Staying Engaged in a World of Tragedy: 4 Ways to Respond

a0246714360_16Tuesday we looked at three things we need to consider when trying to stay engaged with tragedy in our world. We all have limited time, energy, emotions, and resources, so how do we respond well? Today, I want to offer a few ideas for how we can actually begin to move towards a response, and how moving we can take this all into consideration as we discuss vocation in the coming weeks.

Stephen Garber’s book was a resource I’ve leaned on heavily in the last few weeks. One of the main issues he addresses is how to engage in a world when we are barraged with information, and are tempted to feel hopeless or numb.

For Garber, vocation is a particular way of seeing. It is paying attention to the world as it truly is, and paying attention to our own place and responsibility within history.

The question of vocation is this: Knowing what I do of the world and myself, how will I respond?

I love this quote: “Having read the things I have read, having seen the things I have seen, having heard the things I have heard, having met the people I have met, what will I do about those things? Will I choose to grow numb, as our westernized – hyper connected culture has chosen to do, or will we love this world and contribute to the common good?”

If we want to be true to our vocation as Christians and as people, we have to learn to pay attention and to respond. Over the next few weeks, we will be talking more about what vocation is and how we find and enter into it. But as we do so, we need to recognize that vocation is largely about paying attention.

1. As Christians, we are called to pay attention to different things.

We all have limited resources and options. And that is ok. It is part of being human. So as we seek to discover our own vocation, we have to choose what things we will pay attention to. As we said yesterday, when we choose to be the people of God, we choose to pay attention to the most vulnerable.

So we have to ask the questions: Who are the vulnerable in our society? Who are the vulnerable people closest to me? Where are the places I can make a difference for those people? How do the vulnerable show up in my daily life?

These questions allow us to focus in on the things that matter in our world, and allow us to discern where we can respond in our own creative and unique ways.

2. I need the perspectives of people who are different than I am.

And when I say the perspective of people who are different, I mean real-life, flesh-and-blood human beings. Not blogs or books or podcasts or television shows. Actual people. And I need to have real conversations about those differences and the things that really matter in the world.

When I dialogue with people who are different than I am, my blindspots (usually due to privilege) are exposed. I am able to see the complexity of the world we live in and realize I have a very short-sided understanding of the world most of the time.

Further, when I am talking with people who are different, I am lessening the us/them divide. When I talk to a flesh-and-blood human who would normally be a “them” it is much harder to demonize them or ignore them.

And finding people is not as difficult as it sounds. Vocation is about learning to be where you are. So find the people you are already around who are different. Work hard on building true relationships with people. My guess is there are more people very close to you than you realize.

And if you find you are never around someone who is different than you are, maybe that is something you need to pay attention to.

3. Understand the complexity of the important issues.

Learning to “truly see” means we avoid simplistic answers and we ask better questions.

Greg Boyd talked a bit about this in his (really helpful) sermon after Philando was killed in his city. We often assume that issues are black and white and that we can figure almost anything out by just paying attention to cause and effect.

The world does not work like that. Think through the tragedies that have happened. They point to huge, systemic and cultural problems of racism, otherness, guns, violence, and a host of other issues. We cannot assume they are as simple as the bad man with the gun killed some people.

We need to be willing to enter into the complexity of our world as a way of better understanding things so we can make better responses. Before we ever get to the responses, we need to start with asking better, deeper, and more difficult questions.

(Side note: Greg reminds us prayer is more complex than cause an effect as well. Just because prayer doesn’t heal a problem overnight doesn’t mean it is not working. Let’s not lose heart here either).

4. Find small ways to revolt.

Because of our pre-occupation with cause and effect, we often assume unless we fix all of societies problems we cannot make a difference.

But look at Jesus. He didn’t heal every sick person. He didn’t cast out all the demons. He barely left Israel. But every one of his actions were aimed at revolting against the evil forces in his world, and making the world a better place.

We can do the same.

As we look at vocation, we want to think about the ways we live, work, and relate to others as opportunities to push back against the darkness.

And while we may not solve all of the worlds problems and we will (tragically) continue to see the awful news feeds, we can be people who resist. We refuse to take part in the violence and fear of the world, we stand in solidarity with the vulnerable and oppressed, and we find small, daily ways to push back the darkness right where we are.

13692713_10153884672649514_1290789141341560831_n_vert-437c407ae8d1be8e77fc8c69f3ada34e8344de92-s400-c85Garber writes that the best way we learn to respond to the really important and difficult issues in our day is as by looking at examples of people doing it well. So I want to end with a an example of this being done well.

Our family used to live in Wichita, where this beautiful story comes from. The #blacklivesmatter protesters were putting together a rally, and the Wichita police force offered to host them and create a community picnic.

What ensued was good eating, dancing, and a beautiful picture of what happens when people who society tells us are opposed to one another gather around a shared table. People of different races and cultures came together, celebrated, shared a meal (please, please, please don’t miss that) and offered some hope to a dark situation (here’s a link).

May we be the kinds of people who lead the way in offering hope and gathering “us” and “them” at the Tables we find ourselves.

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