By Guest Blogger Dr. Penny Freeman

Barbara Brown Taylor says “Pain and suffering makes theologians of us all.”

It’s true. There is no shortage of trauma these days. This summer our eyes have been glued to the devastation of hurricanes. Harvey left Houston in a state of disrepair that left me slack jawed. Irma wiped out Barbuda (an island I didn’t know existed until three weeks ago) and Maria totaled Puerto Rico the same time an earthquake was demolishing Mexico. We hadn’t had time to catch our breath when Las Vegas made headlines for the largest mass shooting in history. Wasn’t it a year ago we were spinning from the mass murder at a gay bar in Orlando? I am not over that evil.

How do we as God’s people react?

    1. Step away from electronics! Turn off your TV  and computer. The images will soak into your brain in ways that hijack your amygdala and disturb your body chemistry. I am not talking about gathering information from a reliable news source, but hours of repetitive videos of the same disaster will only escalate you. Especially don’t watch it at night.
    2. Take a vacation from alcohol. I am not an abstainer and enjoy wine or a drink now and then. However, when stressors make me begin to think overfondly of my reward at the end of day,  I take a vacation from alcohol. Alcohol takes the edge off, keeps me from feeling the angst I need to face, and disrupts my sleep. I can drink socially when I want to, but when stress happens, I stay away from alcohol.
    3. Watch yourself carefully after disasters for cynicism (or anger). Especially after recent multiple traumas, we are prone to hide in end time theology or “the world has gone to hell in a handbasket” pessimism. We are trying to numb ourselves to the overwhelming devastation we have witnessed.  The honest response is to find someplace to sit down and cry or scream. Letting yourself lament is a step towards reflecting God’s heart in this trauma.
    4. Expect wild dreams. This is your brain trying to make sense of the trauma. It’s ok… your dream life will return to normal eventually.
    5. Practice being compassionately human. Have conversations in the real world with people who matter to you. Begin with your family. Ask those you love what they feel about the news, how it feels for them to live in this world, what sense they make of it and what kids are saying at school. Ask your neighbors, folks in line behind you at the grocery store, and anyone else who will talk to you in real life.  This is a time for us to return to community.  We begin by putting cellphones away when we are standing around or sitting in waiting rooms, and looking people in the eye for the opportunity to engage.  “I can’t believe we are living through this. What do you make of this situation?” (P.S. Habakkuk, Lamentations, multiple psalms and chapters in Jeremiah mirror these very sentences).
    6. Slow down. Most of us live as if we are running to a fire. At the end of our lives, think of what people would say about the core values that drove us daily. “Here we are to celebrate Penny’s life. We can all agree she was efficient and was able to accomplish more tasks in 24 hours than humanly possible.” I live most of my life as if efficiency and doing is my slave driver. Yet my core value is for people to feel the aroma of Jesus in my presence. To do this, I have to slow down and become a whole lot less productive.
    7. Be with people who will laugh and cry with you. I have a posse of gals who can make me spit out food laughing when I am with them.  They also don’t think it’s weird if my voice cracks when I begin to talk about tender things. They are my tribe.
    8. Do something to bring comfort. There are a myriad of needs. Houston, Las Vegas, Puerto Rico. Don’t just talk about the politics that led up to these things because although these facts are true, they don’t comfort anyone. Spend time in a shelter, volunteer to give blood, send someone on a mission trip with your money, or set aside time to go yourself. However, remember your neighbor next door might just be your Houston or Las Vegas. Open your eyes and look for needs. You may not be called to travel far. A meal, a listening ear, a note to someone grieving the anniversary of their loved one’s death, a warm plate of brownies for someone living alone. Do something today that says “I see you.”  

I doubt that horrific events in the news are going away. I expect more. We need to be  intentional about practicing radical faith that says “I am here, I have time for you, and I want to be with you while we go through this.”

Dr. Penny Freeman