Monday, July 25, 2016

The Summer of "16

It has been quite a summer, and it's only July!  Bombings in Istanbul, Bagdad; mass killings with a truck as a weapon in France.  ISIS has everyone on edge.  Mass shooting at a Gay bar in Orlando;  more killing of young black men by police caught on video;  then retaliatory sniper killing of police in Dallas; the anger fused political rhetoric.  Protests at political rallies and conventions.  Anger, violence, protests.  The violence has also hit us here in Michigan, too.  The multiple murders in Kalamazoo earlier this year rocked us.  Then a drugged up grieving driver plowed into a group of cyclists with his truck in Kalamazoo; and a man being escorted into court gets his hands on a bailiff's gun and shoots up the Berrian County Courthouse in St. Joseph.

It reminds some of us of the summer of '68.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, then Bobby Kennedy, race riots, protests at the Democratic Convention, Chicago police beating protesters shown on the evening news.  I was 13 years old that summer living in an isolated rural valley community sheltered from the world by the Tuscarora and Kittatinny mountains in south central Pennsylvania.  NO African Americans, Jews, or Muslims lived in that valley community, and only a few Catholics.  I remember sitting in the farmhouse kitchen of church members where I worked that summer listening to a man who had grown in that valley, but then lived in Baltimore.  He was back for a visit. and he talked on and on spewing racists thoughts about the black people, how terrible "those" people were.  Two years earlier, on May 11, 1966, a teenage girl named Peggy Ann Bradnick, who lived in the next valley was kidnapped.  There was a huge manhunt.  She became a legend in Pennsylvania.  A song was written about her which was played nonstop on the radio.  Stories of "a mountain man" were told how he would occasionally take pot shoots at cars and road signs with his deer rifle.  He was eventually found and killed by police for Peggy Ann's abduction. I lived a pretty protected live, but my childhood was marked by these stories  When I went outside to feed my family's hunting dogs in the evening, I would look over my shoulder, alert to danger, fearful of "the mountain man."  Today, we all seem to be like the child I was in the summer of '68, fearful, looking over our shoulders, alert to the the next bad thing.

Yes, it's a tough time, but it is not all bad!  President Obama rightly reminded us recently that there are a lot of good things going on also.  When we hear and see only the tragedies and disasters our worldview is warpt.  Today, shocking sensational bad news stories run 24/7.  The more shocking it is the better the news outlet's ratings.  It is psychically exhausting!  AND SPIRITUALLY CRIPPLING!  It's depressing!  We are not fashioned for that much compassion and empathy.  We do not have that much human experience handling so much bad news.  Of the 6,000 years of recorded human history, since the days of Abraham and Sarah, only 100 years or so of them was there radio, 65 years or so of television, and ten years of social media, which some of us are just getting the swing of.  During WW2, people had to go to the movies to see a news reel update on the war.  There were only two tv networks that aired in my home the summer of '68.  Walter Cronkite (CBS) and David Brinkley (NBC) filtered and shared world news in a 30 minute daily news broadcast.  I noticed earlier in my ministry with visiting "shut-ins," that they were often depressed and alarmed--a result of watching partisan political commentary all day.

I suggest three coping strategies:
1.  Limit your news in take.  I stopped watching the evening news years ago.  I did so primarily because it is primarily bad news sensationalism. If that isn't depressing enough the commercials peddling all forms of medication is.  Go figure. You can pick up what you need to live an informed life via a quality radio news like NPR Morning Edition, All Things Considered and a good newspaper or weekly journal.  Monitor your social media use and step away from time to time.
2.  Face and name your demons:  There are multiple rational and irrational reasons to be fearful, angry and hate filled.  While righteous anger is sometimes helpful, hate never is!  Hate only consumes the hater.  If you want to transform society, begin with yourself.  Do your work.  And for those of us who are white, male, straight, protestant, well educated, (that includes me), that means acknowledging the rules and norms of society have given people like me a head start advantage over others.  The beginning step of addressing race is for people like me to acknowledge the privilege we've been given.  It seems our demons don't like to share.
3.  Be a Witness:  Followers of Jesus are called to speak the truth in love, work for peace through justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  How many times do we read in the Bible of angels and Jesus saying to frightened disciples, "Don't be afraid."  "Peace be with you."  Look for God in your life and share some good news.  Begin with grace and gratitude!

The summer of '68 was shocking.  This summer of '16 is alarming.  Let's reframe and change the story with lives of grace and gratitude, open hearts and generous hospitality.  This is who we are.  This is what we do, through the power of the Holy Spirit.