Maybe it has always been this way, but I can’t help but wonder if past generations were as bombarded with invitations to be morally outraged as we are today. Between social media and 24/7 news, we are daily offered no shortage of events, trends and news to be angered, saddened, depressed, or defeated about. It seems like if one issue is resolved or simply forgotten, three or four take its place. And because the media is always on to the next thing, there is never any closure on the previous issues, keeping us perpetually on edge.
The list of these topics is vast and none of us are immune: there are wars and rumors of wars, various marriage battles, abortion, plagues making a comeback, antibiotic-resistant germs, bullying, refugee crises, crazy people running for office, airplanes disappearing, global warming – er, climate change, the national debt, underemployment, National Guard drills, Transgender bathrooms, and the Cubs not making it to the World Series…again. That’s just in the “world”. In the Church, we are terrified of shrinking numbers, Biblical illiteracy, divisions among Christians, and the slaughter of our brothers and sisters by ISIS et al.
Some of those issues are indeed cause for great concern. Some I just threw in – not because they concern me, but because I am told to be concerned about them again and again. But with this never-ending push to be outraged or terrified about one issue after another, how do I decide what issues to take on, and what do I do about them? Because the last time I checked, I couldn’t do much about ISIS anyway. So we all have to pick our proverbial battles.
It seems to me there are three options. One is to take on as many issues as possible, becoming a champion for every underdog we can. The second is to become overwhelmed and apathetic: since we can’t do it all, we just quit entirely. The third is to evaluate what issues you feel are worth your time and what you can do about them, and then, and only then, proceed with care.
The first option seems to be the path some of my “friends” on Facebook have taken. (Although I don’t know if they’ve actually taken that route, or they just want me to think they’ve taken that route.) Either way, every day is a new outrage or two. Police brutality today, racism tomorrow, unruly county clerks on Friday. Eventually, they’ll probably burn out, or they’ll come to the realization that their selfless advocacy is more likely a way to become a carefully-crafted “unwitting” hero. Or they’ll have kids and not have time for all the world’s problems.
The second option is certainly a temptation, and one I’ve fallen into at times. It’s true that many of the issues are simply beyond my control or ability to change, so giving up on them all seems like a good option. But, if taken to its most extreme, this would be a denial of our vocational callings. As citizens, as laborers, as parents and children, we have a duty to stay engaged in the world, or else it will fall into the hands of evil that much more easily. Even if we are unable to single-handedly “make a difference,” totally giving up is a sure path to defeat.
So if we are to engage in the daily warpath of big issues and big problems, we might consider asking these three simple questions:
1. Is the problem a real problem? (If not, let it go.)
2. Is there anything I can do about it? (If not, let it go.)
3. What can you I about it? (If nothing, let it go.)
Many of the issues presented before us as catastrophes on a daily basis are not even real problems demanding resolution. They are really just the grievances of some. For me, climate change fits this bill. While some grievances may be valid, we cannot take on the grievances of every social group that manages to have a voice.
Many issues are beyond our control. We rely on our government to fight wars, cure plagues, and keep us safe. There isn’t a lot we can do about many of the issues. But we can be active in some, especially local issues. We can all vote, fundraise, and advocate for political candidates who will represent us in the very government that can make a difference. So for those problems too big to fix by ourselves, the least we can do is actively elect people who will strive to fix them as we believe they ought to be fixed.
Obviously, the more local the issue, the more we can do. Several of our ministries at First are designed to do something about some of the troubling issues in the Church today. We take on the shrinking of and confusion within the Church with our debate series and my podcast, both intended to argue for the faith. We take on Biblical illiteracy with Jesus 101, where it is clear that many Christian students still need to know the basics. And of course, we hope our worship helps to draw men and women to Christ, for establishing a relationship to him simply is our greatest need.
So the next time your Facebook feed overwhelms you with one cause after another, you might remember the three questions above. And then enjoy some peace of mind.