May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It has been quite a week, hasn’t it? Acts of violence, multiple acts of violence in multiple places. We know from the news that even in Champaign-Urbana we are not without such evil. It is easy to see that there is much to fear in the world around us: terrorism threats, the economy, changing weather patterns, unemployment, hunger, poverty, homelessness, drug and other addictions, disease and death and on and on. It has seemed impossible to escape the knowledge of evil acts all week. And with our awareness of that evil often the effect is fear. We may question, where are we safe? Where are we able to get away from the chance of violence touching us or our loved ones. If we have not been afraid before, we fear now. This week, if you are like many, you may feel that the world has tipped a bit; things aren’t quite right. Even if we are not outright afraid, there is a sense of heightened uneasiness.
So, what is a Christian to do in the middle of this uneasiness? How do we, who are believers in Jesus Christ, deal with this fear?
In a 2011 essay in the New York Times, young mother Emily Rapp described some of the pressures she felt to be the best parent she could possibly be.
During my pregnancy, I devoured every parenting guide I could find. My husband and I thought about a lot of questions they raised: will breast-feeding enhance his brain function? Will music class improve his cognitive skills? Will the right preschool help him get into the right college? I made lists. I planned and plotted and hoped. Future, future, future. …All parents want their children to prosper, to matter. We enroll our children in music [lessons] or take them to Mommy and Me swim class because we hope they will manifest some fabulous talent that will set them — and therefore us, the proud parents — apart.
I discovered Emily Rapp’s essay in a new book called Seculosity. It’s by Episcopal layman David Zahl, and reviews and interviews about it have showed up a lot of places: the LA Review of Books, The Guardian, the Associated Press and seemingly every podcast in the world. The title, Seculosity, is a word that Zahl coined: secular plus religiosity. The book is based on the empirical observation –which to me seems inarguably true, though of course you are free to argue with it – that now that very few Americans shape their lives around any historic religion, the human instincts and needs to which the historic religions respond have not disappeared – far from it. They’ve just attached themselves to other things.