Debie Thomas is an Episcopal priest in California. She recently wrote a short, arresting article in a journal I read. The focus of the article was a question Jesus asks of two potential disciples in the Gospel of John; “What are you looking for?” Thomas reflects on this question for her own life, but more significant for me, she writes in such a way I was forced to encounter the question as well. “What am I looking for?”
She suggests, and I agree, that our culture has several stock answers to that question. They are responses driven into our unconscious from an early age. For one, we want recognition! I suppose it starts with the crying infant. But it’s life long, this desire for recognition, isn’t it?
But if recognition is what we are looking for, that quest will likely become tiresome. The initial high eventually dissipates as expectations escalate and performance must escalate as well. Actors and actresses have to leave the stage at some point for their own health and happiness; as do basketball players have to leave the competitive court.
As I mentioned earlier, I was forced to ask myself the question Debie raises. I’m not sure I’ve ever been provoked by an article, to spend as much time pondering something. It’s been healthy and helpful. As a product of this society and culture I’m susceptible to the same aspirations as everyone else. I doubt I would continue to write columns if I didn’t get recognition, even from a constant critic. But my deeper response to the Gospel question is one word, “hope!”
I refuse to give up reading and watching the news, even with a feel good story at the end: tornadoes, floods, wildfires, habitat loss, ocean acidification, melting glaciers, chemical spills, pipeline spills, fish kills, nuclear meltdowns, species loss! Or: wars in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, DR Congo, Syria, South Sudan, Mali, Iraq and at least four more, where between 1,000 and 10,000 died in 2022.
Should I say more? Should I mention the 120 mass shootings so far in 2023, or the 12 school shootings so far this year. There were a record number of school shootings in 2022, at 51.
In the Gospel story, Jesus invites his questioners to “come and see.” Follow him and perhaps they will see what they are looking for. Thanks to Debie for reminding me, it’s my challenge as well.