What are we going to do with this world that’s on fire right now?
I continually ask myself what my role is on this beautiful blue planet – what am I supposed to really do? What am I going to do? What have I done?
I never wallow in my past, but, gosh-darnit, I’m a survivor. Things I suffered in my early years, intermingled with what happened to me in the many years since, have, at times, won. They’ve drowned me, torn me, thrown me, and found me in the fetal position. Yet, here I am. A high school drop-out getting my Doctor of Ministry. A survivor of abuse standing strong as a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. A suicide attempt survivor with an incredible zest for life. I share all this not to brag, but, to remind myself mostly – I am still here. By God’s grace, I am still standing.
Without boring you with too many details, this last year was probably one of the most difficult I have encountered. Ever. Yet, hello! I am here to continue my rage against the machine – remaining at peace with my mouthy, rebellious, sassy self. And, yes, mindful of all that was, is, and will be.
We tend to always wonder what could have been, what can be, what is, what will be. We rarely acknowledge the moment we’re in. We rarely are mindful of Now. I have worked a lot on being mindful of Now, especially this last year. I said to a mentor several months ago, “Does it ever get any easier?” His response? “You’re not seeing what’s right in front of you. You are living it. You ARE getting through it. This is it. You need to recognize that. You are doing the hard work. You’re in it.” Wisdom.
Let’s get real. Life, at times, is hard, a struggle, trying, even debilitating. Not only do we all suffer and have our own personal struggles, but those are compounded with events such as Christchurch, Parkland survivor suicides, racism, Newtown suicides, fires, homelessness, floods, addiction, disease, cyclones, the refugee plight, wars, political unrest and corruption – it sometimes feels as if the world is literally imploding on itself and on us.
But then I am reminded of all the Helpers. Reverend Fred Rogers’ Mother, thank goodness, passed on that little gem of a phrase, “Look for the Helpers.” I am always stunned at how one person such as the Christchurch shooter can make such an impact in our world. Yet, the thousands of Helpers since the shooting, have mostly flown under the radar. They’re just doing their work – grounded in their vocation, empowered by goodness, practicing compassion, giving endless love, and fighting violence with empathy. As we all should be.
I keep wondering if this is an enlightenment period. Perhaps we need to go through all of this, to get to the other side. Perhaps this violence and unrest that is enveloping us, is our only way as humans to understand, to see, to listen, and all of it will, eventually, move us beyond this frightful stage to something much better. If this is so, great! But goodness, it is painful, is it not?
I wonder if God is as tired as we are. I wonder if there is a God. Perhaps She has abandoned us to our own devices and that’s why we are so messed up. I wonder if He has no more empathy for us. I wonder if God feels anything anymore. I wonder if She is angry at us. I wonder if He wishes He could take it all back and start over again. I wonder what conversations God must have with Herself about the state of humanity and the world we are destroying. I wonder why He lets us continue to thrive. I wonder if God just can’t anymore.
Sometimes it is all so breathtakingly, soul crushing, isn’t it? Not only do we have to deal with our own stuff, we have to deal with all the other stuff too. How are we to move through the world this way? How are we to simply not crumble into a ball as we encounter these life-altering events every single day? Yet, this is where I find hope in us. Because humans, in all our stuff, are so incredibly resilient. Perhaps this is where God is present – in our ability to remain human. I live this, because I know this.
I close asking, how do we stay mindful, compassionate, empathetic, and not hate everyone and everything? Because it sure ain’t easy. More, why is that important? Why should we be compassionate, empathetic and mindful in a world that feels as if those traits don’t matter? It’s important because even though our voices are muted much of the time, we are called names and labeled, and we feel (as I do much of the time), out of place like the salmon swimming upstream – we simply must keep going and doing what’s right. Because if we give in, if we let the “bad guys” win, if we choose to be lackadaisical, if we aren’t mindful, if we lack compassion, if we don’t try to understand, if we don’t love ourselves so we can love others, if we step away from justice, and if we won’t stand up and scream, “NO!” – then we all lose. And I admit it, I don’t like losing.
I posit this one last question, that, when we look in the mirror every morning, we should ask ourselves: If I don’t care, then, who will?
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. With a focus in Christian-Muslim understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism, Karen is the only theologian who is a Latina and a United Methodist doing this type of theological work in the US. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to have published an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Some of her past gigs include designing and teaching an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, as well as spending three years working with United Religions Initiative, in several different positions. As an Over-Achiever, Karen has not one, but two theological master’s degrees – one from Andover Newton Theological School, the other from Boston University School of Theology. She did her BA at Wellesley College, graduating with honors in her major, Peace and Justice Studies, where she wrote her thesis on Al Qaeda and how they misuse religion for political gain. Karen currently lives in California, works at two faith based non-profits, teaches workshops throughout the Bay Area, is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree at Claremont School of Theology, and she is also a certified domestic violence advocate.