Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.
Last week, I wrote about how there is an appetite among United Methodists for news from around the world, often news supplied by United Methodist sources. The example I used was the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa. United Methodists are interested in that story, but it is a tragic and often terrifying story. Indeed, much of the global news we receive (either from secular or United Methodist sources) can seem downright depressing these days: Ebola in West Africa, unrest in the Ukraine, ISIS in Iraq, fighting in Gaza, child refugees from Central American violence arriving in the US, malaria and other diseases around the world... the list goes on.
With all of this seemingly depressing international news, it is worth asking, why pay attention to international news? Especially when we often have to make a bit of an effort to find this news, why work at something that's only going to bring us down?
I think there are several answers to this question. First, international United Methodist news is no more depressing and often less depressing that American United Methodist news. I personally find it much more dispiriting to watch the American branch of the UMC tear itself apart over questions of LGBT rights and UMC polity. Yes, the UMC is facing fearful forces in many countries, but most of these problems are ones that the UMC is working to solve. Thus, I'm often actually inspired to see the work that God is doing through the UMC in response to these global issues. Reading the news and looking for where God is at work in the midst of the tragedies is one way to read what might otherwise be depressing news without getting depressed.
The second reason why reading bad news doesn't need to make us feel bad is connected to the first. Because the UMC is doing something in response to most of these crises around the world, you can be a part of that work. Jeremy Steele has written a great post about what United Methodists can do in response to Ebola and ISIS. Jeremy identifies three things: fast and pray, raise awareness, and donate money. Jeremy's suggestions are great ones and apply to adults as well as the youth with whom he works. There may be other ways as well to support the UMC's ministries in the world. Bad news doesn't need to depress us if we can do something in response.
A third and final answer to the challenge that international news is depressing is that reading otherwise depressing news, whether international or domestic, can call us to deeper faith in God. We claim to believe in a God of resurrection and a God who is with those who suffer. Looking honestly at problems around the world challenges us to fully own our faith. It challenges us to see suffering around the world (and at home) and still trust that God is with those who suffer and that, even when suffering leads to death, God is a God of resurrection. It is easy for many in the United States to shield ourselves from suffering, but when we avoid suffering, we avoid seeing God do what most characterizes God. In order to fully understand God, we must we willing to look on suffering, and reading what may otherwise be depressing news can allow us to do that. Reading the news with the proper theological lens, then, can help us better understand God, and there can be no better reason than that.