On some level, I don't really believe change is possible.
I like to joke about a theoretical Nihilist Site Coordinator. My job, being a regular site coordinator, is to support and nurture young adults as they explore the world. I help them develop deeper life skills, critical thinking, systemic analysis, and commitment to work for a more just world. (This is why I'm constantly inviting my volunteers to "say more about that" as they process.) But sometimes when days have been long and conversations complicated, I deliriously imagine what the Nihilist Site Coordinator would say.
YAV: "My work supervisor is avoiding meetings with me, what should I do?"
NSC: "Take a nap, probably, work is meaningless."
YAV: "I can't figure out how to connect with one of my community members, how would you suggest I approach them?"
NSC: "I suggest you take your stipend and go out for tacos alone; relationships are fleeting and we'll all be dead eventually."
YAV: "We just fought about the dishes for the 50th time, what do we do?"
NSC: "Destroy all dishes and all hope."
It gets... a little dark.
There's some relief in these flights of fancy, though, too. If everything is meaningless, we don't have to struggle to hold people accountable to their commitments. If nothing matters, there's no point to fighting to build connections or community. If everything is meaningless and nothing matters, why try at all? Wouldn't it be easier just to stop, to give up, to acknowledge that things are wrecked and there's nothing we can do about it?
There are many parts of this world where the nihilist in me sounds right. Murderous white supremacy is woven into (is) the foundations of the society that made me, the heteropatriarchy in which I live and am complicit continues to kill without consequence, climate change is forcing migration and hunger and is as big as the whole world. Everything is terrible and exhausting.
This last piece is one where I feel particularly futile. I put solar panels on my house, and decreased my meat intake, and shut off the water when I brush my teeth, and still I know that entire industries - including energy, cement manufacturing, and agriculture - drive climate change on a global level. No amount of at-home changes I make will change those huge systems, and it's impossible to separate myself entirely from those systems. So what does it even matter?
This is where the Nihilist Site Coordinator in me meets the Gospel in me. All those years of trundling to church with my pastor father infected me with stories of Jesus, the compassionate homeless preacher who believed everyone was loved and should be treated that way. The friend who laughed and shared food and calmed the storm even when he was irritated at his nap being interrupted. The radical community organizer who taught non-violent resistance against empires of oppression and was killed for it. The dedicated, faith-filled community member who saw his own death coming, and kept working anyway. Who didn't take the easy way out. Who demands that we do the same.
Thinking about that Jesus pushes me up off my bed, onto my feet, and out once again into the work of resistance.
This June, those feet are going to carry me 260 miles, from Louisville KY to St Louis MO, in a community action to (among other things) ask the PCUSA to divest from fossil fuels. For me, this walk is an extreme "fake it till you make it:" I am choosing to participate in a community of resistance because I need it to carry me until I believe enough to carry myself. I want to do something with my body, since deep down, my spirit is a traitor. I hope to learn about the possibility of change from people who believe it, so that I can believe. More about the walk here.
NSC: "The planet is wrecked, why are you doing this ridiculous thing?"
Me: "Because Jesus changed the world, and since I signed up to follow him, I have to at least act as though I believe that I can too."
Author, Alison Wood
queer, white, cisgender, U.S. passport-holding, Presbyterian, church-employed, challenged by faith, imagining something better.
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