Friday, April 7, 2023

"What Are You Looking For?"

 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?
For instance, here we are in the middle of March Madness. Virginia Tech and Georgia Amoore are names we now recognize in our home town, as they were the NCAA nemesis of our own SDSU Womens team. In fact, in the most recent game Tech played against Tennessee, the announcer repeated Amoore’s name so often it became tiresome. She’s a great basketball player, no question about 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.

Another stock response of our culture to “what are you looking for,” is material things. It could be so simple as food on the table, clothes on the body or a roof over the head. But those who choose to live simply, like a Catholic Worker volunteer, or a “back to the land” hippie, are few and far between. And few of us forego a trade-in for a new car, or refrigerator or living room couch. And others will play the stock market or the gullibility of others to amass huge bank accounts, buying million dollar mansions   and yachts and planes. Some, like Donald Trump, will fly in planes with their name emblazoned on the side; signs of both wealth and recognition.

 And of course, a third stock response of our culture is “power”. No matter what your personal or political persuasion might be, if you want to function as a human being in this culture you need power. The question in this instance becomes, power-over or power-with? Which are we looking for? Perhaps in our present circumstances as a country, it’s an especially important question for those who would wish to govern. Which kind of power are they looking for?

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.

Jesus says, “Carl, what are you looking for?” And I say, “hope.” It’s a resurrection hope, where one sees life emerging from the tomb; love blossoming in fields of hate; healing emerging out of pain and suffering; service replacing selfishness; violence being challenged by peacemakers. Hope is often wrapped up in small and inauspicious acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. Sometimes, hope hangs on a lonely cross.

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.

Carl Kline

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