It started with a grammatical error.
My wife’s friend was graciously posting an interview she had conducted with my wife and me about our recently released book on anxiety. As of late, Cassia had been writing toward self-care during difficult times. Accurately she intended to write the phrase “world gone mad” … except what I read as I reviewed the post was “world gone made”.
Admittedly, I am not an editor. I know this. One thing that I have learned through the process of submitting a manuscript and working through the editing process with someone else is how many times small errors can sneak into an writer’s work, especially mine.
So when I read “world gone made”, I saw the sort of error that I have made countless times, unintentional, small, but an error nonetheless.
But, seeing as how this is primarily my wife’s friend and not mine, I sent Cassia an email thanking her for the post and gingerly mentioning the mistake, which she “corrected”.
But then I kept going back to “world gone made”.
And the turn of phrase, “world gone made”, kept speaking to me of the way in which many of us feel the disconnection and confusion of our present. Yet while we are the curators of this world in which we find ourselves, we are simultaneously victims of what this world inflicts on us.
We have made this world about which we complain.
We have taken matters into our own hands and made a mess of it … but this is not the first time.
The lectionary passages for this past week included the making of the golden calf, an event where an impatient people took matters into their own hands. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Moses had been in a pretty long meeting with God. And as many have experienced when they get caught on a phone call or videoconference, the children eventually get restless … and into trouble.
The people, feeling leaderless, began to define for themselves what they would worship.
It is one of the particular insights of Judaism to move away from an “image” of God. Without a fixed “idol” or image of God, there is room to allow for multiple images, many manifestations of the Holy, a myriad of ways to describe this experience of God.
Yet we are truly uncomfortable with a God without limits … so we create them. We make the “world gone mad”. We build golden calves to worship because having that concrete, visible calf somehow feels safer than “a wind that blows where it will.”
When we feel apart from God, we make idols.
But I was also struck on reading this passage that God saw what was happening, got angry enough to say that God was about to “consume” the people and start over, but it was a conversation with Moses that changed God’s mind. Here, even God seems to have been feeling the emotion of the moment, started to act rashly, then Moses’s pleading saves the people, saving their world.
The act of conversation, even with God, saves us.
This weekend, I also found myself listening to Arlie Hochschild talk about her conversational work with people who feel that this world is no longer “theirs”. She writes specifically that many on the “right” feel strong anger and grief over changes in our society and culture. Yet, I also hear this echoed from people on the “left” as well.
And as someone who has people for whom I care deeply (and clinically) on both the “left” and “right” politically, I wholeheartedly agree that there are deeply felt emotions on “both sides”.
But we seem to have a hard time talking to each other.
We have lost our compassion and curiosity … and with that we have ceded the common ground.
While all the arguing has at times been called “entertainment”, there is now a sense that this fight is serious, deeply felt, and important for our survival.
So I kept returning to this “world gone made”.
And yes, we all construct our reality to some extent. Our beliefs are a lens through which we change and distort the reality around us, making it fit what we already think. We are loath to challenge our ideas about the world and about each other.
Our own anger or fear changes the way we see our world and each other, molding us, creating this “world gone mad”.
But then we stop talking to each other; we stop listening not only to the ideas of “the other”, but also the heart (emotion) of this “other”. The errors we make in our judgment of each other grow until this world we have “made” is “mad”.
But the way to creation and recreation is by listening.
And that is not a simplistic “if we only listen to God” sort of answer. Remember that God listened to Moses and changed God’s mind! There is a long history of people and prophets arguing with God, of having a conversation that means that either one of us may change our heart and mind.
This is also the way through with each other.
Instead of branding someone conservative or liberal and immediately deciding what you think they feel or believe, talk to them first. Get to know them and their heart. Take the risk of having a conversation. You may still disagree on a fundamental point … and that will be okay.
But if we are not having the conversation, if we are not all participating in making this world together, if we are more focused on being “mad” than working together, then we are lost … and wandering … and worshipping ourselves more than the Spirit of reconciliation, grace, and love.