Have you noticed how much of our lives are being shaped by the barrage of news and social media we encounter? Especially lately! I’ve written about this in the past, but right now, there’s another element that we need to think about: we’re not just weary, we’re traumatized. Daily news about COVID19, the stress of lockdowns and job losses, horrific footage of police brutality, mass protests, riots, and looting … all of this has become a form of trauma for many of us.
In March, when news about COVID19 was exploding, and states were first issuing “stay at home” orders, I spent hours reading articles, surfing social media, and watching news videos, trying to understand what was going on. Then, weeks later, when the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests and riots happened, I had the same experience. I told myself I was doing this so I could preach and teach others, and also help lead our church in its response to these events.
But something else was going on too: my overdosing on news was like when you drive past a horrific car accident, and you find yourself unable to look away. We’re drawn to terrible stuff, and some part of us overrides our own good judgement and makes us look.
But here’s what I know: these kinds of events are traumatizing to many of us. We feel heightened levels of sadness, anger, and anxiety about what we are seeing and experiencing. A phrase I’ve heard people using over and over in the past few months is: “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” – Martin Luther King
“This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos.” – Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
“I understand having anger and grief during this time. But this is not that. This is wanton destruction and violence.” – Minnesota Governor Tim Walls
“This is what it looks like when justice has been denied for a long time.” – Ben Jealous (former NAACP president)
Our nation is now dealing with two crises: the ongoing COVID19 pandemic (current death toll in US is 109,000 at the time of this writing) has been eclipsed by civil unrest in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. Peaceful protests across the nation have turned into violent clashes with police and National Guard, along with a rampage of looting and destruction.
There is a simmering rage in our cities, like the dry tinder of a forest just waiting for some spark to be lit and explode into a raging fire. The horrific murder of George Floyd — in broad daylight, at the hands of callous police officers, who knew they were being filmed, with bystanders begging them to stop — has proved to be that spark.
As a white pastor living in a predominantly white community just North of Minneapolis, with many friends in the areas affected, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happening. I know that many voices are weighing in on this situation. I’m adding to that cacophany today because I think that members of my congregation should hear my perspective on this, and I offer it in the hope that it might help them, and maybe some others, as we think, pray, and work together on this.
1. The explosion of violence and looting we are seeing is not just about racial tensions. *
*After several days have passed, and new events have emerged, I’ve changed my mind about this point somewhat. Rather than erase it, I’m just going to leave it as is, but add some “clarifications and second thoughts” at the end of this section.
In addition to a powerful wave of rage in response to yet another killing of an unarmed black person (more on that later), there are two things going on — one is getting lots of attention, and the other not enough.
What’s getting lots of attention is that there are different kinds of people doing different kinds of things — there are legitimate protesters and callous opportunists. We keep being reminded that there are “bad apples” swooping in on lawful protests, and their goal is to incite violence, steal, and destroy. It’s a progression: First there are peaceful demonstrations. Then comes the violence, property destruction, and looting. In nearly every press conference with officials around the US, they’ve tried to push the narrative that the violent protesters were “not people from our city (or state) … they’re trouble-makers or anarchists who are coming in from somewhere else.”
There is undoubtedly some truth to this, but it can’t be the whole story. There are now protests happening all across the nation. Do all the anarchists have a “not in my neighborhood” rule? Are they all just getting in their cars and driving to a different state to do their looting and destruction?
We are living in the midst of a shocking world-wide crisis. At this point, we don’t know how long it will last, how much physical suffering and economic devastation it will create, or how many lives it will take. At a time like this, when people are reeling with job losses, fears about the future, fears about their health, and fears about loved ones … what we need most of all is the comfort and encouragement of community.
And that’s where this crisis is so perverse: the requirements of “social distancing” are cutting us off from the connections we so desperately need.
With physical presence restricted, we’re having to be creative and find ways of supporting each other through phone calls, emails, and video chatting. In our churches, we’re exchanging face to face small group gatherings and worship services with video conferences and virtual worship services. It’s weird.
In the midst of it all, there are spiritual questions to wrestle with, and mental health struggles — especially depression, loneliness, and anxiety — to work through.
Like many of you, I’ve been following the news closely — probably more than is good for me. I’ve been reading a variety of articles from authors of various stripes in an effort to understand better for myself what’s happening around me, so I can hopefully offer support and encouragement to others.
Here’s what what we need to remember: While we’re in the midst of a crisis, it’s nearly impossible to understand it. Insight and wisdom come later. Right now we have to muddle through, putting one step in front of the other.
Don’t get me wrong: There is important wisdom being shared. Amidst the deluge of blog posts, magazine articles, and social media updates, there are many helpful things being written.
In that spirit, I thought it might be helpful this week to draw your attention to four different articles that have been helpful to me, in hopes that you might find something for yourself too. For each, I give a short synopsis, some quotes, and a link to the original article. I hope this helps!
“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
– Paul Tillich
“If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
– Yann Martell
Many religious people live with profound spiritual confusion and contradictions. They profess certain beliefs and values, but their actions demonstrate otherwise. They know they are “supposed to” think and feel a certain way about God, the spiritual life, and death, but they don’t. They have nagging questions and doubts, and cope by trying not to think about them.
For the most part, they love God — after all, that’s the first and greatest commandment, right? But they also feel confused about God’s ways in the world. Sometimes this confusion gives way to anger and bitterness. Of course, they would never say this out loud, and don’t even like to admit it to themselves. But these mixed spiritual feelings are more common than people think, and are often the root of what seems to be “lack of commitment” in our churches.
In my work as a pastor, I’ve dealt with many people who struggle with these contradictions. Sometimes they recognize them, but often they don’t. As I said, it’s hard to admit that we have doubts, and hard to acknowledge confusion and negative feelings about God. Especially in church, where we’re all supposed to be “on the same page.”
“We now live in a world where we eat content, drink content and breathe content, without giving a single thought to its composition or what kind of impact it has upon our lives.” ― Abhijit Naskar
Not long ago, I took a month-long media fast: time away from social media, online news, magazines, newspapers, TV and radio news. I’m thinking about doing it again. Here’s what happened, and what I learned:
What I did … and why
I was aware of — and bothered by — two things: (1) How much time I was spending on social media, surfing the internet, and watching TV (2) How agitated I was getting, especially from social media and television content that focused on politics and news.
I read a lot — books, magazines, and Internet articles — and it seems like my head is often swimming in stories, opinions, news flashes … most of which seem to focus on what is bad or wrong about our world, things I should be worried about, or trying to change.
“Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.” ― James Allen
“When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere. ― Francois de La Rochefoucauld
To what degree is it possible to control our thoughts? Our mental health and success in life may well depend on this ability. If we struggle with addiction — especially sex or pornography addiction — our recovery may well depend on it. Many of us struggle with negative thought patterns — sometimes even intrusive thoughts — which rob us of our peace of mind, and keep us from making progress.
Think about it: the roots of both depression and anxiety have to do with thoughts we can’t shake — whether those thoughts are related to fears of what might happen, or a general sense of things going wrong and/or life being pointless. I understand that clinical depression and anxiety disorders have multiple factors, and may require extensive treatment, including therapy and medication. But many of us are “on the spectrum” for anxiety and/or depression. We may not be clinically anxious or depressed, but we struggle. The good news is that there are things we can do, as you’ll see in this article.
With many forms of sex addiction, the problem also centers around our thoughts. We mull over fantasies, or we obsess over a person we desire. Our destructive actions arise from thoughts that center around lust, loneliness, insecurity, and fear. For some people, the essence of the sexual struggle is mainly in the mind: near constant obsessive and intrusive sexual thoughts.
How do we change our thinking? How do we exert control over our wandering minds? Here are six keys that will change your life:
“I have come to believe that without a strong sense of community human beings will wilt and begin to die. Community is the foundation of human society, the epitome of wholeness; in fact, the end of our journeying. As Parker Palmer writes: ‘Community means more than the comfort of souls. It means, and has always meant, the survival of the species.’ Without a continuing and enriching experience of community, as well as a vision of its glory to keep us moving forward, all of us eventually perish.” ― David Clark
Why is everybody so unhappy and anxious these days? I’ve written about this before: mental disorders — especially ADA (anxiety, depression, and addiction) — have become a pandemic in our society.
In this article, I’d like to focus on the question: “How did we get here?” Why is it that ADA have gotten so out of control? I’m not proposing a complete answer, but I want to suggest that one of the primary causes is the rise of social isolation, disconnection, and alienation in our world.
Another way of saying that: it’s because of the breakdown of community.
And this breakdown includes not simply a loss of human connection, but for many it also involves the loss of spiritual connection as well. We are witnessing a massive breakdown of spiritual community in our time … not just families, neighborhoods, and communities. And it’s literally killing us.