By Rev. Thomas Irby
I was thirteen when the clouds first arrived. A combination of hormones, anxiety, brain chemistry and loneliness began to manifest into something I later knew to call “depression.” Over the last six months, I have experienced the weight of those clouds heavier than ever.
Like many progressive Christians, I am a deeply empathetic person. Every single news story about the oppression of Black and brown people in the streets or in detention centers tightens the vice in my chest. The spreading of blatant misinformation about the pandemic and politics makes me feel anxious. The dark clouds of smoke that settled over our region in September appropriately illustrated my internal narrative of confusion and frustration.
In a world where bad news is readily available, and any post on Twitter or Facebook is enough to raise your blood pressure, it is crucial to set boundaries on what we consume. We simply cannot carry it all. Biologically, our brains were not built to read and reflect upon this much information.
John Wesley is famously quoted as telling Methodists to:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
So what does this mean for the emotionally overwhelmed Christian of the modern world? How can I do all the good I can when there is so much more need in this world than I can actually help? How can I show the love of Christ in every global crisis?
Jesus told his followers to care for the poor, love their neighbor, and seek justice (among many other things). But it is important to remember that he was talking to people who did not have access to global knowledge or communication. His directions would have been focused on the local communities where information was shared by word of mouth, or through the occasional letter sent from city to city.
I think that the best way for us, as localized people in localized communities, to faithfully follow John Wesley’s direction to “Do all the good you can,” is to focus our love and passion on what is happening in our cities, our towns, and our neighborhoods. We should certainly be informed about how what happens nationally affects us locally, but beyond that, it is very hard for us to do meaningful, good work in places where we can’t be physically present. We can’t be everywhere because we aren’t God.
So I encourage you, as the swirl of media coverage has us all collectively stressing about Presidential elections, Supreme Court nominees, and national healthcare programs, let’s channel our love locally. Every one of our communities has minority groups who are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. Every one of our communities has women who are victims of domestic violence and other symptoms of patriarchy and misogyny. Every one of our communities has unhoused people, immigrants, widows, orphans, and vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth. As we process our outrage and anguish, let us center our expressions of Christian love to our neighbors, those people we actually see when we step outside the front door of our churches.
And always remember, it is good and right to completely unplug as often as you can. You’ll need that energy to take this laboring love in your neighborhood.
Rev. Thomas Irby is an Elder member of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference. Since 2019, Irby has served as pastor of Mason United Methodist Church in Tacoma, Washington.