By Pastor David Buchs
Lutheran Church, Fair Haven
I recently heard someone describe his despair over the results of the 2016 Presidential election. He said, “I was depressed. I felt like everywhere I turned, all I could see or hear was news about Donald Trump.” I think it’s fair to say that many, many people had a similar experience on both sides of the aisle. Their experience was similar not in terms of despair (some were elated, some were indifferent), but in terms of feeling like they could not escape from the news.
COVID has come along in the last nine months to fill in any attentional gaps that might be left as the world consumes all kinds of media about the current election. How often do you have a conversation these days in which the election or COVID does not come up? Even if you aren’t talking about COVID, you or the person you’re talking to are either wearing or not wearing a mask. And it’s likely that at least one of you is thinking about that fact.
It feels inescapable. The world has set an agenda, and somehow we all feel like we have to stick to it.
But when I heard that fellow describe his trouble – not being able to avoid seeing or hearing news of Donald Trump – I was not very sympathetic in my thoughts. I wondered why he felt constrained to watch the news, to log on to Facebook and Twitter, to read the paper, or to listen to the radio. Why did he have to do those things? Why couldn’t he just shut it all off?
Why should we take our cues from the world? Why should we let the world tell us what’s important and what we should pay attention to? And, if something is important and we should pay attention to it, why should we let the world dictate an obsession over it? Why can’t we keep things in perspective?
Here’s part of my answer to those questions: we gladly let the world set our agenda because it’s much easier than sticking to the agenda we have by nature. We gladly let the world tell us that we are responsible for thinking about and fretting about and obsessing over things like an election and the spread of COVID because all of that is easier than taking responsibility for the things we should.
Every time your attention is seized by the news, it is violently taken away from the people around you. Every time your attention is focused on things which you cannot control and which have little bearing on your life, it is stolen from those things which you can control and which directly affect your life and the lives of those around you. Every time the world cultivates an obsessive love or hate for whatever is going on in places that are not here, it is keeping you from loving what is good and hating what is evil in your home, among your family and friends, in your church, and at your work or school.
So take stock. Think carefully about your responsibilities – as a child, parent, sibling, friend, boss, worker, co-worker, student, classmate, teacher. Whoever you are, there’s enough good for you to do right where you are to keep you so busy you never have time for anything else. That’s the way it should be. Let it happen. Be busy with things that matter, and tell the world to take a hike with its crummy agenda.