Turning Mourning into Voyeurism

I'm sure it will end on September 12 when the news media go back to reporting the most urgent question of our time -- which GOP candidate will win the tea party debate on Monday night? -- but this past weekend's coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was relentless. (I know I could just turn off the TV, but when you write a blog on religion, culture, and politics, you gotta do the research).

The packaging of the 9/11 narrative, with its stunning visuals, has been masterful these last 10 years -- compelling, emotional, inspiring. And ratings gold.

But it strikes me that grieving-through-media does not serve us well, individually or collectively.

We've Changed, But How?

I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001 both nervous and excited. I had spent the last two months slowly proceeding through the application and interview process for an entry-level editorial position at Christianity Today to work with their Christian History and Christian Reader magazines. I'd had multiple interviews and had to write a few research heavy articles along the way. For someone with degrees in English and History and a graduate degree in Missions, it seemed like the perfect job. My final evaluation involved joining the staff at an all day off-campus retreat, where they would be evaluating potential articles for magazines. I was a bit nervous, but an insider in the company had told me the job was mine, so the excitement of finally landing my first real job after school prevailed.

So on the morning of September 11, I arrived at the country club where the retreat was being held and situated myself at the conference table in a room with a panoramic view of the far west Chicago suburbs.

Survival of the Fittest?

Imagine. You're on a backpacking trip, hiking through deserted countryside on a hot day. You've been prudent, and have just enough water to get you to the next campsite that evening. Then you come across another hiker, short of water, who is beginning to show signs of stress. You don't know if there is any water nearby until you get to the campsite. What do you do?

The question was posed in a recent story about hiking in the Grand Canyon, where it regularly occurs. A spokesman at the Grand Canyon remembered at least one case in which someone died "trying to provide more help than they could physically afford to provide."

Some of the answers given by hikers were:

Hurricanes and Spoiled Romance

When our ideas about nature come primarily from Sierra Club calendars or selected snippets from Thoreau, an east coast earthquake and monster hurricane (in the same week) are powerful wake-up calls.

We modern urban dwellers and suburbanites like our nature contained and manageable: a nice hike in the woods; a pretty sunset on the drive home; a lush, green lawn (chemically-induced, alas)

Sometimes we like nature so much we decide to worship it -- or to make it the medium for our worship of God or the "higher power" we think might be up there, out there, presiding over it all. We've been wounded by organized religion, perhaps, disgusted by its hierarchies and hypocrisies. "I can worship God on a mountaintop," we decide. (Or -- conveniently, happily -- on the golf course).

Friday Links Round Up: Sign Language. Fashion Tips. Thank You. Interns.

Sign Language. Fashion Tips. Thank You. Interns. Today we say goodbye and thank you to this year's Sojourners interns. Among their other invaluable contributions to the work and mission of Sojourners, the interns wrote 72 blog posts for God's Politics! Here is a little round up of links to a few of them:

    A Tennessee Church Welcomes its Muslim Neighbors

    Rev. Steve Stone was just trying to be a good neighbor.

    Two years ago, the pastor of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Memphis, learned that a local mosque had bought property right across the street from the church. So he decided some Southern hospitality was in order.

    A few days later, a sign appeared in front of the church. "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood," it read.

    That small act of kindness was the start of an unlikely friendship between the two congregations, one that made headlines around the world. Members of the mosque and church have shared meals together, worked at a homeless shelter, and become friends over the past two years. When Stone learned that his Muslim friends needed a place to pray for Ramadan because their building wasn't ready, he opened up the doors of the church and let them hold Ramadan prayers there.

    No Time to Think

    The avalanche of information available via the Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Used judiciously, it is an invaluable tool for research -- making what used to take hours in a library now just a few clicks away. Any piece of information, no matter how obscure, is at our fingertips.

    The proliferation of blogs and listservs mean an amount of information that is simply impossible to keep up with. We have news summaries several times a day and instant breaking news headlines as they happen. And then there is the rise of a new social media. Facebook has enabled us to connect with friends and family, so we know immediately the latest cute thing their toddler did, what they're cooking for dinner, and the most recent book they read. On Twitter, we share thoughts and activities in 140-word tweets.

    All of this means we know more than ever, but never have time to think about it. Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, lamented in a piece in The New York Times Sunday Review:

    Here I Am!

    The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.' Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, 'Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." (1 Samuel 3.8-9)

    I am in a profession where the term "call" is used frequently. When used as a verb, "call" is about feeling that tug between you and God toward something that at first may not seem practical, desirable, or even expected. When used as a noun, "call" can be synonymous to a job, occupation, ministry, or church -- hence the term "seeking a call."

    For me, "seeking a call" simply means trying to figure out what to do next. And lately this task has felt like an impossible mission. I have always admired -- or if I'm to be honest, jealous of -- those that seem to have a clear sense of their calling. Take my husband for example, he feels very called to be a pastor. Although there are times when he struggles with the type of church or ministry he feels called to serve, he has certainty that his call is that of a pastor. I wish that was the case for me. I have always felt called to a place, such as seminary or my current congregation, but I have never felt confirmation or an affinity to my call as a pastor. This may not make sense or may seem odd, but welcome to my life.

    I have always loved the story of Samuel being called.