What Can Be Done About the Overwhelming Burden of “Macro-Guilt”?







If you don’t pray for #Dallas you must not love police officers.

You changed your profile pic to the French Flag for #Paris, why didn’t you change your profile to the US flag for #SandBernadino?

You didn’t change your profile pic to a rainbow – #Orlando.

Why didn’t you comment on the Turkish airport?

Tragedy and Guilt

Tragedy abounds in our world. It seems that there are many ways to grieve today. One can get the feeling that if you don’t grieve for everyone equally you have some type of bigoted bone to pick with that group…that if you don’t grieve equally for everyone you are hating one group or another.

While I’m writing this I am preparing for a prayer vigil tonight in light of the shootings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas this week. Some of our community was concerned that we didn’t hold a prayer vigil for the LGBTQ when the Orlando shootings took place. My initial response is to feel guilty for not making a more concentrated effort at grief. Social media has added a new way to feel the burden of tragedy both close to home and faraway…Social media has added a new sphere for us to feel guilt in. We are now instantly connected to tragedies all around our country and our world. Honestly our world is so tragic that this can be totally exhausting. How should we respond? How should we live? Social media has added a new way to feel tragedy...and guilt. Click To Tweet

An Overwhelming Burden

I was inspired this week by an article by Ruthie Johnson on tragedy hitting close to home and it made me start thinking about our responsibility to our community and our responsibility to our country and our world. Sometimes tragedy is in our backyard, sometimes we are closer to situations because of our history (being a Black American, a law enforcement officer, belonging to the LGBTQ community, spending a summer in Paris or Turkey). When these things are closer to us we shouldn’t feel guilty for caring more. When situations ramp up, as they have in the last week, we shouldn’t feel bad for sounding a call to action when we haven’t in other circumstances.

I am calling this overwhelming burden macro guilt. This idea that we bear a responsibility for every tragedy that we are aware of isn’t new, but it is growing. 100 years ago this should up in the form of missionary accounts. It was inflamed by television broadcasts in the 1960s from Vietnam. In the 1990s this was induced by t.v. commercials asking for assistance in global poverty and starvation.

Today, we are hyper connected through grass roots social media posts as well as globally broadcast news. This presents Christians with the dilemma discerning what our responsibilities are to injustices and tragedy at a global level and at a local one.

Too often we pray and rally for large scale disasters while side-stepping local, community tragedies. I’m in no way suggesting that we should ignore problems of globalization or national tragedy. Our connectedness demands that we share the burden and do what we can for our neighbors, but our globalized world often leaves us unsure of who are neighbor actually is. Too often we pray and rally for large scale disasters while side-stepping local, community tragedies. Click To Tweet

Who is My Neighbor?

One of our most important jobs to be done by the people of God in the world today is to discern who our neighbors are.

Jesus instructed everyone to “Love their neighbor” but the teacher of the law responded by trying to find a technicality to inaction…asking “who is my neighbor?”.

The famous response was the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the story of the Unlikely Neighbor. Globalization in many ways makes everyone our neighbor…but how can we care for everyone? How can we care for all the hurting? We want social justice for all but don’t have the capacity, bandwidth, resources or time to personally campaign for every tragedy or every cause.

If you are like me, you can feel all of these burdens and it can cause paralysis. I find myself thinking things like: “Because I can’t do everything or because I can’t do something significant, I won’t do anything”. As the Good Samaritan points out inaction isn’t a neutral place to stand…inaction often results in injustice. John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”

So the task of followers of Jesus is to discern who our neighbor is and how we should stand with them in love, grace, mercy and justice.

How Mercy and Justice Works

Fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth holds a blueprint for discerning and loving our neighbors. We must start with justice in our homes and neighborhoods before going to our city, country and world. Why? Because justice works a bit like the gears of a transmission…at the beginning of the revolution the lowest gears require the most torque. As the momentum builds there is less torque and power needed from a single source.

Mercy and justice work similarly: when we start then engine of the work of Jesus from zero MPH (our home, our workplace, our neighborhood) it requires much more energy and courage from us than when we spread the hope and love of the Gospel at higher speeds (larger movements, national tragedies, international crises) because there is already momentum pushing us forward. This isn’t to say we can abdicate our national or global responsibilities. Sometimes movements are so large and glaring that it becomes clear our neighbor is someone in a different land, or of a different nationality.

Once we figure out who our neighbors are we need to then discern how to love them.

With justice it is much harder to start in our homes, with our friends, with our co-workers than to post hashtags and argue in a comment section or donate $10 a month to a charity. Telling someone that their derogatory joke is not funny and part of a larger problem may lose you a friend or cost you a promotion. Having a discussion at your worship gathering about race and racism might actually make some people leave your church. Showing up to a rally or town hall meeting might alienate some people you are trying to reach. But isn’t this what justice looks like on a micro level? Aren’t we called to stand with the oppressed and hurting? Tangible love often requires us to be present in risk taking ways with others. The Samaritan took a huge risk in loving his neighbor. Doing justice in our homes or with our friends is harder than posting hashtags. Click To Tweet

Freedom from Macro Guilt

One way to find freedom from macro guilt is to ask ourselves and others in our community some challenging questions on a regular basis:

Who are the poor in my life?

Who are the marginalized in my world?

When was the last time I listened to someone different than me (liberal, conservative, gay, black, white, homeless, rich)?

When was the last time I shared a meal with someone who is hurting?

How have I sacrificed for someone in the last week?

Am I willing to place myself between my neighbor and danger and oppression?

Consider how Jesus almost always answered questions that seemed complicated or divisive. He responded with another question or allegory. By living in questioning communities where we regularly examine ourselves and rely on the Holy Spirit to direct our steps we can move from the paralysis of guilt to become agents of grace and justice to those around us.

I’m a white middle class male and it would be quite easy for me to join and gather with other middle class white people. That wouldn’t be faithful to the commission Jesus has given us, that wouldn’t be representative to the Kingdom of God in my community.

When I examine myself, my family, my church through the lens of the Samaritan I find too often I look like the Levite or the Priest. When friends ask me some of the questions above I usually don’t like the answers. When Jesus invites me to come to his table and share his meal in all of my weakness and imperfection I gain grace and vision to leave the guilt of the tragic world around me and invite, defend and protect my neighbors—whether they are like me or not.