It is the greatest uninspired era to date. It was supposed to be the best time of our cultural existence. Where there may be too much. Information, food, choices, and leisure. But little did we know we’ve been perfecting a hidden hell that’s the envy of every people.
Streets paved with treasures. Sparkling, sweet tasting, easy to reach. Cafes and strip malls. Flower beds and sewer systems. Perpetually humming of freeways and state-protected birds, unheard almost everywhere. More often than not, for most of us, there is time. Time to think, time to plan, time to despair. Solving the problem of our pain and toil. Wandering lost among the heaps of pleasures.
And we taught ourselves to believe, this is the answer. The perfectly piled lawn chairs and Baby Bjorn confidence. That every society has been historically striving for our methods, our politics, our comforts. The 501 freedoms and Costco card status. Of course we can give lip service, that money cannot buy happiness, or that hope cannot be found in things that don’t last. But our enlightened culture ultimately will not tolerate such blasphemy. Even our own heart, soul, and Instagram feed has a hard time believing that, to the letter. These blessed privileged aromas, proof from the Heavens, that God is pleased, and that we are well.
Perhaps, we’ve come to believe that our prosperity excludes us from the burdens of the ages. The hardships that we pretend overcome, the civilized society in which we hope and trust. We may even imagine that God has entrusted us to be the heroes, the knights, the greatest of prophets. That our modern ways and advice should lead the uneducated masses to victory, a beacon to all time and place.
Is it possible, that as we grow in our stability, we build our destruction? Because a firm pillar of success is to hide the undesirable away. The chaotic rebellion. The internal fear. The unanswerable. We have practiced for generations to dull and daze our eyes, so they won’t really see who we are on a Tuesday morning. Drunk in the moment, content with our focused ignorance. Rewriting memories of history, forsaking our own.
No great visible enemy, no honor inflicting war. This decade is not nearly as sexy, and it’s threatening to be recounted as a period of overfed boredom. Disgusting and shameful to the generations whom we now praise for their legacy. Too busy, too self-absorbed. And most probably, one day we may wake up and wonder why we don’t have great stories. Of trial and defeat, defining wars and devastating loves. We didn’t expect to be the ones on the timeline who would slip silently away. Forgotten, in the city, or country, and suburbs. To be born in a hospital and dressed in disposables. Soccer and water bills, slaves to the more. Still teaching our children to be just as happy.
It is curious, then, if a story from this time should even stir our attention. Because we all know the impressive tales bathe in the ashes. From dust they arose. The orphan, the widow, the lonesome underdogs. A person worth saving, should be found in the gutters. Excitement of contrast, the black swan emerging. As the hero stands clear, outshining the sunset.
Compared to the romance of the ages, we should have nothing to write about. Alongside the despicable acts of terror and dehumanization, global weeping for the sons who will never return, stark destruction of human bodies and premeditated mutilation of human souls. We have no business imagining our troubles are so fatal.
But if we are dangerous enough to be honest enough, we might wonder what we could say. About truths are just as piercing, just as salutary, just as deadly. While sitting at coffee tables, smiling at polite strangers. Dying soldiers and villains, unsure, untrusting, and still grasping for meaning, under every surface. Selfish wandering animals, ripping and tearing to escape themselves, and a locked torture chamber that smells like roses. If we can be truthful about our unrighteousness, our fear and shame, then every human person in history is stripped bare, the dictator and the mailman. Discovered, then, may be a story from your today, enlightening a wilderness from which no one has escape alive.
Perhaps more challenging than an unjust prison camp, is a deceitful white-washed picket-fence tomb where we are gratified. Where we are not regularly faced with naked evil, and therefore not forced into reflective, exposing, honorable or despicable action. If we are not reminded of our own wretched plot line, we may be deeply fooled. We may sing lies with the ancient serpent, “We will not surely die! Isn’t it great to be like God?!” We may forget that this present valley of death is just as worthy of a Savior’s “once upon a time”. Then, one day, we will be too ashamed to admit that the battle had been here, right here, all along. In a too familiar place. Mundane now is never the story to which we want to escape.
Do you dare, to hear such a tale? That happened next door, last week, featuring the plain-looking school-teacher neighbor. Can you stand something so un-fantastic, to invade your storybook? Will you lament for a whale or an exotic city, to keep the story just past your own treacherous fingers? It’s not always pretty, when the story is close enough to know your name.
But do you dare, to imagine the story of reality? In your reality? Because mysteriously, what is eternally real cannot always be seen. So, especially these stories should be told and exposed before we lay down. Before we are, or they are, eternally forgotten. All the while, these stories sit next to you in church, they live down the street, or sleep in your house. They are parts of us, and all of us. Everyday football games and lipstick shades just might be able to reveal the great struggle with meaning, conviction, virtue, death and life, even amidst our muffled tears and boredom. For us and those who can stand to listen.