There is this grotesque culture out there that enjoys laughing about the misery of others, or they simply love to hate. At one time, I was a part of this culture. As a young child, I hated the popular crowd by virtue of their popularity. I always assumed that every person who was well-known and constantly-mentioned was evil, mean to me and entirely deserving of my spite. Now, as an adult, I realize that most of them did nothing to me. They were polite and easygoing but we never hung out. When some of those kids I knew from age 8 began to party, do drugs and sleep around, I expected a karmic vengeance for their behavior. I imagined they’d eventually end up strung out or stuck in a rut. That’s what scares me about how we express Christianity. We are so nonchalant about the inevitability of these consequences, as if that’s what being a Christian is about. But it’s not, it’s about love, kindness, everything beautiful that you can imagine– that’s God and that’s what I as a Christian wish I had reflected better throughout my earlier years of life.
People who laugh at the misery and misfortune of others, no matter how inevitable such an end may seem, are all over the world, and unfortunately, many are Christians. When a picture is taken of a gratuitously obese person, it is spread all over the internet for people to gawk at and comment upon, reducing this human being to a massive object and dehumanizing them.
When my brother fell off a small cliff and smashed his lip and broke two teeth while he was drunk, everybody saw the picture and they were laughing. Here, a young man, whose life was about to start, catapulted from high school, had experienced something painful, humiliating and physically scarring and people were making jokes about it. I was making jokes about it.
A boy who in high school had been known for rash decisions dove headfirst into a shallow river while drunk and paralyzed himself from the waist down. I knew his mother, I worked with her. She was heartbroken and rushed to live with him in a different state and take care of him.
A young actor overdosed on drugs and died. The whole world judged him in his demise and they judged his company on earth: the staff of the show by which he was made famous, his girlfriend in life and in the show, even his parents. People made assumptions and posted them as fact.
People judge, people hate, people act like they know. Myself included. But the truth is, we don’t know. I don’t know. Even though I’m a Christian, I know absolutely nothing. And I am paralyzed as I consider this most recent tragedy: the loss of a barely-acquaintance. I met him when I was 8, but I never knew him. He moved on with the party crowd, but beyond that, I didn’t know much more. Yesterday, while casually perusing my Facebook Feed, the confused, hurting wall post of an old “bully”-turned-friend stopped me in my tracks. He had been killed as a pedestrian walking on the highway and hit by two semi trucks.
I knew I didn’t know him beyond the rumors, beyond the fleeting moments at Science Camp when I looked at him and saw beyond his popularity status, I knew. But I didn’t care. In the middle of the bus, states away from where the horrific scene happened, I began to cry. He was eight when I met him. Eight years old. And now he is, was, is 22 years old. And, people that once made me feel tormented are now grieving the loss of a dear life-long friend. And so am I and I feel like I don’t deserve to care. I don’t deserve getting to think about who he was. I didn’t ever think about him while he was alive. Why should I get to consider him and his friends now?
I am praying against what well-meaning but totally off-base things might be said to my friend. Things that Christians say to console those in grief. Things that Christians think or speak behind their backs. See, the world laughs at misery. Homeless people are the brunt of a joke, drunks are comedic relief, heavyset people are sent viral. But the fact that Christians join them, The fact that Christians say in our Bible Study times and as we fellowship, that homeless people are on the streets because they aren’t smart enough, driven enough or sober enough to make it in the world, or that drunks put themselves in danger and need to accept the consequences or that heavyset people need to diet or exercise or even sometimes be shot (people are cruel on the internet) scares me to death. It’s missing the point. What is lost here is a life. And the nonchalant attitude that God takes people when it’s their time or that people who party on earth will face an eternity of torture is what poisons Christianity. The afterlife and the cause of death are not our concern. Someone had life, had breath, had an impact on the world, and now, they don’t anymore. Their influence is halted, never again to be resumed. And people who knew them are affected. Hurting, crying, confused. Nothing makes sense. That’s how grief works. Let’s stop trying to make sense of grief and grieve with the broken. Let’s stop giving them platitudes and quick answers and just cry. Let’s stop blaming the victim and just mourn the world’s loss.
The world is a different place today because he is gone. I never knew him. Not that well. But his life mattered. Whether I let him matter to me or not.