--Dorothy, “The Wizard of Oz”
Is it just me or do things right now in our country feel a bit…crazy. Crazy. As in weird, strange, odd, disquieting, abnormal. Like we’re all just riding on the crazy train and there’s no way to get off. Or like Alice, we’ve collectively slipped down a rabbit’s hole into a wacky alternative universe, and we wonder what is “normal” anymore.
This fear came to me as I ran on the treadmill at my local gym last week. The good news is that as a Lenten commitment, I’ve finally gotten up off the couch. The bad news is that the fitness machines are parked directly in front of 17 big screen TVs, hanging from the ceiling, lined up end to end, in the cavernous workout room. Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing I can’t avoid this visual assault and since I’m on a treadmill, no matter how fast I run, I still can’t escape.
First there are the channels that feature reality TV shows, like “America's Most Smartest Model”, “I Married a Stranger”, “Amish in the City” and “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé”. These are real shows. Do people actually watch this stuff? Yes. Reality TV now makes up more than half of all television programming. Forget using illegal interrogation techniques to break a terrorist. Just park ‘em in front of “Duck Dynasty” for five minutes.
And by some cruel cosmic joke, my favorite machine is four feet from “Naked and Afraid”. A man and woman, who’ve never met, are dropped into a remote location (a rain forest or deserted island) and stripped of all their clothing and possessions, then forced to survive for 21 days. Thank goodness the show digitally masks certain body parts. Watching the show is like witnessing a car accident. I know I shouldn’t look, but I just can’t help myself.
Then there’s the news channels: CNN, MSNBC and Fox which feature talking heads bashing each other, in a gleeful orgy of partisanship, and of course it is all about the election. THE ELECTION. The one that began last March and will be with us for another eight months. The election is like that obnoxious guest you invite to your party who opens his mouth and sucks all the oxygen out of the room. The one who doesn’t take the hint to leave when it’s well past midnight and you’re loading the dishwasher and all he wants to do is have another beer and tell another self-centered story.
Consider this. In my Sunday newspaper there were 52 election related articles, about a quarter of the total paper. We can’t avoid it. The election dominates Facebook, everyone weighing in with an opinion: pro, con, crazy. The election has hijacked our cultural conversation. It’s everywhere. Since you can only say so much about Presidential politics, a lot of what is being said is a cotton candy confection of uninformed ideas. We aren’t even talking to each other about the election. It’s now just at each other.
Even when I leave the gym, craziness follows. I walk outside into the middle of what’s supposed to be a New England winter and instead experience what feels like a spring San Diego day. This week the mercury will hit 70 degrees, a temperature we’re not supposed to feel until May, right? The Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska had to truck in snow this year to stage the event. The winter of 2015/16 is the second warmest on record; the first being 2001/02 and the third warmest, 2011/12. That’s no aberration. That’s real climate change. That’s real scary.
As environmental activist Bill McKibben recently wrote in the “Boston Globe”, “[This week] Across the northern hemisphere, the temperature, if only for a few hours, apparently crossed a line: it was more than two degrees Celsius above ‘normal’ for the first time in recorded history and likely for the first time in the course of human civilization.” Makes me want to run back inside and fire up another episode of “Naked and Afraid”. Or maybe “Naked and Afraid” is what we might call life in these United States at this time, when everything seems to be a bit….
I’m not quite sure what the cure is for our communal wackiness. Maybe we just need to spend more time with each other, face to face, in the real world, far away from sterile gyms and ubiquitous screens and virtual reality, which really is not very real. Maybe God is pushing us to take seriously all the challenges of Creation; that to live at our best means we are to live in true community, actual community, and then work together to make a difference for the good, for all people. Every person. Even the folks who watch “Naked and Afraid” like me.
I know these hopes and dreams may sound kind of…crazy, but in 2016, I’m ready for some sanity. How about you?