Thankful in the Age of ISIS


So far I’ve purposely remained pretty quiet online about the recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, Baghdad, Turkey, Chicago, and everywhere else. Because of my profession, I’ve learned it’s better for me to not broadcast my initial knee-jerk reaction when big news breaks. I’ve been asked to defend and explain specific tweets and blog posts in job interviews in the past, and I want to be sure I really believe anything I publish.

Now that I’ve had some time to process my thoughts, I’ve realized my overarching emotion in response to the events of the past few weeks is outright sadness.

I’m sad for the friends and families of the victims.
I’m sad for the terrorists who are sometimes captured, tricked, and brainwashed to believe they have to do this.
I’m sad for the Muslims who will likely forever be unfairly linked to terrorism.
I’m sad for my non-Christian friends who must think most Christians lack compassion and are mostly irrational and angry.

With all of this bouncing around in my brain, last Friday a gentleman walked into our church asking for money. While this isn’t typically my responsibility, on Fridays it is my job to interact with “walk-ins” and follow our procedures for people seeking assistance. This specific man was asking for gas money so he could visit his mom in the hospital in Texas. I followed our procedures, and unfortunately we were unable to help him.

And that made me sad.

In response to these recent attacks, I’ve heard and read a lot of people saying that all of us need to do a better job at loving our neighbor. Here in the middle of Kansas, I feel pretty helpless in fighting worldwide problems, but I really do want to be intentional about loving my neighbor.

Later that day, I received an email warning me that there was a man going around Wichita asking for money to visit his mom in Texas, and it was all a scam. He faked his name and situation, and he wasn’t in as dire of a need as he claimed. My heart broke when I couldn’t initially help this man, and I later found out it was all a lie. We have a very generous church, and this man tried to take advantage of that fact.

And that made me sad.

I don’t want to be sensationalist, but I really do believe the world has changed the past few weeks. While we don’t want to give in to fear, the world is scary. Bad things happen. A lot. I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed to admit this, but when I woke up in the middle of the night feeling the 4.7 earthquake that hit Oklahoma last week (by the way… uh, what?!), my first thought was an earthquake, but my second was ISIS. We live in a broken and hurting and dangerous world.

Today my mind has shifted again as I begin processing and planning for Thanksgiving. I really like Thanksgiving. I enjoy the time with family and the football and the food and (…yes) even the shopping. I’m ridiculously blessed, and it’s very easy for me to quickly spout out a long list of things I’m thankful for.

But for some reason, this year feels a little different. Of course I’m thankful, but the darkness of this world is also more palpable than usual. I’m sad about Paris and Muslims and Christians and the man asking for money. So how do we be thankful in the midst of such a mess?

How do we express gratitude when CNN constantly warns of more imminent attacks?
How can we be thankful for all of the incredible blessings we have as Americans when so much of our country is angrily fighting each other?
How can we celebrate our ancestors coming to a new nation when so many of us aren’t willing to extend that same opportunity to refugees?

Today I realized one thing I desperately need to work on: I need to be really careful what information I allow myself to ingest.

I’ve watched the news a lot the past few weeks, and while I may be more informed, it also makes me more paranoid.
I’ve read a lot of Facebook and Twitter posts this week, and while I care for all my friends who posted them, I’m frustrated by most of their attitudes.
I’ve started listening to a new podcast, and while I admire and enjoy the panel, their snarky and sarcastic tone is hard not to emulate.

I’m not putting very thankful thoughts into my brain. I’m reading, listening to, and watching a lot of angry noise, so it’s hard not to be sad.

Even today, in this dangerous world of imminent attacks and angry people yelling at each other about politics, I have so much to be thankful for. You have so much to be thankful for. And we have so much to be thankful for.

So just do it. Be thankful.

I unsubscribed from that podcast.
I “unfollowed” some friends on Facebook (I don’t have the heart to unfriend them).
I need less CNN and Fox News.

I don’t have time for that nonsense. I have a lot to be thankful for. I don’t need to be distracted.

You know what will really drive terrorists and doomsday politicians crazy? Just be thankful for what you have. Don’t let them win by causing you to fear. Don’t get angry about what you can’t control or what you disagree with. It usually does no good. Yes, you should stay informed about what’s going on and you should vote and you should engage with people who hold opposing viewpoints and get involved with causes you believe in. Of course. Just keep the ratio in check. Reflect on God’s goodness. Even if you don’t believe in God, you have a lot to be thankful for, so thank whoever you want to thank. I think you’ll feel a lot better about your life and the world, and you might just help me feel better, too.


Published by mattehresman

Crafting and spreading messages that matter.

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