Comfort? Discomfort? The inherent tension of these words has been at the front of my mind this past week.
News reports cover the evacuation from Afghanistan, the nearly 20 years of war, and its chaotic conclusion asking uncomfortable questions about the role of the US military, the cost in dollars, and more importantly – lives. Rising rates of COVID, “mask wars” in school board meetings against the lack of hospital beds and exhausted medical personnel prompt reflection on the balance of individual rights over and against our responsibilities to one another in a free society. North Carolina HB324 (now under consideration in the NC Senate) would prohibit schools from promoting the idea that anyone should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other psychological distress on account of their race or gender.” This is part of a raft of new laws in states across the country (including Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas) that enjoin teachers from making students feel “uncomfortable.”
In the midst of this, Mayden and I have been participating in the diocesan training program for ministry with LGBTQI+ youth, young people who have suicide rates more than four times higher than their “straight” counterparts. In the last session, we heard from LGBTQI+ teens and young adults in the diocese themselves. They shared their personal experiences of trying to practice their faith against a background of bullying, exclusion, and discrimination both at the parish level and in diocesan events. Much of the discussion focused on what makes for a more comfortable environment for LGBTQI+ teens to participate in church.
Towards the end of the evening, one person pushed back against “comfortable,” pointing out that Jesus did not always make people comfortable. In fact, they declared, at times Jesus seemed to go out of his way to make people uncomfortable, even with dearly held faith practices. The teen observed Jesus makes a point of caring for those who have been pushed to the margin of society even as he presses hard on those at the center, especially religious leaders, unconcerned with making them uncomfortable and even angry.
Years ago, a priest handed me a business card with the phrase “Comforting the disturbed, disturbing the comfortable.” When there is a pandemic raging and people are dying, my personal “comfort” takes a back seat to my responsibility to protect others. The cost of the Afghan war, in dollars and lives, should prompt real searching with regards to our foreign policy. Along with incredible achievements, US history is also full of situations that should make all of us feel uncomfortable.
Faith does not offer us cover for avoiding painful truths. Change only comes when we become uncomfortable enough with the present to offset the discomfort of losing the familiar. Following the example of Jesus and the witness of scripture, Christians are called to care for those who are hurting, to reach beyond our own comfort for the sake of another, and to be willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of alleviating the pain of others in need. Again, following the example of Jesus and the witness of scripture, Christians are also called to challenge “comfortable” situations of power and privilege, which push others to the margins. In the midst of our discomfort, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, the Holy Comforter, to be with us, to bind up the wounds of our broken hearts and bodies, and to give us the strength to move forward into the future in hope.