“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” –Isaiah 40: 1
You know those “Year In Review” things that are popular around New Year’s? That montage of clips and sound bites that is meant to walk us back through the year that was, reminding us of the big important events and the memorable memes of the last 365 days?
Can you imagine what it must be like to have that job this year? I mean…I know there have been worse years in human history, but…what would you be planning to put in this year’s review? It’s just going to be a shit show, isn’t it? Can you imagine having to pull together images and sounds of this year’s major events–from Ebola to torture reports, deaths of unarmed black men across the country, revelations about how broken and unbalanced our justice system is, subsequent protests and unrest, Phillip Seymour Hoffman AND Robin Williams AND Bill Cosby, psychotic charlatans attempting to incite violence against gay and lesbian people, new information about how drastically in danger our environment really is…the end of the Colbert Report– you would just see your own tears all day…and this guy:
It has not been an easy time.
The question I am asked most by my congregation…honestly, more than any other question is this: How can God allow so many horrible things to happen in the world? It’s a real, legitimate question, that of God’s power, justice, the existence of evil…how does all that balance out?
The thing is…the world is better than it was even 100 years ago. Look at it this way: 100 years ago, Jim Crow laws were largely unchallenged, women didn’t have the right to vote in the U.S., it was the start of World War I. There was no safety net for the elderly, and it was common place for children to serve in, essentially, slave labor positions (at least 2 million kids a year from 1908-1917).
So I remain unconvinced that God is doing anything particularly evil in the world… it’s probably more likely that people of privilege are waking up to the wide range of injustices that non-privileged people still suffer. To some extent, it’s a travesty that there’s a 24/7 media that makes billions of dollars a year by emphasizing the terrible things that happen in the world every single day…but to another extent…there’s probably actually less suffering and injustice to cover today than there was earlier in our history…but privileged people have just been allowed to ignore suffering that wasn’t their own for far too long.
I’ve spent this entire week thinking about “Peace,” and how our concept of it is far too narrow, insufficient for understanding our faith tradition’s centuries old notion of the same word. And today I’m swinging back the other way. Our world is vastly more peaceful than it has been in the past. The fact that we are seeing a lot of protests against police brutality in our country right now…and these protestors aren’t being met by gangs of white people, and storms of bricks and bottles means that we are actually in a better place than we were 50 years ago. Anyone who thinks I’m exaggerating or waxing too poetically about the past, I refer you to a phenomenal book called The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. The author brilliantly and beautifully tells the story of the Jim Crow south, the people who suffered under that unjust system, and the many ways in which the racist world that my parents were born into is vastly different–and exponentially worse–than the one we live in now.
This isn’t to say that everything is perfect, or that we shouldn’t fight for a better tomorrow. There is so much further to go. HOWEVER…just because us white and privileged folk are starting to wake up to the suffering of other people doesn’t mean we are allowed to forget that progress has been made. Generations before us have worked and marched and sacrificed and thought through difficult decisions in order to prepare a world that is more just and loving. We are expected to do no less than that…in fact, we should probably be expected to do more. As comedian Chris Rock said in an interview with Vulture a couple weeks ago:
“When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before…There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”
Nicer and nicer and nicer. Let’s hope that white people in America are only made more nice, and more capable of extending peace and justice to more people in better ways.
And the only way we’ll find the wherewithal to do that is if we’re very clear about one thing: This was a hard year…but in a lot of ways it was a normal year…we just heard a lot more truth about the world than we normally do.