Most mornings, while we wait for the bus or just after it pulls away, I chat with a woman who just moved here from Paris. Mostly I ask questions, because I may have studied French for eight years, but certainly I’m no expert. France is her homeland, and she tells me about it. Most recently, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in her city, she grew agitated. Annoyed with her president, with the circumstances that allowed the attack, with the attack itself; she is angry. She is mourning.
But she said something that surprised me. “We don’t have the love that you have in America. We don’t have the respect. How was it after 9/11?”
I considered her question. “For about six months or so after 9/11, everyone was united. But then—I don’t know—it’s like we forgot how to do that, and it’s only gotten worse since then. We all see the same problems, but we see different solutions to them and we can’t manage to work together. We fight. We are divided.”
She blinked. She hasn’t been here long enough to see it that way. “But people who are different, different religion, they are treated well here?”
I winced. “Where I grew up, there were people of all races and cultures and religions, and it felt like there was space for them all. But there are places in this country where that’s not the case—where everybody looks the same and believes the same things—and there is often fear about those who are different. Things like this only make it worse.”
My friend nodded sadly. I looked down, sorry for her country, for what was taken from them on Friday, and with respect for what they still cling to.
And I was ashamed of us, such a young country, still thought to be such a bastion of ideals: we began to provide freedom for the politically and religiously oppressed. And yet.
And yet last night I read what can only be described as vitriol from people I know, from people I love. Good people, who love their country and their mothers and their spouses and their kids. People with whom I disagree. One of them drove me to unfollow her, unsure my high opinion of her could survive her angry posting. Since I have spoken loudly and often of the merits of disagreeing well, I considered my response. Why was I upset?
Here it is: I do not begrudge her, or anyone else, the right to disagree with me. I don’t resent the disagreement itself, or even her position. I resent the speed and apparent thoughtlessness that led to it.
Maybe world leaders need to react quickly when disaster strikes. We are not world leaders.
Social media and twenty-four hour news have tricked us into thinking we must react immediately; we must share their outrage, we must make a statement—as if the masses are clamoring to hear it—as if we will be rendered irrelevant if we do not.
We will not.
We can be angry without turning on each other.
We can be hurt without hurting others.
We can doubt and worry and wonder and search. It’s okay not to be sure about things.
Angry, fear-driven outbursts do not become us. Those of us who call ourselves Christians know better. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.” (1 Timothy 1:7 NKJV) Other translations replace “sound mind” with “self-control.” Not just power, which alone can condemn and intimidate and overcome and divide. Not nationalism, or patriotism—not love only for those we deem worthy because they are like us—not knee-jerk, angry reactionary behavior, but power, and love, and sound mind.
I can understand how a tirade might feel like power. How listening, learning and reflecting can feel like weakness or how withholding judgment and gathering information might feel passive. But none of these is true. We don’t have to react immediately. We don’t have to be quick to blame. We don’t have to share the outrage of those around us.
In my heavy heart, which is troubled for all the same reasons yours probably is, I wrestle with shame and anger at the response of those of us who know better.
God has not given us a spirit of fear.
Someone else did that. And I will not accept it. And neither should you.
We can choose to reject fear, to rest in the knowledge that we have been given a spirit of power and of love and of sound mind. Surely that will be enough to carry us through this darkness. It has to be.