“I feel like I am living in two different worlds.”
I have said, and heard, this phrase many times over the last few months. It comes from being part of communities with very different perspectives about vaccines, climate change, politics, race, religion, etc. It creates at least two distinct visions of the world, and can make me feel like I am parting ways with friends and neighbors as we go down two different paths. I am not sure how true this actually is, but it certainly feels true. It is a symptom of what can be called cultural and ecological dissonance, the sense of discord, disharmony, confusion, or conflict experienced by people in the midst of changes in their cultural and physical environment.
These cultural and physical changes are connected; it is not hyperbole to say that our whole world is changing, and that we are living between the world that was and the world that will be. I’ve written about living between two worlds from a more analytical point of view, making the case that we absolutely need to go through this time of significant change. But I want to acknowledge the mental, emotional, and spiritual toll that living in a time of upheaval can inflict. I often find myself struggling to find some measure of equilibrium as everything around me feels like it is going in multiple directions at once.
Here is what this dissonance felt like to me during a recent week. On Monday, I took my boys to their sports practices. I coach my older son’s soccer team, and we are making an exciting run in our end-of-season tournament. I see the benefit of this “normal” activity for them, and I see how our American obsession with sports can dominate our life. I see how sports are helping them grow socially and physically, and worry that are not learning the ecological knowledge and skills needed to adapt to the changes that are already in motion. I feel torn between giving them a normal childhood and preparing them for an abnormal adulthood.
On Tuesday, I put our garbage and recycling bins at the curb for their weekly pickup. I am pleased that we use the smallest garbage bin our city offers, and that we supplement our recycling efforts with an innovative start up called Ridwell. I am also disheartened that our recycling system is fundamentally broken, and that more efficient recycling sometimes results in more consumption. I feel torn between doing my best in the system we have and working toward a totally new system.
On Wednesday, I helped my daughter edit her college essays. She is most likely headed to a great school connected to the denomination in which I am ordained. I love the way this university (and the denomination) helps people develop deep personal faith that calls them to address the deep problems of the world. And yet, in a recent essay arguing for a more wholistic gospel, our denomination’s leader never mentioned care for the earth. I feel torn between supporting my faith community and looking elsewhere for a more comprehensive vision.
On Thursday, I took our car in for a service appointment. Most of our family life occurs within 5 miles of our home, so we do not frequently drive long distances. Yet we live in a car-dependent area, and the miles somehow add up. We imagine switching to an electric vehicle for our next car, and look for ways to walk and bike more. We believe these small decisions make a difference, and we know that the world keeps pumping carbon into the sky. I feel torn between focusing on incremental and large-scale change.
On Friday, I gave a lecture at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology about the need for deep cultural change, and how followers of Jesus can help lead the way. Concerns about Covid pushed the event virtual, a wise choice. The event was accessible to people all over the world, but shifting to virtual led me to purchase a ring light and a second monitor to help with the visual presentation, adding to possessions of mine that will eventually find their way into a landfill. I feel torn between technological blessings and curses.
Weeks like this make me feel like I’m in a perpetual tug-of-war, torn between two worlds that are headed in opposite directions and cannot coexist peacefully. Some days, I want the tension to resolve – it feels like too much change coming at us too fast. Other days, I want the tension to increase – we need radical change, and we need it now! I find myself angry at people who I think are holding us back, and then angry at myself for my clear hypocrisy. I can be overwhelmed and paralyzed one day, motivated and over functioning the next.
I should add that this is not my experience all the time. I have many days, and seasons, when I am centered, calm, and focused on the good work that is before me. It should be no surprise that this usually coincides with regular rhythms of prayer. These moments do not resolve the tension I feel, but they do remind me that there are creative ways to live with the tension - here are three things that keep me going.
Simple Acceptance – It does no good to pretend that these painful tensions are not real. It is also no use to pretend that I can help fix it quickly, or by myself. This is a difficult journey, for we are on what Pope Francis calls “the long path of renewal.” I try to balance the need to make changes with the need to be kind to myself. I pray each day for strength to walk the long path, grace to keep me kind and loving, and hope to remind me that God still loves and cares for the world.
A Dose of Courage – This is the virtue that helps me keep moving forward when the voice inside my head says there is little hope. Courage reminds me it is ok to fail, but not to quit. Courage keeps me from retreating into denial or recoiling from the vulnerability that comes when I stand up for something and invite people to stand with me. Courage is a gift from God I ask for frequently, and keeps me on the long path of renewal.
The Gift of Community – I cannot overstate how important it is that I have people in my life who are on the same journey - people who support, encourage, challenge, and care for me. We need people who help us live in the tension, who share our love, our grief, and our hope, and will tell us we are not crazy for caring so much. I have also expanded my understanding of community to include my more-than-human relations, the community of creation that lives with me and makes my life possible.
I am wondering if you, as part of this journal’s community of readers, are willing to share some of your thoughts and struggles. I am also wondering how you deal creatively with the cultural and ecological dissonance that comes with change? Will you take a moment to share your thoughts with us? You will undoubtedly help us as we live between two worlds and walk the long path of renewal together.
With you on the Way,