Jesus came to Galilee … saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” - Mark 1:14-15 (NRSV)
For her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit researched human behavior in the face of disaster. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake. New York on 9/11. New Orleans after Katrina.
And what she found—around the world and over more than a century—was that, faced with a crisis, most people act in generous, compassionate, self-sacrificing ways. They share resources. They work together. They even risk their lives for strangers.
It surprised me. The stories I’m used to hearing after disasters are about looting, and violence, and every person for themselves.
Once in a while I’ll catch a human-interest piece about someone going out of their way for a neighbor. I enjoy it as a guilty pleasure, a piece of fluff, but I don’t let it distract me from the real news.
Disaster researchers have a name for the source of that “real news.” They call it “elite panic.” When the worst happens, the wealthy and powerful use the media to tell a story that allows them to maintain control and gain advantage.
But why am I so willing to believe them? Why am I so quick to dismiss the stories of my neighbors’ kindness and care?
It must go back at least to Jesus, who called people to repent of such fearmongering and believe the good news.
Our neighbors are generous and loving. The world as God envisions it is near. Fluff wins. Believe it.
You whose good news has been so twisted by the powerful, teach me to see my neighbors’ goodness and trust it.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.