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When the whole world hurts
The colors around my house are crisp and bright as the leaves change, falling bright yellow and orange onto the still green grass. No endless gray dust or rubble to be seen.
The colors around my house are crisp and bright as the leaves change, falling bright yellow and orange onto the still green grass. There’s toys strewn around my yard, signs of life and children being children. No endless gray dust or rubble to be seen.
This poem shared by a friend of mine on Facebook highlighted the stark reality of my week. I’ve been trying to engage with the new war between Israel and Hamas with Gaza caught in the middle as obliquely as I can because if I read too many details, I’ll become so bogged down, I may no longer function.
What are we supposed to do with a newsfeed full of the horrors of war? Just before sitting down to write this, I was outside on a 70 degree sunny day, low humidity, watching our new puppy Bertha attack my kids' feet as they giggled and enticed her to chase them.
I shared earlier on Instagram that I’ve been grumpy at the sleep deprivation that goes with a new puppy, and yet at the same time holding in tension the grief and realization that as tired as I am, it’s a privilege to be tired from a puppy and not exhausted by the strain of trying to keep my children safe from bombs and rockets and death and destruction.
Children should have a life with green grass and toys and puppies, not injuries and death and terror.
And all I have to offer us at this time where it’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in the horrors is this:
It’s okay to step away from the news. Do what is within your sphere of influence. Call your representative and senators and urge them to work for a solution that enables the most people to thrive. Bombing an entire region in retaliation for terrorists attacks is disproportionate, and is approaching ethnic cleansing. This is wrong.
Don’t misunderstand me: What Hamas did is also wrong. More than one thing can be true at once. And answering evil with evil only makes more people suffer. But Hamas is not all Palestinians just as the leadership in Israel is not all Israelis nor all Jewish people. We can condemn evil wherever we see it, and still work for the thriving of all people.
Commenting on this situation beyond this is really outside the scope of my expertise. I will always stand for the mutual thriving of everyone (shalom) and against anything that prevents it.
My goal is for us to find ways to move forward. There are many crises right now and to focus on all of them is to focus on none of them. Suffering anywhere should break our hearts. As Glennon Doyle said: “Anyone trying to convince you that your heart should not break over people’s suffering is doing something other than love. Love is And/Both. Suffering is And/Both.” It’s not either/or. Suffering children matter. The least of these matters. Both have always mattered to God and should matter to us.
As I’ve written before, what do we do when the world is on fire? We grab a bucket. Do something within your sphere of influence that helps. It doesn’t have to be big. Small actions done with consistency will change the world.
It’s okay to step away and breathe and remember what it is we’re working towards.
Some articles I’ve found helpful that go into more detail:
Poisoned Bible Project Episode 6:
Remember Lot’s Wife: On Pillars of Salt, Dens of Robbers, and Jesus as Chaotic Good
Perhaps one of the most bizarre stories in the Scripture (and, yes, I know that is a very high bar), is a tiny story told in just a few words of a woman turned to a pillar of salt. In the midst of a complicated and difficult story, we find another unnamed woman dying tragically with almost no commentary at the time.
Of course much has been made of it in various circles since, and once again most of what I experienced ran along the lines of “don’t be a disobedient woman.” It’s really hard to see God as loving if God runs around turning people–especially women-people like me–into salt because they glanced over their shoulder.
But that’s what happens when we try to build meaning on tiny passages without considering the context, and remembering Lot’s wife has everything to do with justice and how we treat people, and nothing to do with her being a woman.
To unpack this story, we need to start with Jesus’ using it in a series of lessons for his disciples and work backwards because like everything, we must interpret this story through Jesus as a lens. If a story about God doesn’t add up to the person we see in Jesus, then we need to shift our perspective.
Yes, I originally had a date on this of last week, but a week-long migraine—which is beyond the pale for me most of the time—ate up all the time I had alloted to finish this piece. My plan (fingers crossed and all that) is to finish the final edits this weekend, so hopefully I can send this next week, barring any further health issues and/or new wars and that type of thing.
“I wish I could still believe in God, but I can’t be a Christian anymore because of ______” Fill-in-the-blank with racism, misogyny, homophobia, toxic capitalism, and so on. I’ve had this conversation with different people almost word-for-word over and over. White American Christianity has so defined God that many people cannot separate God from the toxic theology they were taught.
But this isn’t the God I see in the Bible. The Bible shows us a God meeting people where they are and nudging them towards justice and total thriving for all: shalom. The Bible details arcs of justice and societal reform. If we understand how radical those arcs were in the context of the day, we can extend them forward into the future and figure out how to work for justice, total thriving, and societal reformation in our day.
I grew up in that first world view. Come along, and I’ll tell you the story of how I escaped, and I’ll show you a theology that I believe paints a more accurate picture: a faith for the common good where everyone thrives and no one is left out.
Anna Elisabeth Howard writes highly caffeinated takes on shalom as a lens for everything from her front porch in Hendersonville, TN where she lives with her husband and two sons. She is a community organizer and movement chaplain with a background in youth and family ministry and is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. An avid hiker and backpacker, many thoughts start somewhere in the middle of the woods, or under a waterfall. She is a regular contributer to Earth & Altar and her latest book is Inward Apocalypse: Uncovering a Faith for the Common Good.
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