There Is No “Them”

There Is No “Them” June 2, 2020


I’m typing on my tiny iPad mini keyboard because God appears to be judging me. I turned in my book yesterday and then went happily to bed (my computer at a full charge) and when I woke up this morning it refused to turn on. My immediate thought was that God must be trying to tell me something, but whatever it is I probably don’t want to hear it.

I and the rest of the world, I suppose. A world that is melting down for so many reasons it’s hard to pick just one to about which to have an informed opinion. There’s Mr. Trump awkwardly holding up a bible as he calls for a return to law and order, there’s the sane people who are wondering why we all had to be in crowds of less than ten last weekend but this weekend apparently it’s no big deal, there’s the death of George Floyd, there’s the death of our own local playground, there’s the heartbreak of thousands of store owners, and, to top it all off, there’s gay pride month. And that’s all out there. Never mind the continued surprise of ordinary people watching from their phones and other kinds of screens, except if they are observing the blackout today.

I gave up praying or exercising or indulging in any of the habits that keep my body whole and my mind sane while I was trying to finish that stupid book (it’s probably not stupid, who even knows). Day after day I woke up, fired up my machine and scrolled and typed, with breaks for freaking out and eating unhealthy food. I did it over and over, so that by the end of yesterday I felt paper thin, fractious, headachy. It’s not a good way of “living” but it did increase the, what do you call it, “impactfulness” of the great litany when I returned to it after what felt like an eternity in Sheol.

The last time I looked at it with any attention, these two lines felt vaguely theoretical, I had to imagine their emotional weight, feeling it by reading news in other places:

From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine…

From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared…

The congregation must respond, “Good Lord, deliver us,” going on to pray against hardness of heart, disordered and sinful affections, enmity, strife, all that kind of thing. Of course all those things existed, even very close to home, the last time I looked at the page. We were in the middle of a worldwide pestilence for heaven’s sake, but the words had rolled past me for so long that their emotional weight must have gone to press down on every other place and person.

I think there are two kinds of people right now. People who are deeply grieved but who don’t have the wherewithal to sort out their feelings, and people who don’t care and want free stuff. Anyone can be both kinds of person at the same time. That’s what it means to be human. We are blind, helpless, unrighteous. And yet we imagine that we can see, that we have power, and that we are holy. In a corporate way, this is true about all humanity. Therefore, in grief or in greed, in helplessness or in strength, in sight or in blindness, it is always useful to pray, “Good Lord, deliverer us.” Us altogether. There is no “them.” There is no “why would they do that.” We have gone astray and there is no health in us.

Which is to say, as I read the news, I must pray for every faction and every person. I must sincerely pray for the president, that the Bible he waves in the air will have some effect on him. I must pray for the protestors. I must pray for antifa, I must pray for the children. I must pray for those who are dying and those who are grieving. I must pray for myself. I must pray indiscriminately, promiscuously, without worrying about being right or having all the information. God alone can solve this mess, can bring peace, can restrain wickedness. He might use some of us to do some of his work, but it will not be because we were good or that we were able to see what he was doing.

And now, if you will excuse me, I must go stare at my cabbages and roses.

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