Have you ever been to a "bad neighborhood?"
Over my 43 years, I've been to just two.
Facebook and Twitter.
On New Year's Day, I got out of one of those bad neighborhoods.
I closed my Twitter account.
Over the last year, the time I spend on Facebook dropped to almost zero.
And I feel so much cleaner, healthier, lighter...happier.
I don't know about you, but during and after the 2016 election I found myself on social media a lot. I'm embarrassed to say that I would find myself spending hours a day on Facebook and Twitter.
One day early in 2018, I woke up from my insanity.
What am I doing here? I thought.
Looking for an answer to that question led me to an ugly truth: I was hooked on anger.
On social media, I could get anger from two sources:
The first was posts from people with whom I disagreed. For example: If someone was for a policy or politician I found to be awful. All I had to do was just read whatever they posted and I would get a hit of "anger chemicals" in my brain. I found myself reading different points of view just so I could be angry at whoever was coming from those points.
The second was whenever I posted something and a lot of like-minded people agreed with me. Better yet, when like-minded people cheered me on or rushed to stand up for me whenever someone else disagreed. The "echo chamber" was where I could find the ultimate "righteous anger high."
So, as I said, one day I woke up and saw the truth: I was spending my days looking for bigger and bigger "hits" of anger.
Facebook and Twitter were my dealers.
What about you? Does any of this sound familiar to you?
What you find on social media these days seems to characterize our society. Every day, we get angrier and angrier. We spend our days on the prowl, looking for someone to blame for what "makes" us angry. We're on edge. Jittery. Off balance. Trigger happy.
The more time we spend in our echo chambers and on so-called "social" media, the more we become more like the disgruntled recluses we say we fear.
The bill for our anger, however, will eventually come due and the price will be too high for us to pay. We will pay for it in health, lost opportunities, quality of life, and relationships. We will pay for it in an even more broken, unfair, unjust, and violent society. We will pay for it in a world even more choked, depleted, and diseased.
The way to deal with an anger addiction is not more anger. That would be like trying to clear up air pollution by releasing more air pollution.
Over the last couple of years, I've come to believe that what people in our society need is a reprieve, a rest, a Sabbath. Not from civic duty, responsibility, or trying to find and act upon the truth. We need more of those things from people, not less.
But what if we rest from our anger? What if we could take a break from the things that stir up the anger chemicals in our brains? What if we could "fast" from outrage?
Are you having a hard time wanting this?
Then you may need to admit you have a problem!
Now, this is not to say that anger does not have a place in our lives. It's not to say that we shouldn't feel angry about things like injustice.
But do we control our anger or does our anger control us?
When we started thinking about what VEJ would do in 2019, someone at the table asked a question that went something like this: Is our anger and outrage really changing anyone's minds? It is really bringing about the kind of world we all want to see? Is it building bridges between us or building walls? Is our anger serving anyone other than ourselves?
That led to questions like: What should VEJ be doing? What could we give people that would be truly helpful? How can VEJ give people something that helps them choose a better way? A way that takes us where we all want to go?
As we prayed and talked through this, we kept coming back to making "space" in life. Space for curiosity and discovery, listening and understanding, quiet reflection, sharing food, simple service, and wonder. We discerned a desperate desire for places where people feel safe to explore, question, and be vulnerable. We discerned a desire for the self to be put back in right balance with all living things, the Divine, and with nature.
VEJ's mission, in shorthand, is: "Prayer, education, and action on behalf of Earth."
Action without prayer and education is immature and prideful, dangerous and unstable. It almost always runs on pure adrenaline. The emotions that manufacture the most adrenaline are anger and fear. So, action without prayer and education is almost always angry action. It is almost always reactive.
What people need, what our society needs, is more prayer and education.
And that is why VEJ is making those two things the focus of everything we do going forward. You see them in our events and programs for 2019. All year long, you will have many opportunities to break bread with friends and strangers. To pray and reflect among those who are different in many ways, but the same at heart. To let Earth teach you as you work the soil with your hands. To thrill in discovery. To wander in nature. To be quiet. To be still. To rest. To let Earth call your soul back home.
If this is what you need, you will find it here in 2019.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, primus inter pares
Voices for Earth Justice