"Christians must be present and active in a hurting world, especially so that we might share the Good News (that God loves us and redeems us in spite of our shortcomings) with those who are traumatized by these trying times."
Some of you may remember Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting that aired on PBS for about 10 years in the mid-80s though the mid-90s. Amazingly, even though Bob Ross died in 1995 and his show was about as basic as it gets, it has enjoyed a renaissance through Netflix and YouTube. I confess that I love watching The Joy of Painting. I don’t paint and don’t really have any interest in doing so. I don’t even find Ross’ paintings all that spectacular. I enjoy the show because Bob Ross is so astonishingly positive and he has such a wonderful, soothing voice.
Bob Ross served 20 years in the US Air Force, retiring as a master sergeant. I was astonished to learn that this man with a giant, mushroom-shaped head of hair and a voice as mellow as a sunset had positions in the Air Force that required him to be, in his own words, “tough” and “mean” and “had to make people clean the latrine.” And while he obviously served well, he vowed that if he ever got out of the military, he would never raise his voice again.
Now you can watch The Joy of Painting and listen to Bob Ross paint “happy, little trees” and “beat the devil” out of his paint brush. When he was asked about his laid-back demeanor and pleasant voice he said, “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That's for sure. That's why I paint. It's because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.”
Our world could use a lot more happy, little trees these days. There is an over-abundance of “bad stuff.” It isn’t just that the news displays the horrors of warfare and mass shootings; the seemingly insurmountable problems of global warming and wealth/income inequality; the results of racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia; and the gaping rifts between “thems” and “us” these days. It is also that one just can’t escape it! The news is not on only at five o’clock and ten o’clock now. The news is at our fingertips. It is instantaneous. Gosh, even our social media is filled with news (and it is difficult to discover if it is “news” or “propaganda” at that!). Oh, how I love to see the pictures of my friends and their children. And oh, how I hate that my Facebook feed is so full of snarky memes and hateful rhetoric.
I don’t need any scientific study (which do exist) to tell me that people are more depressed and more anxious these days. I experience it. I can feel in my own body and soul the impact of a constant stream of ugliness. People these days are undergoing a deep trauma that is so deep-set that it will take years to heal. What is more, our kids (particularly our teens), whose brains are still developing, are being impacted even more (and more permanently). What to do? We can’t watch The Joy of Painting all the time!
We cannot avoid news all the time. Christians must be present and active in a hurting world, especially so that we might share the Good News (that God loves us and redeems us in spite of our shortcomings) with those who are traumatized by these trying times. On the other hand, we cannot share something that we do not have or do not experience. In other words, Christians who only experience the ugliness of the world will find themselves too empty of love and thus, unable to share it.
So, we must, must, must be intentional about taking time to rest, taking time to heal, taking time to be in the presence of the Holy Other who provides such grace. We also live in a culture that tells us that overwork and exhaustion are badges of accomplishment rather than signs of a deep imbalance and illness. But we Christians are supposed to live counter-cultural lives! We are supposed to be defined by Jesus who went to the cross, rather than by Caesar. Therefore, we must reclaim time for silence and solitude in order to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. We must turn off our phones and tablets and engage with Scripture. We must spend time with one another listening to experiences of holiness (and not complaining about whatever displeases us).
Even in this world of violence, inequity, and greed, God is present. We have drowned out God’s voice with a cacophony of noises that are mostly destructive. Perhaps it is time for us to silence the loud voices and listen instead for the still, small voice. Perhaps we can find Joy in quiet and rest. Perhaps we should set about to create a world that is happy.