I desire to escape this exhausting world. I want to avoid the stories of racism, bigotry, and sexism. I want to hide from the scenes in my life where other people treat me less than because I am a woman. I want to ignore the fear-mongering that our religious and political leaders spew. Escaping is easy. Netflix’s countdown to the next episode is a convincing argument to ignore the world and lose myself in a never-ending world of fiction. But escaping is a luxury that only a few can afford. I can hole myself up in my house – ignoring emails, twitter, and the outside world. But when I leave my sanctuary, I experience the pain of this world. The moment I leave my house, I hear comments about my body. My phone buzzes with other people’s sexist comments. The real world that lies right outside my door forces me to be present to the pain of sexism. I am lucky that my home is a sanctuary because for some, escaping - even for a moment - is impossible. Television shows, books, and movies that provide relief from the pain for those of us in the majority culture are yet another reminder to some that they aren’t represented. Other people's never-ending stack of bills is a constant reminder of the chains of systematic poverty. And for others, the fear of I.C.E. knocking on the door allows escaping the racial injustice impossible. If you can afford to escape this world, then I want to beg you: please don’t. Please be present in the pain of this world.
Don’t turn off cable news when a story of racism gets uncomfortable. Feel the pain. Don’t change the subject when you feel uneasy. Listen to the sordid details.
Be present in the pain of this world, not because you are a masochist, but to stand in the gap for those of that can’t escape.
The Danger of Escaping Some of my friends excuse escaping by saying, “I just don’t listen to the news.” I understand the desire not to listen. Every time I hear about another #MeToo scandal I relieve my own horrible experiences. When people mention President Trump “grab em by the pussy” comment, I remember having my pussy grabbed. I want to escape the stories because I too don’t want to deal with our world. But I can’t turn off the news, because it affects me. If insurance stops paying for birth control, I must deal with the added monthly payments. If the healthcare system continues to allow women to die in labor, I have to deal with the risk of leaving my daughter motherless if I decide to get pregnant again. If violence against women continues to go unabated, I have to deal with the man at the grocery store who harasses me. It might be inconvenient for you to see the headlines, but it is dangerous for me to ignore the news. As a white upper-class straight Christian woman, I have privilege. While I struggle with issues of sexism, I don’t have to worry about being shot for asking for directions. I will never be pulled over and asked for documentation. There are many hardships in this world that my blue eyes shield me from. I can’t imagine the pain my brothers and sisters, who deal with so many different forms of bigotry, experience. The news forces many to relive the trauma but to ignore it could lead to death. We desire to escape this world by ignoring the news. But when you choose to avoid the pain of this world, you are allowing injustice to exist unabated. Be Present, because you are not the Solution The incessant videos of injustice often force me to cry out, "how can I do anything?" The problem feels too big.
Escaping would be more comfortable than dealing with the enormity of the injustice of the world. But believing that I can find a solution is narcissistic. I need to be present because I can’t solve injustice. I need to be present so that I can stand in the gap between the pain of this world and the hope of God’s Kingdom. I need to be present so that I can raise my voice in lament and beg for God’s justice to roll down. I often underestimate lament, because I avoid the pain of the world. But when I am willing to go to God, with tears, I can see his tears. Lamenting allows us to fully experience the pain while experiencing the hope that Jesus desires for justice. It’s not a cop-out, but an incredibly difficult decision to experience God’s suffering.
Be Present, Because Jesus was Present When we join with God in lamenting injustice, we see his response. Jesus became present in our pain. He came to our world. He fully experienced life on earth. He didn’t turn away, he didn’t escape into heaven. He lived with the joy and suffering of human life. Jesus fled violence in his homeland, becoming a refugee. He dealt with the pain of being considered less than because of where he was born. Jesus experienced the all too familiar pain of his family not understanding him. He dealt with the confusion of being tempted. He was fully present to others pain. He listened to a woman, who had suffered from bleeding for twelve years. He saw the tears of a man who had lost his daughter. He held two friends as they mourned the death of their brother. He saw the poverty of his country and the pain they felt. He stood with his friends when the religious elite accused them. Jesus touched the leper and engaged with the racism of his day. Jesus was present in our world’s pain. He even experienced the pain of death. And by being present, he ushered his kingdom here. Being present allows us to partner with Jesus in seeing God's kingdom come.
While escaping is seductive, please be present to the pain. Be present so that we can all experience God’s kingdom come here.