It seems as though the world has become harsher, all sharp corners and ragged edges. The news seems to be all bad these days with more violence, and more hatred than one heart can handle. In the face of all this, it feels like the only option is to withdraw. For me, this reality has left me feeling isolated and afraid to reach out. From this place, it is easier to hold my tongue and keep the peace. And yet this withdrawal has pushed us away from each other, into groups of people who agree with us.
Over the past couple of years, like everyone else, I’ve learned to manage. I turned off the news. I’ve curated my Facebook feed to produce less heartburn. I give myself short windows of time to read the news. I refuse to engage the chaos I see around me. I’ve been around long enough to know that it hasn’t always been like this. It doesn’t have to be like this.
The polarization and distrust between political views, news anchors, and the media push me past the screaming edge. If I’m honest, it’s not just out there that there is a problem. At this point in time our churches, work places, neighborhoods, and families are all impacted by this divided moment. At times, I throw my hands up in frustration feeling like there isn’t anything I can do to bridge the divide. Occasionally, I get mad and slam my computer closed. Last weekend, however, I decided to do something else.
I gathered. I invited people from every decade between 20 and 80. I invited people from diverse backgrounds. I invited men and women, married and single, liberal and conservative, and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Computer programmers, business owners, stay at home moms, social workers, and pastors met in my living room. These folks were as familiar is my own heart and as new to me as a first introduction.
I fed them. I spent the afternoon fussing in my kitchen preparing soups to warm the soul on a late fall evening. I laid out bowls, others brought salad, cookies, and bread. I set a table with the bounty and beauty of friendship and love. I tried to imagine their needs, preferences, and delight. Somehow. the process of preparing for this gathering was as beautiful as the evening itself.
When everyone gathered, I prayed for a blessing and then we broke bread and got to know one another. Long friends traded short hand jokes and new friends learned each other’s names. There were moments of awkward silence, a bit of the discomfort that comes from the vulnerability of the unknown. And yet, there was warmth and graciousness. We were together, getting to know one another. It was enough.
Once the soup bowls were gathered in the sink, we gathered around the screen as new voices challenged us. We listened and then we talked about what we heard. Some voices were strong, some were more tentative. All were gracious.
We practiced listening. We considered, mulling things over in our minds. We talked of the challenges, and the blessings. We challenged each other to take risks, to reach out, to see others. We imagined ways we might engage our world differently. We grappled with the honest difficulty. We listened to understand rather than reply. We bowed our heads in prayer.
The evening ended and we sent them out into the cold November night, I knew that both their bellies and their hearts were full to the brim. Mine was too. We didn’t end conflict in the world the other night. The headlines still scream that all is lost. However, the warmth of the evening has lingered with me. The joy of gathering, of true fellowship, continues to work its magic on me.
When I look at the wild wide world, my soul aches. I get lost in the vast swirl of powerlessness. The world seems hell bent on dividing us. Fault lines that have laid underneath our feet for generations seem ready to crack us open and demolish things far and near. In this moment it would be easier to withdraw, to pull back, to hunker down. For me, that is no longer an option. Instead, I will look for ways to connect. To create spaces for people to show up and be seen, heard, and cared for. This is my small act of defiance in a frightening world.
Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. – J.R.R. Tolkein