Sunday, July 25, 2010

The New York Times and My Empathetic Ineptitude.

I opened up The New York Times today and saw all the leaked documents about the war in Afghanistan. I started reading them and realized that I was skimming. It was too much. Too much to take in and understand. It's so hard to read about the destructive things human beings are capable of doing to other human beings in the name of fear, loyalty, hate, vengeance, what? Nothing will ever get completely better. We may find or bring or grow peace and wholeness in one corner of the world, but just on the other side of the hill, people are being raped, suppressed, beaten and silenced. I feel like there's no end. The world is a damaged place and is in the process of beating itself endlessly over the head with a thorny bat, thus creating further damage. I hear about oil spills and global warming and deforestation and war and dying children and I can't comprehend it all. I could sit on the internet all day and all night for a week and never finish reading about all the horrible things that are happening to our world every day.

And after all that - nothing much. I don't feel much or do much about any of that. I don't like it; I feel sad, but I'm not driven to action.

I'll be the first to say that I'm not a very empathetic person. I don't weep for the children of the world in the way that sometimes I should. I don't scream in outrage at injustice. I don't even feel very sorry for harried mothers. Mostly when I read about war and atrocities, I don't register it on anything more than an observational level. I don't feel those things in the way that some people do - empathy flows from them effortlessly. But I'm beginning to wonder if I just wasn't made that way. This is NOT to say that I shouldn't strive to cultivate in myself some shade of empathy for the world. It is only to say that I know this is something that isn't natural to me. To be honest, I have always thought that I wasn't as good of a person because I didn't cry about babies with no families or write to my congressman or feel the desire to march through the streets with Greenpeace. I have tried so many times to manufacture that drive in myself and felt defeated when I couldn't conjure up that desire. I was certain that I wasn't trying hard enough, that I was just lazy and self-focused (and I am). But after years of fighting guilt over this, I'm trying to look at it in a different way, hoping that I'm not just making excuses.

There are some people who read The New York Times and are driven to action. They find ways to do and to fight and to call out apathy and ignorance. They cry and they scream and they push and they make things change. I am not one of those people. Which is not to say that I want to live in apathy and ignorance. But I want to live in line with how I was made and to seek to use the gifts that I was born with instead of lusting after the ones given richly and generously to other people.

Here's what I've been discovering: Over the years I have found myself loving many empathetic, activist-type people. They are some of my nearest and dearest friends. And when I love someone, I will love them tirelessly with drive and purpose and passion and understanding. This is something that is true about me. I see myself loving those who weep for the children and who scream in outrage at injustice. Those are my people. And I can help them in their efforts because I love them, even if I can't bring the passion for the cause in the way that they can. I can also sit and drink tea or beer with them and listen with my whole being and try to fill them up so they can continue pouring out in that wonderfully active, fighting way that they do.

I don't do this as selflessly as I should. But I'm working at it. I may be making excuses for myself, but at least I'm being honest, making my way forward and trying to do what I can in my own way for this messed-up world.

Monday, July 12, 2010

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us.
I have never been more convinced that this is Truth. I sat out on the grass outside of my church and watched three dear people walk down the steps and across the street to sit by me and soak in the sunshine. They love me. They know how to open the doors and throw light into the dark rooms that I get locked into. God too, brings light and understanding into my crazy, broken places. I can't care about theology and religion right now. God is sitting beside me in the shape of my person, rubbing my back lightly, wiping tears from my cheeks and letting me sit silently, wrapped in grief and anger. She is fighting beside me and lending Her strength to my attempts to get up and walk out of bitterness. He sits on the grass with me, drinks beer and wine at my kitchen table, and gives me time and space in which to breathe deeply.
I was standing lost, sunk, my hands in my pockets, gazing towards Tinker Mountain and feeling the earth reel down.
I'm so thankful for the Grace that follows the lost, sunk moments. So while I think of it, let me paint a thank-you on my palm for love that is given to me and for the people in whom it is brought to full expression.