Text: Luke 12:12-34 (“Do not worry about your life”)
The Summer Olympic Games dominated news reports last week, and part of me felt relieved. Summer is usually a slow time for news. So every four years during the Olympics, the headlines are filled by medal counts, feats of physical beauty, and the logistics of putting on a huge spectacle.
The prominence given to the Olympics by the media can be seen as a distraction from reality. But I find that even at the best of times the news media distort our perceptions of reality.
In the 1970’s, Global TV News anchor Peter Trueman tried to counter some of that distortion. He presented a report at the end of each newscast on a topic that was not newsworthy but one he found to be insightful. Trueman then signed off with the phrase “That’s not news. But that, too, is reality.”
The media often grab our attention by focussing on things that scare us. Unfortunately, these are often things that don’t really threaten us. Meanwhile, they may ignore other realities that should concern us.
This past Friday, an editorial in the Globe and Mail made the point. It noted that there were only five terror-related attacks in Canada in 2015 — none of them by Islamists — and that no deaths resulted from those attacks.
In contrast, the editorial noted that six hundred Canadians were murdered in 2015 and that car crashes killed 1800 and injured 150,000 others. That’s not news. But that, too, is reality.
Beyond the prominence given to reports on terror attacks, there are other realities of death and destruction that rarely make headlines. Every day thousands of children die of easily preventable conditions like diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition. That’s not news. But that, too, is reality.
Every day the human population increases by about 200,000 people. This increase – about 75 million people a year and one billion people every 14 years – threatens the viability of the environment. That’s not news. But that, too, is reality.
All these things and much more could frighten us. But in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his friends not to worry.
Jesus says to his friends, “consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them.” And later, “consider the wildflowers, how they grow; they neither labour nor spin, yet I tell you, even King Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
But despite the charm of these images, I wonder about them. Birds hardly seem idle to me. Most of the time, they are frantically busy. Nor do they always have a gentle and easy existence. Some birds are predators; others are prey; and all of them have an existence as harsh and difficult as any other living thing.
The first Sunday that I preached in Saskatchewan in July 2011, I ran into a yellow flicker as I drove between services in the three points. Yanking the corpse of this beautiful bird out of the grill of my car made it difficult to see birds as models of a worry-free existence within God’s Providence!
As for wildflowers, they turn their leaves towards the sun all day long to use its energy to produce sugar. All day long, their roots use this energy to pull water and nutrients out of the soil. Wildflowers may look beautiful to us — when they haven’t been withered by drought, flattened by hail, or eaten by bugs. But like birds, they hardly seem idle.
On the other hand, birds and wildflowers do not worry. They grow and die with little or no consciousness. Their existence– as intricate and astonishing as it seems – is powered by instinct and genetic programming. In all of their frantic activity, birds and wildflowers do not worry.
I am not suggesting that Jesus wants us to live without consciousness. To the contrary, I see Jesus’ message as a wake-up call. Waking up to reality takes us above the concerns of ego to a place where we witness pain and joy from the vantage point of Life as a whole. Our egos may be filled with anxiety. But the bigger Self — which we can enter through caring for one another, spiritual practices, and the work of outreach and justice – looks at the turmoil of the ego and realizes that there is more to life than its concerns.
This Witness position recreates the egolessness of wildflowers or birds but on a higher plane. Such a place of elevated consciousness is captured, I believe, by Jesus’ phrase the kingdom of God.
When we realize that worrying cannot add one hour to our life, we can let the Spirit of Life flow through us unobstructed. This does not mean that we cease caring for ourselves and others. It means that we love from a position of trust. Each of us is a fragile and mortal individual who will suffer pain, injury and loss. But we trust that what we hold sacred survives our individual existence. From this trusting place, sometimes our fears drift away.
This summer, one of the fears of my youth – that of nuclear weapons — has resurfaced because Donald Trump is on the ballot for U.S. President. Those of us who see him as an unstable bully are astonished that he might soon have the authority to unleash America’s arsenal of nuclear bombs.
Polls show that 40% of the U.S. electorate currently backs Trump. The support he gets from leaders in the media, his party, and the church amplifies racism, sexism, and the disquiet and fear that fuel them. I am angry that the Republican Party has nominated him as its candidate. I believe that his campaign is exacerbating violent intolerance of all kinds.
But what if Trump wins in November? What then? If President Trump were to use nuclear weapons on a country like Syria or Libya, millions might die and the tensions between people in rich countries and poor ones, between Christians and Muslims, and between those who value humanity more than tribe, versus those who value tribe more than humanity, would soar.
This is not a prospect I enjoy considering. On the other hand, such a horrible crime would not fundamentally alter our personal or communal reality. For the past 60 years, we have lived with an awareness that during any hour of our life the human race could be destroyed in a purposeful or accidental nuclear exchange. That’s not news. But that, too, is reality.
But whether we live during a time of war or peace and whether our communities exhibit values of compassion or hatred, we still belong to God who is Love.
We want to live in optimum conditions. But regardless of pain or joy, each moment reflects all the miraculous beauty we see in the birds of the air and wildflowers of the fields.
I believe it is important to stand against fascist leaders like Donald Trump who take the fears created by the news media and use them to divide and conquer. I also believe it is important to stand against political or church leaders who support Trump. However, I try to do so from a place of trust and not one of panic.
As people of goodwill and followers of the Christ, we care for our children, love each moment, and work for greater peace with justice. We do these things because they give life meaning and joy.
If such efforts lead to the defeat of candidates like Trump, so much the better. And if they lead to a world in which no President — whether mentally stable or not — has access to weapons of mass destruction, so much the better.
But regardless of the outcome, we love each other and the world: because life is a miraculous gift; because we trust that Love survives our death; and because we can enter God’s joyful realm in any moment of awe, solidarity, or compassion.
This Good News may not make the headlines. But we know it is at the heart of life. It may not be worthy of newscasts. But it, too, is reality.
Thanks be to God.