Monday, May 4, 2009

Swine Flu and other anxieties

Swine Flu has, predictably, galvanized the nation. It has provided us once again with something external on which to project our collective floating anxiety. The numbers just don't justify the mania. At this writing there has been one death in Houston of a small child who is reported to have been in Mexico prior to falling ill. Every year 36,000 people die of other strains of what we call "influenza." 40,000 people will die in automobile accidents this year, 27 will be murdered in Austin, TX, 5 will die violently at the hands of another in our neighboring town of Temple. To date no swine has died of H1N1.

So why the mania? I think it's because we want something to blame for our own sense of being ill at ease. We think something is wrong with the world because we don't feel peaceful inside, so we go looking for something to blame. We do it in a thousand different ways--we pin it on significant others. We blame the government, the "national church," or Alqaeda. Certain buzz-words flash this response like "terrorism," "racism," and "homosexual." We jump from relationship to relationship searching for someone that will make us happy. We change jobs and cities looking for the right "match," and we wonder why, sooner or later, it always seems to end up the same. The reason is simple--we take ourselves with us when we move to the new relationship, job or town. If we change all the other variables and the result is the same the one unchanged variable must be the responsible element for the situation.

Richard Rohr said in Wild Man to Wise Man (and I paraphrase) if your religion isn't making you a more healthy person then it is betraying you. Religion, rather than focusing our anxieties on things external, should help us face the anxiety we bear within, name it, deal with it, make peace with it, and get to know how it affects us, so that we can respond more honestly and genuinely to the world. It's called confession and reconciliation...admitting the problem is within and not without, and taking responsibility for it, and then accepting forgiveness and searching for a healthier way to live. We do it with God and we do it with one another, ultimately, we must also do it with the whole created order. Then and only then will real change happen in our lives--change that happens from the inside out, not the outside in.

There is a great anonymous story about a young couple who moved to a new city. They drove through a neighborhood to check it out. They soon found an old man standing at a street corner. "Sir, what is like to live in this neighborhood?" they asked.
"What is the neighborhood you are leaving like?" replied the old man.
"Oh, it was great, but I got transfered to his city, so we have to move," they answered.
"You'll find this neighborhood is quite the same," was the reply.

They drove on, and soon another couple drove into the same neighborhood with the same intent of checking it out. They found the same man and asked him the same question, "Sir, what is like to live in this neighborhood?"
"What is the neighborhood you are leaving like?" replied the old man.
"We hated it, it was awful, and we're so glad to move!" they answered.
"You'll find this neighborhood is quite the same," came the reply.

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