Over the past few years I have felt an increasing urgency in the world around me. I can’t exactly put my finger on what the urgency is but it is an unsettling feeling. The feeling that the world is burning down around me and all I can do is sit here and watch it burn. California is literally burning down to the ground but it feels like the physical manifestation of what the rest of the country is experiencing.
I have this image from Gone With The Wind in my head. The country is torn in two, Atlanta is completely ablaze and Rhett has to urge his horse through the flames. The horse is paralyzed with fear at the inferno surrounding him and Rhett covers the horses eyes with Scarlett’s shawl to get him to move forward and says You’ll like it better if you don’t see anything.
I feel like that horse. Paralyzed by the anger, the mob mentality, the us and them, the selfish self-preservation, the might makes right, the normalcy of violence. All of it. It’s all crashing down around me, destroying basic human decency while those of us in places of comfort and privilege shake our heads and look away.
I’ll like the whole world better if I don’t see anything.
It’s all so heavy that I want to look away. It’s easier to worry about my own little troubles than of those experiencing real suffering. It’s easier to blame polarizing news outlets and fringe websites and shut it all down than to face how ugly we have become. It’s easier to say what difference can I possibly make? to something as insurmountable as catastrophic gun violence, teacher shortages, scheduled active shooter drills in schools, and thousands seeking compassion only to be met with resistance.
I look away and I’m ashamed. Ashamed of what we have become and ashamed of myself for how tired it makes me.
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field. ” And while they were in the field, Cain attached his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”
Then he said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! So now you are cursed, alienated from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood you have shed. If you work the ground, it will never again give you its yield. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Genesis 4:4-12
In response to violence against his brother, Cain clapped back at God like a spoiled teenager. Am I my brother’s guardian? Gah!
It doesn’t matter if these brothers actually existed or not. Their story is still true and valuable. There is a lesson here that has been crying out to us for over 2000 years but we still struggle with the concept and refuse to learn from it. Am I responsible for the welfare of my brothers? Who exactly is my neighbor?
The answers to those questions are spelled out for us but we continue to stumble through this world oblivious to the pain of others, blaming the victim, and finding a way to justify our cruelty or indifference.
Here I sit at the edge of Advent. My tree and stockings are up. Old fashioned bulb lights and yarn garland are my decoration love language but I wonder if the soft glow of those lights can distract from the strain in my heart. I want to celebrate the season but for the first time, instead of meditating on Mary’s joy or the Shepherd’s wonder, I find myself identifying with the wise men.
They sought out Jesus and then had an important decision to make. Go back to the king or high-tail it out of there?
The company we keep tells us a lot about ourselves and our priorities. Those we hold in high regard and put into power also says a lot about what we hold most dear.
The wise men initially met with King Herod and were willing to go along with his plan. Herod must have been a smooth talker because it wasn’t until they meet Jesus and his family that they realized Herod wasn’t the leader he made himself out to be. Jesus posed a threat to Herod and his pontificates of wanting to play nice were suddenly thinly veiled. They saw right through it.
The next thing we know, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees in a foreign land.
The wise men knew that being close to power wasn’t worth it. In spite of the danger of disobeying the person in power they chose another path. They chose to resist.
So what about those wise men give me pause? The importance we place on the people and things we admire shed light on our priorities.
Do the people we hold in high regard inspire compassion and justice or anger and self-service? Do the ideals, institutions, and dogmas we prescribe to advise to love our neighbor or be afraid of them? Do the voices I listen to justify self-preservation and individual advancement or placing God and others first?
Am I my brother’s guardian? Where we place our priorities, the company we keep, and how we live our lives can answer that question.