by Hannah Macauley-Gierhart
Parenting is a bewildering thing. There’s nothing like those first moments after you’ve expelled another human from your body and you hold that precious, wrinkled life in your arms and sob. It’s like two worlds collide with each other in those chaotic moments: your old – self-centred – life recedes as the new waves of love and responsibility and overwhelm and exhausted, chaotic joy crash hard over your head and you’re left reeling. Those moments. I’ve had two of them. Where I’ve held my babes in tired arms and felt incomprehensible feelings that even now I find almost impossible to find words for. To kiss those fragile domes of tiny heads and marvel at miniscule fingers and hear those shrieking lungs that suck air for the first time. It’s exquisite and terrifying, and what’s left in the shallows after that crescendo of emotion is the deep, dismaying sense that you are incredibly unprepared.
I remember this dawning horror after my first babe was born that the world was not a nice place. The news, although bleak pre-birth, now had this apocalyptic tinge that had me reaching for the remote and flipping to the safe confines of Gilmore Girls or something of that ilk. I wanted to withdraw into the warm cocoon of our tiny apartment, drawing the curtain closed and keeping my baby closeted from a world that felt dangerous and predatory. When a friend came to meet my girl for the first time, she held my small pupa of a child, looked me in the eyes and asked ‘so how do you feel about bringing a child into the world when it’s so messed up?’ I kid you not. If I was teetering on a precipice of panic before this, now I freefalled into full-blown terror. What kind of a monster was I? How could I have not thought this through before? Apparently much of this wild new awareness of the world’s fallibility is a normal part of new-parenthood. For once, the world revolves around someone besides you, the orbit of worries stretches to accommodate whole new galaxies of possibility. I had that, but then some. My friend had touched an extremely raw nerve: how could I have brought a child into a world so very, very broken?
Since that perfect Eden fissured into shards of the image it should have been, the world has been problematic. Every parent that has held a wanted baby I’m sure has looked from the sweet skin of their curled infant out at a world that now seems out of focus: blurred and full of teeth. But now? The planet does not only seem sinister but might not even exist in a generation or two. This sobering new reality has morphed the meaning of panic into new surfaces I never anticipated. This planet not only looks alarming in the suffering and injustice it holds, but it feels like it could disintegrate beneath my feet in a not-so-distant future. And what then?
Do we have a language for this? I feel at once enraged and deflated. I want to smash my fists against the structures that allow the speedy unravelling of the fabric of our planet, those hands that pull at the threads and fill pockets with gold that won’t hold much meaning in a century or so. I want to scream and rant and picket and chain myself to fences. But I feel small and my voice quiet. I don’t know where to start. Instead, my hands hold tiny ones as we walk by cobalt ocean and feel sand under our feet. These moments are grounded in an immediacy I can’t fathom ending. The place we live is lush with beach and forest and bush and estuaries. It rings with bellbirds and I drive by roos and possums on winding twilight trips. There are caves with Indigenous paintings tens of thousands of years old. It’s an intersection of ancient and modern and all of the beauty and problems the collision of those worlds bear. It is a flawed paradise, but one that feels indestructible.
I wrote about my horror at the apathy I’m seeing in the face of this issue some time ago. It was late one Tuesday evening and I’d just read an article describing the fact that scientists believe millions of species will be extinct in the next five or so decades. Now, I would have thought that news of impending doom would send the masses rioting the streets, but all I saw on news sites were headlines about royal babies and eggs being thrown at our prime minister. Like, I get it. They’re interesting stories, but I was alarmed at the way that we can shelve the horror and laugh at an egging. We’re those proverbial frogs boiling in that proverbial water. We’re burning up but ignoring the growing heat. So I did the only thing I could think of at the time: I wrote an impassioned rant on Facebook (I seem to rant a lot, hey?). In it, I expressed my disbelief at our capacity to ignore and pretend. That yes, it is frightening to have to look this issue straight in the face but look we must. Leaders aren’t going to change things unless we demand change (in fact, the week I wrote that, one former national leader made a bet with a protesting member of the public that he didn’t think things would be so bad in ten years – holy shit). It was heartening to find resonance with other people who feel similar frustration and horror. It was mostly my posse of young mums who commented similar anxieties; they too felt the worry of what future would be left open to their children. But the next day some acquaintances offhandedly commented to a friend of mine that I’d posted something controversial – again – and climate change wasn’t actually real. Thankfully, my friend’s a science teacher and he could debunk their naive thinking better than I ever could, but I wanted to bang my head against the wall. How was the way I expressed an opinion being made the issue, rather than the real problem I was trying to highlight? We scapegoat and deflect. We take issue with the way people say things so we don’t have to listen to what they’re saying. We side-step and head-bury. We make things that aren’t the problem a problem so we don’t have to deal with the real problem. Boo.
I hate writing these words. I wish they weren’t true. But the fact is we’re facing a world that is heading into a chaos we’re not comprehending and it’s keeping me awake many nights. And then I try to find God in all of this. Will wrote earlier that a lot of Christianity is shaped by fear, and although I feel terrified, I know there’s hope. Where fear is being destructive in Christianity’s response to our world’s problem is in our refusal to acknowledge and engage. There is infinite hope, and we’re part of a narrative that is much bigger than our own worries and limitations, but what I feel so discouraged about is a faith movement that should be at the forefront of social activism – this bringing-forth-the-kingdom-of-God stuff – when mostly we’re not. What I see is a religious institution that’s quibbling over the stuff that doesn’t matter so it doesn’t have to deal with the stuff that really, really does. I expressed this at the start of these posts, but here is where this problem gains traction: in a world where Jesus-lovers should be pioneering restoration and justice, we’re often too frightened to do anything meaningful.
There are some spectacular exceptions to this issue, I know this. I know some extraordinary revolutionaries who are risking their reputations and even their lives to speak Jesus-truth into the most desolate places. But broadly, I’m seeing this Trumpian Christianity that is concerned with shutting down borders, dialogue, and much reasonable thought to protect what’s safe and known. It’s a mass, bible-fuelled denial that often looks at liberalism with suspicion and the great issues of our time with hostility.
This brand of Christianity feels incomprehensible to me. When I look at the Jesus that’s written about in the gospels, I see a man that runs to the fringes of society and hangs out there, who isn’t afraid to stare down institutional thinking and advocate for justice and kindness. Where a lot of conservative Christianity uses some white-washed watery Jesus to justify intolerance, the Jesus in the bible shows empathy with women (Mark 5, John 4, John 8), hangs out with and restores the socially outcast (Mark 1, Luke 8, 17 and 19, Matthew 18), and stands up to the people enacting self-serving religion (Matthew 21, 23). Unfortunately, people often reference Jesus’ salty words to the Pharisees as justification for their own thinly veiled hatred. What we often don’t realise was that Jesus didn’t react to the Pharisees themselves, but that self-righteous ideology that uses scripture to serve our own desires. It’s bastardised Christianity; a nicely packaged thing that has all the right-sounding language but rings of exclusion and hatred. The irony of hyper-spiritualised religious expression that ignores the very core of that religion is a baffling thing to try to comprehend.
To be continued in the next post. If you haven’t already, sign up for The Sunday Message via our homepage to make sure you don’t miss it.