While preparing to write our latest newsletter, I decided to review what had been happening in the world since the previous one, by scanning the headlines of news stories that had caught my attention during that period. This was admittedly not a scientifically rigorous process, but I found it difficult to escape the conclusion that quite a lot has been going wrong in quite a lot of different ways. This is perhaps hardly news, but it usually comes at me one day at a time, rather than all in a rush like that.
I wonder if it has something to do with the scale of modern life, with large systems that affect so much of our world and so many people all at once. The pandemic has served to highlight the inadequacies of our political and social structures to support the weakest and most vulnerable, but perhaps the scale of modern life also tends to amplify the effects of our worst impulses as exposed through corruption and violence and the destruction of our own environment.
I’ve been noticing again the ambivalent relationship Jesus seemed to have with crowds. While he had compassion for them, he also tended to speak to them in inscrutable parables and to withdraw from them when he could. He trusted himself to smaller numbers of disciples and mostly brought healing to people one at a time, in particular ways that were best suited to each individual. I think our humanity comes to life and is best expressed through relationship, and relationships are formed one at a time.
There were other stories I encountered in my review, small-scale stories that tended not to make the front page of the news media, stories that might seem insignificant against the global scale of the problems. These are stories of people feeding the hungry around them, day after day, without drawing attention to themselves. Stories of people educating the less fortunate under the most difficult conditions. Stories of people coming together to help one another recover from outbreaks of violence or environmental disaster. Stories of people standing together with those who are being exploited or oppressed. Stories of the discovery of surprising beauty that remains in the world. These stories are also true, and they are the substance of something like hope.
I recently experienced kindness in a situation where I had not expected any, in the midst of a bureaucratic system where there was no reason for it, except that people remain astonishingly capable of kindness. It was a small incident, all things considered, and quite unremarkable except that it has remained with me as another seed of hope. Someone looked me in the eye through the glass barrier between us and acted kindly and with generosity of spirit.
Such are the surprisingly commonplace things that keep us human.