Wednesday, September 3, 2008

L.A.E: The wisdom of waiting rooms

It’s not hard to be a cynic. You need only spend some time with the news to realize that in our brief time here on earth, mankind has excelled at making life a living hell for pretty much every creature on the planet but especially for our other human beings. Cynicism and nihilism seems to be the only logical response to life on earth. Why would we possibly hope or be optimistic when we have been killing, robbing and oppressing each other in some way or another for as long as we have been here? Whether its nation against nation, ethnic group against ethnic group of person against person, we seem to be hurting each other from the highest offices of government right down to our livingrooms at home. Living without hope is not only logical, it’s easy. I get that, I really do. So why is it that we can’t stop hoping then?

Here is the thing, people still hope. You can go to the darkest most hellish places in the world and you will still find people hoping and planning for the future. If you ever get the chance, check out the deleted scenes in Love Actually (although the whole thing is pretty uplifting actually!) They have these two scenes where they zoom in on very depressing looking Oxfam posters but then the scene starts playing and the people in the poster aren’t talking about how miserable they are, they are talking about their families and about love and hope for the future. I realize it’s just a movie but they aren’t wrong. I was watching TV a few nights ago and the president was visiting a squatter camp – and these people are so poor they make people on the bread line look like jet setters – and yet in the midst of all that poverty and misery I couldn’t help but notice something peculiar. The people were still getting married, still having kids (not the best family planning under the circumstances but I digress), still hoping for a better future, still smiling! In squatter camps to prisons to war zones you will find the most unexpected thing – people who refuse to give up. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially not according to Fundamentalist Christianity. Spend some time in church and you will hear it preached again and again – those outside the church live hopeless, loveless and violent lives. Only they don’t. People the world over seem to just not care about making sense (or living up to Fundamentalist expectation) and they keep hoping, they love, they keep trying, they act noble and selfless.

I get why dogs (arguably the most optimistic beings on the planet) are always so tail-waggingly optimistic, it’s easy for them! They don’t have our brains, they have only the most basic concept of cause and effect (they never seem to put 2 and 2 together regarding having baths and not itching) and they certainly can’t foresee the future the way we can. Questions like: What if my health fails? What if I grow old alone? Who will take care of me? What if the Large Hadron Collider destroys the planet? never cross their happy doggy brains. It’s easy to be optimistic when you can’t even properly worry about where your next meal will come from! We humans on the other hand can worry. We do realize that we are going to die and suffer and be unhappy one day. For some reason we just don’t accept it!

It is as if hope is just built into us somehow. It’s in the stories we tell (with the exception of the French…), it is in our legends and mythology, it is in our religions, it is in the “happily ever after” of our fairy-tales (well maybe not so much in some of the originals but still…). Wherever you look you find that we have hope, we have this illogical expectation that things are going to be alright in the end, somehow. Even in our most unhappy moments we still hold on to it. Eve eats from the tree and gets cast out and cursed but at the same time receives the promise that the very serpent who tricked her would one day get his head crushed by one of her descendants. Pandora opens the box and unleashes all evil into the world but in the end one last thing comes out of the box – hope. The whole concept of hope seems to be a part of us and it keeps popping up even in the darkest places. A great place to see this is a hospital waiting room.

I've spent a lot of time in those this year and they are horrid places. They are unfriendly, depressing places were a whole lot of people are at the mercy of a few (there is a metaphor for life in there somewhere I'm sure...) No one is there because they want to be there, no one asked to be afflicted and for most of us there at least, we ended up there through no fault of our own. No, the waiting room at the surgery wing of a large African state hospital is not a happy place. You would absolutely expect everyone to be miserable, for there to be constant outburst of anger (time does not exist as far as the admin personnel are concerned) and considering that a lot of people there are actually in pain, you might even expect crying. You'd be wrong. Right there in a miserable place I saw something beautiful. The shared affliction brought out the best in people, not the worst. Across the lines of class, age and race, people were offering each other support, comfort and solidarity. People smile at one another, make silly jokes, discuss everything from knitting patterns to personal history with people they would have been friends with outside the hospital walls. Yes there was misery, but there was also kindness and hope. Waiting rooms showed me that the fundies are wrong about us.

To tell the truth though, I'm not so sure why the fundies are so sure of their version of the truth. I know the world looks bad when you watch the news but aren't these the same people who claim to live not according to perceived reality but according to the Word? When I read the Bible it doesn't so much talk of people as irrevocably evil - though it certainly does point out a lot of our evil - the big picture I get from the Bible is that mankind is lost. Lost is not the same as evil, lost means we've lost our way, that we are not where we are supposed to be. That doesn't sound the same as "evil" to me. Now I seem to say this in every one of the LAE posts, but I don't really think I could prove God. I really don't. But consider for a moment, if what the Bible teaches us has any truth, shouldn't we expect to see what I did in the 6th floor waiting room? If you say you believe that mankind bears the image of God, wouldn't you expect them to behave with kindness and nobility at least to some extent? Shouldn't the nature of man be closer to that of a dethroned monarch than that of a demon? If you think that there is any truth to what Paul wrote (in Romans 8) about all of creation anticipating a time of repair and restoration, shouldn't you expect to find the seeds of hope everywhere? Wasn't the whole idea that everything is going to turn out OK God's idea? If the Bible shows us one thing about God it's that He has not given up on the world. Why then are Christians so quick to?

Do people not realise how dangerous and wrong this "Christian" mindset of "the world and everyone in it is hopeless and evil" is? For one thing it's patently untrue and if it isn't true then it should have no part of the Gospel. For another thing it makes Christianity very unattractive and needlessly so. Peter tells Christians to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" - now tell me, how many times do Christians actually get asked about the hope they have? It never seems to happen and I don't think we should be surprised! No one is going to ask you about something you don't seem to have! For a lot of Christians our only "hope" is for Jesus to come snatch us away so God can make everyone pay. The way some Christian communities huddle together and talk about the world makes it seems like the only thing they are hoping for is a chance to say "I told you so!" Is it really surprising that so few care about the hope we have? This dark and negative outlook also doesn't do us a lot of good. I always liked the way Jewel put it:

"If I could tell the world just one thing

It would be that we're all OK

And not to worry 'cause worry is wasteful

And useless in times like these

I won't be made useless

I won't be idle with despair"

I love the way she puts that, despair and hopelessness makes us useless and idle. That's why you have groups of Christians (the fine folks at Rapture Ready are a great example) who do nothing but wait for rescue. Some do this to the point of no longer making repairs to their homes or investing their money wisely. They are just sitting around, waiting to be picked up and enjoying the misery in the world because they think it proves them right. Nevermind the fact that this is pretty much the opposite of how Jesus commanded His followers to live. We are supposed to be making a difference, bringing more hope and making the misery less. THAT is what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about!

Although I guess I shouldn't be surprised that people live like this. After all how you see the world has everything to do with you you live. If you truly believe the world to be hopeless and evil that is all you will expect and that is all you will see and that is why it will be the only way you live. If you don't think there is hope and goodness in this world, your life will show it and it will not be pretty.

I have decided to be different. I may be a cynic at times but my heart isn't really in it. I have seen the beauty and the hope in this world and it makes me want to be involved with it despite the ugliness. There is a lot we can learn from waiting rooms I think. It's true, this world can be a pretty miserable place and none of us asked to be here. For the most part the misery that befalls us happens to us rather than because of us, we certainly didn't ask for our unhappiness either. Yet here we are. If we can see that we are all in this together, all hoping to do better one day it can make things better. If we allow misery to isolate us in despair then that is all we will have. On the other hand if we start seeing the goodness and the nobility amongst the misery then everything changes. Once you let let hope in you start seeing that things can be better and before long you start being a part of making things better. Goodness is everywhere, the human race can be amazing. I can see why God would think we are worth saving. I believe that there will be a "one day" when God will give us the happily ever after we so long for. I also believe that God tasked us to bring goodness and hope to this world in the HERE and NOW. What our world looks like is to a large extent in our own hands despite the severity of our afflictions. This is what I learned from a waiting room. I choose hope.


TPluckyT said...

Encouragement is a gift and I was encouraged when I read this . . . Thank you for that . . .

RandomSue said...

Thanks for sharing the hope.

Anonymous said...

Hello Eugene,

I would like to use your waiting room picture for a project but would need you permission - duty free and the original picture in high definition - print ready. Please let me know and I will provide my email for you to send it. Thanks.

Eugene said...

Hi Anonymous, you don't need my permission, I didn't take that photo. That's just a stock photo of a waiting room I found, can't even remember where it was so long ago. Hopefully Google Image search would be of more help regarding the original, sorry.