that make up the world I live in. Human beings make individual choices every day, sure; but the truth is we’re all affected by the invisible forces of our culture when we make those choices. I’m not such a determinist to say there’s no such thing as free will. But I will admit that all these systems I live in mean there’s less free-ness to my will than I would have believed as a child. All these webs I live in are making me feel tied down, making me reconsider my own effectiveness. Like I said: More often than not, I’m laying prone on my bed; there are no battles being won while in yoga pants.
Sometimes I see people throwing their perspective, their advice into the fray: “If we would just TURN BACK TO GOD…”; “If we would just LISTEN TO EACH OTHER…”; If we would just LOVE MORE…”; “If we would just VOTE DEMOCRAT/REPUBLICAN…” I understand the impulse to reduce down the troubles of the world into actionable statements. No one wants to become abandon all hope of changing the tide; Nietzsche was probably a real downer at parties. But I’ve grown tired of “If we would just….” statements, as they seem to be blithely ignoring the density of those implications.
For example: “If we would just turn back to God…”
Hey, look: I’m a Christian minister, and I’m totally onboard with all y’all getting to know Jesus. He’s a rad dude. But do you know what “turning toward God” in my world would mean? It’s a TOTAL reorientation of your entire way of life. Turning toward Jesus is a lifelong commitment to repentance, serving others, choosing powerlessness, and humility. (It’s also worth noting, that when you say “turn to God” and don’t specify WHICH “God,” you could be talking about Molech. And man, I’m gonna have to object to that idea.) I’ve got people in my church who are totally turned towards God. They’re great. But I’ve had people visit my church and not come back because OUR version of “turning toward God” didn’t include Yong Earth Creationism. Maybe “If we would just turn back to God” sounds exceedingly clear to you, but it actually isn’t. Now you need to tell me which God, and tell me what you mean by turn, and what exactly you think we need to turn away from and towards!
But then, you’ve got less of a pithy statement that you can tweet and more of a conversation that requires patience, and nuance, and….Who has time for nuance? Not a lot of us, it seems. I could be wrong; maybe there are lots of us, laying on our respective beds, paralyzed by the knowledge of how complicated life has turned out to be and we are all waiting to have real dialogue with each other. Maybe the nuance we crave is only a FaceTime conversation away.
What? I’ve got a cat on my feet; I obviously can’t go anywhere right now.
All I know is that I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, a lot of advantages I had no hand in earning, a sermon to preach on Sunday, and the inkling suspicion that it’s going to be just one more iteration of: “God actually wants you to do the things he tells you. Seriously.” All I know is that the world is incredibly f*cked up, on a scale I never imagined, and no number of Band-Aids will actually help heal all the wounds we share. All I know is that I have to do something, say something, because all too often, Silence = Death. But instead, I’m here laying on my bed and staring at a ceiling fan feeling deeply unqualified. You ever notice how the faster a fan spins, the more suspicious you are that it’s going to fall on you? There’s a metaphor for life, right on my ceiling.
I read somewhere once (thanks internet!) that action-less despair is a sign of privilege; the very disenfranchised already know that the powers-that-be aren’t on their side, so they hustle for the change they need. I can accept that as true; perhaps this grieving lethargy is a sign that I’ve still not let go of the illusion that soon grown-ups will show up to fix this big mess I’m having to live in. Maybe all the times I’ve seen that quote, “Be the Change you want to see in the world”, passed around was a passive way of God correcting my tendency to wait for someone else to act first. Maybe. Sometimes I’m sure there are signs all around me, communicating deep truths to me. And then I remember that my life isn’t a Neil Gaiman story; birds on a wing could just be looking for dinner.
My dog snores, my cat rolls up nearby, and the world continues burning. Perhaps all I can do today is admit that life is too complicated for quick fixes to ever work or for platitudes to take the place of truth. Perhaps all I can do today (while I wait to be the first ever fan-related mortality reported on the news) is get up and make dinner for the hungry people in my house. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow, resolve will overcome the tar-pit of self-pity I too easily step into. Tomorrow I can probably tease out at least one thing I can do in this intricate, painful web of life, to slowly turn the rudder of our common life back towards the Kingdom of God.
As long as the cat doesn’t sit in my lap.