I want to look away.
I saw it flick through Twitter – two men killed on a bus after defending a woman in a hijab from harassment.
I want to flip past it.
I don’t even want to read the article. I don’t want to watch the news. I don’t want to hear exactly what happened on that bus, or who said what, or what happened in that second before two people were murdered for coming to the defense of their neighbor. I don’t want to read what the man was saying to the woman in the hijab before the strangers intervened. I don’t want to know if those three men (one who survived) had families. I don’t want to know where the woman is now, if she has children that she’s afraid for, how this is settling into her heart and soul as Ramadan begins. I don’t want to know if she doesn’t leave the house after dark anymore. I don’t want to know if she won’t get on the train again. I don’t want to read the official police statements and the mayor’s Official Public Statement about reconciliation and discrimination and I don’t want to see the FBI’s statement about how they stand against hatred and bigotry.
I don’t want to.
I want to post a quick link on Facebook, maybe say something like, “God have mercy,” or “Jesus forgive us,” or “What is happening to this country?” I make fun of people who post the phrase “thoughts and prayers,” except aren’t I saying exactly that, in not so many words?
Except I am not even praying.
And I am not even sending thoughts, because I can’t even open the article and read it all the way to the end.
I hear a lot of people defending their refusal to read the news these days. And caring for yourself is important. It’s important to close down your screens at some point, and love your kids, and plant your garden, and go for that nice long, lazy run, and go to the theater and watch something so silly your jaw hurts from laughing. Self-care matters.
And I know that “reading the news,” opening the article, reading it to the end, feels like both too much to bear, and also not enough to change a damn thing.
What does it matter if I read this.
Does reading this make a difference.
I think that reading it does make a difference.
Because sin takes root in darkness.
We imagine that the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment camps, happened because of truly terrible people who harbored tremendous evil in their hearts. And we kind of want that to be the case, yeah? Like Solzhenitsyn says, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them!” If only!
But I think evil creeps into a society a tiny bit at a time: one talk-show joke, one ‘fake fact,’ one sexist wink-wink-nod-nod, one racist throwaway comment, one more head turning the other way when the news comes through their feed. One person who awkwardly lets it slide when their friend says something snarky about how Mexicans aren’t paying taxes. One person who sips her drink nervously when her friend casually says something about “fake women” in women’s bathrooms. Another guy who votes for “good economic policies” and decides that the politician’s racism isn’t a big deal. And every day, all of us, putting our heads down and trying not to notice the growing violence, hatred, nationalism, and ethnic antagonism that we’re swimming in.
The foundations for fascism (scary word!) or genocide (even scarier!) are built over years and years, by people who make a thousand small decisions to not shine a light into the small darkness in their small part of the world. People who haven’t thought that their small flashlight, their small opinion, their small vote, could really do anything, or that their refusal to stand makes any kind of a difference.
And that’s why you shouldn’t stop reading.
Because Paul demands that we “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but to instead expose them.”¹
Because Peter begs us to “stay alert, for our adversary prowls about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”²
You should read the article, and the next one, and the next one too, because “the days are evil.” If we don’t make the most of our time, if we don’t keep watch, if we let a steady stream of bad news and worldwide cruelty and violence make us immune, then we may become complicit in something so terrible that we’re ashamed to tell our kids that we were there – that we were there, but that we just didn’t have it in our hearts to stay engaged.
Oh God, yes, I know it can feel like too much. I’m with Frodo, all the time, almost every week, when I say that “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
And I hear Gandalf, sitting in the dark with Frodo, reply, “so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
- Ephesians 5:11
- 1 Peter 5:8