Eric Youngblood: Habits Of Hysteria

Monday, December 18, 2017 - by Eric Youngblood

“There’s a limit of one Messiah per universe and you are not it.”

That’s one of my favorite Steve Brown lines.

It’s meant to cure responsibility disorders and the pretensions of grandeur that sometimes afflict us and those who must endure us. 

But it’s not just me who isn’t a messiah. Or you.

Neither Gig-zillionaire Jeff Bezos nor the shirtless, horse-riding Roy Moore, sorry, Vladimir Putin is either.

So the success of the world’s healing enterprise, though you get a role, is not yours to accomplish. Or mine. Or, praise Christ, neither of our confidence-crushing political parties. Dallas Willard was fond of sagely reminding himself and others, that though our work and words indeed matter, “Outcomes belong to God.”

But that’s not all.

All of us, warts and all, are participants in an enchanted drama, no matter how dreary and unsavory some of the individual roles appear at our family’s address or in our open-layout-software company office.

It’s a drama with explosions and thuds, elations and tears. There’s wrangling and trickery, and just when it seems like all is lost, clap-producing, last-minute rescues.  But that drama is not Star Wars. Nor Justice League, or Thor. Although, surely, we flock to these, because they rouse suspicions in us, that perhaps, just possibly, there is more going on in the world than merely how things appear.

Our convincingly red-bearded worship leader Matt Brown exuberantly reminded a portion of our gathered congregation at a Christmas Hymn sing the other night in an enclosed pole-barn that we quickly forget the drama we’re in...and need times like Christmas and Easter to remind us, though it is true all the other weeks and seasons too!

So we shivered from December’s air and our elevated blood sugar from the bountiful confections. And we warmed ourselves with hot chocolate, a raging fire, and the happy kindling of singing together for a spell...to melodically rehearse the magical appearance of “This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air...” We lauded and jogged our sluggish memories pertaining a Savior who happily, “dispels with glorious splendor, the darkness everywhere.” And it was and is well worth rehearsing. Because it doesn’t take long for things to go sour in a hurry. John Ames reminds that “we human beings do real harm. History could make a stone weep.”

Habits of Hope not Hysteria

So on that nourishing night last week, whether wittingly or not, we were giving ourselves and our children to habits of hope, instead of hysteria. We were engaging mystical practices for the enhancement of memory instead of mind-numbingly letting a robot in our hand keep track of what’s important for us and true about us.

Singing together is one example of an accidental antidote to our other compulsive and hysteria producing habits of news-following, Amazon-browsing, and second-by-second scanning of Twitter and a host of its frenetic family now impolitely living in all our homes and pockets.

Belting out an enjoinder to “fall on your knees” and to situate yourself in the movie of Luke 2 in your mind so you may “hear the angel voices” is a pumice stone to the callouses on our hearts. It’s a faith defibrillator for the deadened parts of us which have become desensitized to ultimate reality by too much binging on Net Neutrality, Mueller Investigations and Netflix.

“The Great Cataract of Nonsense”

It’s a habit of hope. It offsets the accidental habit of hysteria that we fall into by simply prizing our impulses over our intentions...and it helps immunize us to what CS Lewis called the “great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age.”

Not many folks would alert us, except maybe your grandma, (and some no longer living curmudgeon from another century who spent the lion’s share of his academic endeavors in medieval literature and never got around to learning to use a type-writer) to the hysteria and anxiousness we are breeding in ourselves as we allegedly act like responsible citizens.

I don’t want you, or me to be uninformed. So watch the news, read the paper, or scan your Facebook feed. But don’t only do that. And watch what happens to you after you have done it.

Are you hysterical? Or hopeful? Did they report the murderous rage of the insecure and egomaniacal leader, Herod, but fail to report the existence of the temporarily rearranged night sky and an ensemble from the heavens belting out the original Hallelujah chorus, “with a voice as big as the sea?

Be wary of any activity that you habitually participate in that shrinks your sense of One who said and meant, “The Spirit of The Sovereign Lord is upon me...” Be suspicious of any past-time, especially those that seem to make you feel smarter, more responsible, more in the know, and yet nervous, angry, and hateful toward many.

More information has rarely made us better people. It’s wisdom we need. Not data. At least, generally speaking.

And giving ourselves to habits of hope, like Scripture-saturation, being together in service, creating beautiful art, music or words, or doing lovely work that benefits others... singing, worshipping, listening, and conversing...these will tend to make us imagine, again, that gray gloom of our personal and corporate dysfunction and distress may just eventually dissipate and that Spring may be on the verge, no matter how stuck we may feel in the bleakness of mid-winter.

Because even though we aren’t the Messiah, and there is certainly a singular limit of one per universe, it turns out, and we must rehearse it again and again, He has come, and is, and will come again,

“to proclaim good news to the poor....

 to bind up the brokenhearted

 to proclaim freedom for the captives

 and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

    and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

    instead of ashes,

the oil of joy

    instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

    instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61)

So if your daily habits tend to leave you shivering under a shawl of despair or angry and anxious from the shrill screams of darkness seeping all around, then give yourselves to those habits of hope, instead of hysteria, that will quiet your shivering anxious self as its wrapped in a warm, goose-down parka of praise to the Messiah, who, it turns out, in accordance with Longfellow’s assessment “is not dead, nor doth he sleep.”

------

Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at eric@rockcreekfellowship.org


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