Thursday, July 24, 2014

The News: How Can I Know What to Worry About?


Tensions, conflicts, disagreements, arguments, violence, destruction. I find it every morning when I read the news on the Internet. July 24, 2014 is full of such stories, with details of facts, unconfirmed rumors, analysis, predictions, hopes, fears.

In more than thirty years of reading/watching the news, I have seen many "decisive moments" that were unimaginable and inconceivable before they suddenly happened. (Only in retrospect could we trace the lines building up to these moments.)

I've also seen huge amounts of attention and analysis poured out over events that never rose to their expected significance. Other issues have built up slowly over the years, and I know from the study of history that great changes often happen gradually, without drawing much attention to themselves.

Still, these times we live in today -- with so much admirable achievement and so much dissipation and chaos -- seem to point to the inevitability of a shattering conflict. Yet rarely has there been an age in history when thoughtful people haven't had expectations of imminent perils arising out of what has always been called "the evil of the times."

Human history is always ambivalent, because the human heart is ambivalent. As Solzhenitsyn says, "the line between good and evil passes through the human heart." We so often look at the day's events and wonder, "When is the great crisis coming?"

We don't know where events are leading. All of us have the responsibility, in different ways, to be attentive to our environment and our circumstances and seek to foster the good as much as we can, even as we work for victories of goodness within ourselves.

Still, there is so much that is beyond our control.

Allow me for a moment to use a homey, "old media" analogy: I could have read the newspaper today. Read about more escalation in Ukraine, more Gaza, more "Islamic State," more suffering, more refugees. But my newspaper would not come with red markings indicating that here is the big story. Here is the story that signals the beginning of the end of an epoch, a gigantic catastrophe, a great crisis that is apocalyptic at least in the sense that a world (if not the world) is coming to an end.

There are no red markings in the paper today that say, "a hundred years from now, this is what everyone will remember." It's eerie, reading the archives of the London Daily Telegraph from a hundred years ago, from July 24, 1914. Seven columns on every page packed with the news of the times. An English reader would not have guessed that the kerfuffle in Central Europe was about to put his nation at war with the Dual Monarchy and Germany, that a generation of Europe would be hurled into an abyss, that a world that began with the imperial ideal of Rome was entering its final days.

The English reader could not have known this, nor could he have done anything about it. However, he might have been very nervous about a growing confrontation that was the urgent talk of that day. Irish "Home Rule" had finally been granted by Parliament, but the controversy only seemed to grow. The Protestants of Ulster were furious, while Irish nationalists were not ready to trust what would have been "Dominion" status right under England's shadow and still opposed by powerful opposition in the English Parliament.

The page above notes the continued growth of opposition militias, the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers. There was talk of civil war in Ireland, and in the next couple of days there would even be skirmishes. Ironically, both militias turned to Germany to purchase arms.

But then came the Great War. Home Rule was suspended and the men from both militias joined up with the rest of Great Britain's fighting generation to face a new and unexpected enemy. Only a few of the most radical of the Irish republican volunteers refused to join with the British army. They remained behind, apparently insignificant in 1914. However, their moment would come. Ireland would have civil war, independence, and continued conflict in the North that would still be writing headlines at the end of the century, and that today holds together only by a fragile peace.

Thus, the decisive moments of history continue to unfold, and our times are not different insofar as the struggle between good and evil continues in the world and in the daily challenges that our hearts face.

Only at the end will we see everything, at the true decisive moment -- a moment that is already ours in hope -- a moment when the world and all hearts will pass through the fires of Mercy.

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