Jeremiahs or Babel-Builders?
If you can believe it, what gets me down is not the slideshow from the Washington Post showing victims of the Horn of Africa famine. What depresses me is that, with my husband studying most days now, I have few people to talk with about it.
I have friends I could call who share my sorrow for Africa (a testimony, by the way, to my amazing friends). But God knows I wouldn’t bring it up at a party, or at a gathering, or even at a casual lunch. Who wants to be the sorrow wagon, bearing bad news to ruin your sandwich?
Sometimes I sit at group events in silence, heartbroken for what I read and see every day. The crowd around me talks about the latest viral video and laughs. The more marginalized I feel, the more I hope someone reading this will say “Yes! Me too! I want to talk about these terrible things. You are not a crazy masochist.”
I feel this distance more with people of faith than with any other group. Being a Christian, I often try to catch up on the latest things evangelicals are discussing. I usually give up pretty quickly because they’re not horrifying enough to tug my heartstrings, exciting enough to make me want to change something, and thus not epic enough to be worth my time.
Rather than freaking out over gay marriage and evolution in schools, we could be putting our concentrated efforts into social issues that mean life or death. Indeed many religious people do: Christian, Jewish and Muslim NGOs serve in some of the hardest places in the world. Most of us just don’t happen to work for any of them. Since we’re not there ourselves, the least we can do is acknowledge their sufferings and sacrifices, share stories of our heroes’ actions or make up songs about them, Lord-of-the-Rings-style.
Do I mean we need to be angry and sad all the time? No! Just the opposite. We would be much more grateful, much more kind, and much more happy if we learned to advocate for the hardest hit people on earth. Advocating for a better world makes us better, and gives us something to hope for and think on that far outweighs funny animal videos.
Jews and Christians both claim two stories that help illustrate our situation: Jeremiah and the Babel-builders.
Jeremiah, according to the book with his name, followed God’s call by proclaiming terrible news. No one wanted to hear it. People wanted him dead, and he contemplated suicide in private. The religious leaders were busy crying out “peace” when there was no peace, but Jeremiah wouldn’t have it. He saw the reality: the people needed to give up their trivial and worthless things and replace them with justice, mercy and humility. His outcry went unheeded. But with great courage he spoke into the void anyway; and he is remembered by both Jews and Christians as one of the great prophets, to whom all should have listened.
The Babel-builders did the opposite. They dedicated all of their creative energies into a shallow, superficial monument to themselves. In response God confused them and made their work worthless.
We stand in the middle and have a choice. Do we want to be the kinds of people who prophesy even when it’s sad because we have the Great Hope that things aren’t what they should be and can be made better?
Or do we want to be the kinds of people who busy ourselves with useless pursuits but, in looking back on our lives, can always say we were merry?
For the sake of our world and our souls, let’s be Jeremiahs.
How can you help or continue to help famine victims in the Horn of Africa? Start here, then get creative.