The other day, our pastor sent around a link to an article called “The problem of indifference” by Marcus Mescher, writing for the National Catholic Reporter. Mescher explores Pope Francis’ call to counter a culture of indifference by cultivating a culture of encounter, inspired by old stories like the Good Samaritan and newer stories like the work of Father Greg Boyle. For me, this topic connects to a conversation I heard on the radio recently about student loan debt: a 20-something being interviewed said his finances are a mess and he copes by “just not thinking about it,” because when he does think about it, he gets panic attacks.
I wonder if part of the problem of indifference today is the glut of information we have: we know about problems all over the world that we are powerless to solve, and so we cope by “just not thinking about it.” We need to be talking about how to translate the “culture of encounter” from the Samaritan’s dirt road to the information super highway.
One of the reasons Father Boyle is so wise on these subjects is that he practices a commitment to his place. He’s not literally “standing with” everyone who’s in crisis in the world today, but he is literally standing with former gang members in his neighborhood in L.A. and helping them build lives after the trauma of violence. This speaks to why the foundation of our work with *culture is not optional, the publisher of Topology, is about a faithful commitment to our places and what that looks like in practice. I know there are ways of standing with others anywhere in the world through prayer and that is very important, too, but I wonder sometimes if that becomes part of our coping mechanism because it’s too hard to actually stand with those in our own community who are suffering, on top of the excessive information we’re trying to process about global suffering.
Image: “The Good Samaritan” by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1907)