May 06, 2010

Saved from Bitterness and Anger

Sometimes, I wonder how it is possible to keep a positive outlook on things, or even to keep sane in this crazy world. I realize that I can't speak for other pastors, or even other humans. I can only speak for myself. Yet, as I consider the state of the world, I wonder how we've let it get to this point.

The U.S. has 5,113 nuclear warheads. Just 5,113? That's a lot fewer than we used to have. And yet, each one is capable of death on a massive scale. It's 5,113 too many.

We suffer from an addiction to fossil fuels. The lives of coal miners in West Virginia, an ecological catastrophe (and more lost lives) in the Gulf of Mexico, and explosions at refineries are the cost of our addiction, not to mention smog-choked valleys and stressful, traffic-clogged freeways.

Two blocks from my home, people without homes sleep in the bushes next to a freeway onramp, where people drive by in their air-conditioned luxury cars and SUVs, talking on their bluetooths.

Shall I go on? As a follower of Jesus, and as a person called to help others follow Jesus, it is a challenge to not become discouraged and lose hope in this world. And yet, I know people who have lost hope. Their bitterness and sadness, present in sermons and status updates, only adds to the despair.

There is also, of course, personal stress: lying awake at night, praying that my son's blood sugars are normal, and that we can afford the next round of medicine co-pays; lamenting the strengthening grip of electronic media on my family; struggling to uphold the commitments I've made despite challenges of time and money; wondering what more I can do for the church I pastor, and worrying about whether or not it will be able to afford a full-time pastor next year.

One after another, the thoughts fill my mind. Worries and anxieties abound. Save me, O God, from bitterness and anger. Save me from hopelessness. Show me some comfort, something to sing and laugh about.

And then...

Then I walk past a garden filled with beauty -- just for me, it seems -- and my heart leaps in joy and gratitude for the wonderful display that delights my senses, a gift from God and gardeners...

Then I see two friends greet one another with a hug, and I think back to my own friends and loved ones, and remember that companions make the journey possible, bearable, worthwhile, and even enjoyable...

Then I hear a melody sung by a bird, a choir, or a child getting ready for school, filling my ears with a sound of delight that lasts all day long.

I know that the ancient prophets lamented the state of their world, which seemed to them so at odds with God's intentions. This discrepancy gnawed at them until they found life almost unbearable.

I wonder if they were able to see the beauty and the joy that existed side-by-side with the injustice that tormented them. I think they must have. How else could they have written their critiques of society in such beautiful poetry?

It is a spiritual practice, to take care to notice the many blessings and sights of beauty in our world, a practice that is essential for me and for anyone who works to bring wholeness to a fragmented world. The gardens, the hugs, the songs ... these are the things that keep us sane. These are the things that keep us joyful.

These passings resurrect
A joy without defect,
The life that steps and sings in ways of death.
--Wendell Berry

1 comment:

PJMoore said...

As one who has posted status updates and occasionally preached in sadness, let me say that you are right on to remind us to take care to notice the blessings around us. Even in the midst of great fear and sadness, those small joys abound. Our prayer group spent time this morning reflecting on the Psalms of Lament and how gratefulness is interwoven with cries of distress. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the world. We need to hear them!