I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrambled for the television remote as Sarah McLachlan’s sonorous, somber voice begins to flow out of the television. At those times, one know that you have about 2 seconds before images of lonely dogs and caged cats begin to roll across the screen.
In the arms of an angel…
I can’t finish the lyric because I don’t know it. I am that good at shielding myself from the moral crisis caused by not going out immediately and adopting another animal.
Maybe you are among the lucky few who have escaped this specific emotional rollercoaster. If so, I’m sure there is some impoverished child commercial or tragic documentary you’ve been dodging for years. If you’ve somehow missed it, National Graphic just released a video of a starving polar bear which I am sure many of us will add to our list of things to avoid watching.
Why do we do this?
The obvious answer is that such videos make us feel bad, and we do not like feeling bad. Maybe the more savvy among us will claim that such videos are a form of emotional manipulation or moral hostage taking. Whatever the reason, we “moral folk” avoid these moments like the plague and justify it by telling ourselves that there is, after all, only so much one can do.
In short, we lie to ourselves.
Learning to Feel Again
Much of Christian thought and preaching is often concerned with something called orthodoxy. It is the concern for right belief. People argue over what faith statement is correct or which doctrinal clause needs addending. However tedious these debates might feel, I believe they truly matter because Truth matters.
Perhaps as a reaction, many others have talked about a move towards orthopraxy. Rather than fight over beliefs, those in the orthopraxy camp believe that we must fight over the right thing to do. Action, not abstract thought is what matters. Here again, I think this is a truly important perspective because Truth demands something of us.
Both of these approaches shield us, however, from something which can be even more demanding: the pursuit of orthopathy, right feeling. Before we learn to form the right belief, to do the right thing, we must learn how to feel the right way.
Emotions are more than peripheral happenings, they can energize us, change us, and inform us on how to act.
Anyone who has read through the Scriptures knows that they are dripping with emotional depths. The prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is perhaps one of the most emotive texts in the entire Bible.
“From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our ancestors’ labor—their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters.
Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us. We have sinned against the Lord our God, both we and our ancestors; from our youth till this day we have not obeyed the Lord our God.”
Jeremiah weeps over Israel’s actions; he feels and calls others to feel the shame that is Israel’s. It is not a comfortable book to read, all throughout Jeremiah laments the dream that could be, he is pulled back and forth between God’s deep desire to save and Israel’s pathological emotional avoidance. They should be weeping, but they revel instead.
In the United States, we live in a time much like Jeremiah’s, a time of emotional insanity. Pew Research has recorded the troubling trend of increasing partisan acrimony. 43% of Republicans view Democrats in a negative light and 38% of Democrats view Republicans in a negative light. Terrifyingly, 27% of Democrats believe Republican policies constitute a danger to our society, and 36% of Republicans believe Democratic policy are a danger to our society.
In short, large swaths of our country are locked in a politics of mutual hatred. The (D) or (R) behind a person’s name on the ballot tends to evoke more emotion than the policies or character of that person. Today’s special election in Alabama is point in case. Many “God-fearing” Alabamians would rather elect a credibly accused child molester and theocrat than a civil rights hero who happens to be a Democrat. They are angrier over a party affiliation than they are about the horrific character of “their” man.
Our Dangerous Blindness
This is of course a simplified narrative, the emotional repugnance to those across the aisle and their puppet, “the main stream media,” has fueled a runaway train of information silos. Many have become so angry, anything that threatens the rationale of this partisan hate is fake news. Hate and mistrust of the other dominates our political landscape.
Emotionally speaking, hate is quite easy. It energizes us, distracts us, and seldom requires any sort of soul searching. However, our addiction to hate has led us towards a dangerous blindness, much like Israel in Jeremiah’s time.
We stare angrily across the aisle as the majesty of the icy Arctic is slowly slipping away, ruining ecosystems and devastating God’s creatures. We should be weeping.
We scream slogans at each other while our brothers and sisters of color continue to face systemic prejudice and disenfranchisement. We should be weeping.
We conjure images of “Welfare Queens” while 13 million children go to school hungry everyday in this land of prosperity. We should be weeping.
We argue about “securing the border” while over 65 millions refugees roam the world looking for a bit of safety. We should be weeping.
Protesters from both sides battle outside abortion clinics while 1 in 4 women have an abortion by age 45 with most of these happening because these women live below or near the federal poverty line. We should be weeping.
We treat the “war on women” as a political football when 1 out of 6 women in the United States experience an attempted or completed rape. We should be weeping.
We should not be weeping so as to slip into depression, but so that we can understand the gravity of the world before us, the depths of pain laid out before God and humankind. Those of us who are lucky enough to stand outside of that pain must enter into it. We must so that when we come to debate about we need to do, we can do so out of compassion. I hope that our emotional insanity can subside, but it will not do so until we, like Jeremiah, feel the shame that is justly ours.
So, next time you hear Sarah McLachlan’s voice coming out the the television or next time someone posts that sad YouTube video, don’t pass by. Sometimes, even emotional medicine is bitter.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.