I’m on vacation. The beach.
I woke up on vacation to the sound of the surf and seagulls and the smell of salt water.
I woke up on vacation to the sound of laughter being silenced as a brilliant comedic force lost a battle to depression.
These two things don’t mix easily.
I woke up on vacation to the sight of children running and playing in the surf. Children of all ethnicities chasing crabs and picking up shells.
I woke up on vacation to the news of an unarmed black man being shot in cold blood. To rioting, angry voices justified in their anger, but not in the violence that followed. Death begets death.
…and yet in some ways I understand it…
These two things don’t mix easily.
What’s funny, of course, is that most of us are on “vacation” from this sort of death. From pretending depression isn’t an illness but just a phase. From pretending that racial inequality isn’t real because, well, if it is real then we might have to change the way we behave…
And, let’s be honest: we don’t really want to do that. (We have a black president, for Christ’s sake! Doesn’t that mean racial inequality is a thing of the past?!)
Most of this country is on vacation most of the time.
And that vacation mindset can find a shock of reality in the church community, if we’ll allow it.
Most, though…I think most go to church to have their views reinforced, not challenged.
The pastor has become the conscience massager instead of the conscientious objector to the vacation tendencies that power and privilege provide.
People leave churches because their pastor mentions these things. All congregations. My congregation, too. And in a time of church-attendance limbo we may feel like we can’t say anything because, well, what if people take a vacation from the congregation because of what is said?
So we massage it.
But there is another reality that can’t be massaged into something different, that can’t be escaped: a black man lay dead in the street. A comedian became the victim of joylessness.
And we have to admit that God has something to say about that, something to say about a culture that considers you “OK” as long as you’re laughing; a culture that considers you “OK” as long as your skin color doesn’t automatically make you suspect.
Blood has only one color, though.
And for as much as we lift the blood of Christ up at the Communion table and say “for you,” you’d think we’d see the connection there.
So what to do? Raise our voice in indignation? Console one another? Tell the truth about depression? Speak to racial inequality and violence and unchecked power?
Yes. Of course, yes.
But also: let’s stop being on vacation.
Stop pretending these things aren’t reality.
The church can be a place where we help people live with the tensions of life, not trying to alleviate them, but helping us all live well with them.
Jesus helps us live here and now, in reality. Jesus doesn’t let us take a vacation from reality. “If you see me, you see God,” Jesus says in the Gospel of John. If you see Jesus you see ultimate reality.
Do you see Jesus in the person battling depression? In the black man dead in the street?
Or are we just all on vacation?
Jesus was the ultimate realist…never on vacation. If we are to step up to that example then we must tell the truth on both sides. Laughter is the best medicine unless the comedian is crying inside. Racial equality/human understanding has to come from both the oppressed and the oppressor. It’s hard to be reasonable about all things, but these crises demand reason and love.
Thanks for the lesson.
There’s so much tragedy going on in the world, I think I am on compassion overload. It’s easy to want to take a vacation from thinking about the heartbreak, but of course it’s hard to get away from it now that we have this 24/7 news. It is shocking to learn that a seemingly happy guy like Robin Williams could have killed himself, and to learn how prevalent racism still is in our country. Sin is alive and well in the human heart. Conversion needs to start with each of us being willing to look at sin in our own hearts and repent. Unfortunately, that scares us worse than just about anything else. Thanks for a thoughtful post. The older I get, the more I’m looking forward to heaven!
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