I was a young adult and not much interested in politics during the Reagan years. But I read an interesting story recently about a speech Reagan made during a visit from the Japanese Prime Minister. In the speech, Reagan described his visit to a concentration camp at the conclusion of World War II. It was quite emotionally stirring but later found to be completely untrue… even Reagan’s own White House issued a statement saying so.[i] Was it an outright lie, emotional manipulation? Or, did Reagan delude himself, feeling that – as leader of the free world – surely he should have had a deeper personal experience/ encounter with this great injustice that had such incredible impact on the world?
I fear our culture is undergoing a crisis of response ability. We are so globally connected; social media and traditional media allow us to track the movements and obsess over every step and action undertaken by famous people. As a pastor, in recent years I have encountered people who cannot sleep at night, whose employment has been compromised, by their obsession with our national state of affairs.
We’ve become reactive rather than responsive and sometimes overwhelmed by problems we feel powerless to address. I imagine all of us could benefit from a little more engagement with the Niebuhr prayer used by Twelve Step groups:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things that should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Serenity Prayer (1943)[ii]
Recently, I was listening to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Contemplate This[iii], in which the guest said (my paraphrase… I didn’t write down the exact quote) that, sometimes, the best thing we can do is not make things worse. I’m concerned we are increasingly becoming a culture in which we can’t see the trees for the forest (yes, although I’m sometimes cliché-dysfunctional, that was a purposeful flip of the phrase). We’ve become so obsessed with large-scale, national or global problems that we miss the simple opportunities to act in just and merciful ways each day to make ourselves and our communities a little better. We have the ability to respond and make a difference if we just take the step to live in the moment and be present to what – and who! – is around us.
This Sunday (June 3), I am launching a new sermon series at Trinity (www.trinitylafayette.org) called Response Ability. It’s a chance for us to examine scripture, our lives, and our world and consider ways to make things better, not worse because we are all created and gifted by God to connect with and serve those around us.
[i] Story found in The Selfless Self by Laurence Freeman; Canterbury Press; 2009; p. 90.