Sunday, February 20, 2005

Living in the belly of empire

Have you ever awakened to the feeling that you somehow missed what matters?

I've spent most of my life (literally from the time I was five years old) trying to figure out what mattered most. I took stands right and left (from defending the girl who everyone called "skunk" because she wet her pants in fifth grade to standing for the right to hold Bible studies in our sorority house).

I have always wanted to know what good my life was, what it was for, why I was here, how I could make a difference.

And so I turned out to be easy pickings for Campus Crusade for Christ. Eternal significance! Making a difference that lasts more than a lifetime! What more could my "meaning-starved" soul desire?

Recently, though, I've discovered just how hollow that ambition really was. It may have been sincere, but it was conveniently hygenic. I never had to hand out food, live like the poor, bandage wounds, give up my physical comforts (ex-pats in the third world manage to live pretty nicely), suffer humiliation, go to prison, get diseases or dodge flying bullets.

Evangelicals get to serve without sacrifice! Such a deal.

But now I'm confronted with this whole other reality—the kingdom of God is about this life. We are called to serve and make a difference here.

Well shit!

Why didn't "they" tell me that when I had lots of energy and no children?

I feel paralyzed by the idea that we are meant to care for the poor in our midst and on a global scale... how can I do anything to make a dent in the inner city problems of Cincinnati, in the racial tensions that I can't see but know are there, in the inequitable standards of public education between my very white suburbs and the black poor neighborhoods?

How can I stop AIDS in Africa, child prostitution in Thailand, and exploitative working conditions in South America?

I am a fish in the waters of empire. I can't see the air I breathe. I only know how to be a beneficiary of Target's low prices, good health care and reliable electricity.

I finally finished Neil McCormick's Killing Bono which charts the course of his repeated failures in the music industry, leading up to his eventual career in journalism (music critic). I feel a bit like that. Failure in the "making a difference" career and resigned to a life of writing about it.

Maybe the Hindus have it right and I'll get another chance next life. Namaste.


Dave said...

I expressed some thoughts kind of along these lines today when I was replying to some of the comments that were generated by that "Nation of Pharisees" article I posted a few days ago. I think some of what I posted went to Chris C's "Postliberal Theology" list but at least one post was to PoMoXian.

Since I am involved in social work with abuse/neglect victims, I do have more of that sense of "making a local difference" which minutely plugs into the big picture of global and cosmic injustice. But I relate to your frustration at not being able to make a bigger impact in ways that Really Matter (supposedly.) And your resentment at being misled or even used by influences once regarded as benevolent but now seem more naive, ignorant or even manipulative.

Awareness has its drawbacks. We perceive so much more than we are able to affect. It doesn't seem right having to just sit back and see it all, so powerless to make much of a difference.

Speaking of Bono, did you see his piece in today's New York Times. They asked a panel of "leading Europeans" to tell Pres. Bush what he could/should do on his current trip overseas to improve the trans-Atlantic relationship.

Bono's reply can be found here:

julieunplugged said...

Thanks for the link to Bono's op-ed piece. I always like the way he takes his progressive sensibility and yet appeals to the right without insulting their intelligence or motivations. Such a good example.