And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
-- Matthew 24:6
I’m reminded of one time on my mission, knocking doors in Buenos Aires in 2007. A lady answered the door, took one look at our Yankee faces, said “You guys are killing babies in Iraq!!”, and slammed the door on us. It really made me reconsider the phrase “wars and rumors of wars,” one of the signs we’re taught to expect in the last days. Thanks to mass media, this lady was able to know instantly about atrocities happening a world away. She wasn’t directly affected by the wars, but she was affected by the “rumors of wars” -- the anxiety and mistrust and uncertainty attendant on living in a world saturated by bad news. And she suffered by it. Her outrage was justified, but misdirected, and her despair blinded her to the merits of our invitation to do good within her sphere of influence.
I generally consume a lot of news, and I think it’s important to be an informed citizen. But lately I worry that my news consumption that goes beyond informing myself and starts to look like the worst kind of sports consumption. Obsessively following a contest I can do nothing to control, and letting my mood be dictated by it, is unhealthy and unproductive. Many of my most beloved thinkers, among them Marilynne Robinson and Annie Dillard, talk about attention as a sacred resource, the bestowal of which, when done well, sanctifies both giver and receiver. I want to be more deliberate about this bestowal. I’m done giving any more attention than absolutely necessary to someone elected on the strength of a preternatural talent for stealing it.
Here’s the silver lining I’m trying to weave out of this very dark cloud.
I’m heartbroken and astonished at what happened last night. Its impact on the globe, both material and symbolic, is likely to be immense and horrifying. But I’ve been thinking about the practical impact it will have on my day-to-day life. While it’s not negligible, the only control I have over that practical impact is how I choose to let it color my actions. I refuse to let it drive me toward either cynicism or tribalism. While I still want to be an informed citizen, I’m trying to view this catastrophe as an opportunity to reorient myself more locally. To me, this election paints a clear picture of two Americas in a state of utter mutual incomprehension. As members of Mormon congregations which include people of all social strata, we’re better situated than most to understand and build bridges with people who see the country in a fundamentally different way. I’m planning to unplug a little bit from the 24-hour news cycle, and plug into my community. For me, that might mean following local politics, tutoring refugees, being a more dedicated home teacher, and above all, communing with my family.
I can only pray, with my whole heart, that last night doesn’t presage more wars. But we can and will do our small part to make sure that the “rumors of wars” (and of other terrible things beyond our control) don’t divert our attention from the good we can do for those we can reach, including those whose cause for worry is more immediate and visceral than our own. The danger of being paralyzed by despair is countered by the opportunity to be catalyzed into action.
Sorry if this all sounds sanctimonious. And thank you to all of you for your words. This is a day of mourning, but reading this email thread sparks hope in me. We are comforting each other, who all stand in need of comfort. Let’s build on that, and strive to bear the burdens of those around us whose burdens are most likely to get heavier.
Heaven WILL help us, I’m confident. The end is not yet.