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I love paradox. I especially love the paradoxes we find in religion. And I really really love the paradoxes we find in Christian scripture.
I know paradoxes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I cringe as I remember all the times in high school, college, and even seminary, when I was the “devil’s advocate,” raising my hand to challenge the teacher and other students to consider the other side of an issue. There were many times when my questions at the end of class time were the difference between being dismissed a few minutes early and staying for the whole session, perhaps even being dismissed a couple minutes late. I am amazed I had any friends.
I find paradox oddly grounding in the ways we are called to live and love. Living between polarities means we will never be perfect – the minute we push ourselves to one end of a spectrum is the minute we have turned our backs to the other side of that spectrum.
Living paradoxically is to submit oneself to the process of growth instead of arrival. Existing between such tensions like “the role of the law and the role of faith,” “being both dust and life,” or “our weakness being our strength” adjusts our posture from one of perfectionism to one of listening, questioning, practicing, and wondering.
I don’t find this paradox lifestyle easy, but I do find that there is an abundance of grace, even as there are constant lessons in humility.
The paradox I have been leaning into as of late is Jesus’ reflection of what it means to live in the world. John 17:14-15 says “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
The way we have summarized this is that we Christians are to be in the world but not of the world. That is, we must hold in tension that this beautiful, good, complicated world is destined for renewal, for shalom, for a return to how God created it to be, yet also there are powers that will claw, snarl, and bite to the death before that happens. Living in this world and specifically living into our call to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” means we are to engage in ways that love this earth and those in it while remembering we will be eaten alive if we are not rooted in Christ. Living in this world but belonging to God is to remember our baptism – being so grafted to renewal and our identity as image bearers that no evil, no bad news, no war, no global crisis can disrupt our identity and the call that emerges from that identity.
Like most of you, I have a love-hate relationship with the media. I need to understand what is happening in the world if I am going to be a good citizen in it. But when the news is filled with the horrors of war, racial hate directed at the first black woman to become a Supreme Court Justice, investigations surrounding the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, not to mention rising gas, food, and housing costs, it is tempting to just turn it off.
Let’s face it, as a neuro-typical middle-class white woman, I have the choice, the privilege of looking away. For me and others like me, staying informed is necessary to foster empathy and righteous anger – two qualities that fuel activism.
Certainly, constant exposure to our 24/7 news culture can be upsetting if not downright traumatizing and it can even instill apathy. There are those who need to limit news exposure, be it because of their mental health or because their status as one relegated to the margins makes the realities of the world inescapable.
For the rest of us, however, we need to stay informed and stay alert. We need to understand what is happening and do our best to connect it to history.
Yet let us not turn our back on the other end of the paradox. We also need also care for our mental health. Reading about the atrocities in Bucha or the impending food crisis in Yemen is harrowing. Know when to take news breaks. Know when to read and study and know when to feed your spirit and rest.
For me, I find it most helpful to listen to a daily hour-long program from a reputable source like “BBC Newshour” and supplement it with a daily podcast that does a deeper dive into a singular issue; like “The Daily” by the New York Times. I marry my self-care with my podcast listening by walking outside while I listen. I find moving while I listen makes me feel activated, energized and mysteriously hopeful about the future. Having like-minded friends and respectful spaces to engage and process issues, like the Pub Theology I facilitate, helps me feel more connected to the world too. And yes, there are times when we simply need to turn the news off for a while.
But even as we mourn when we watch the world, let us not despair. Let us grow our capacity for living in spaces with no resolution. Let us remember that God is making all things new. Let us find paradoxical joy in submitting our gifts and resources, no matter how small, to the world’s great need. There is good news – God is making all things new. let us hear it, let us receive it, let us internalize it, let us share it, let us live it.