August 2014 was a rough month.
Israel and Hamas exchanged missiles. The ebola death toll in Africa cracked four digits. ISIS slaughtered Iraqi Christians and started beheading journalists. Russia invaded Ukraine and claimed the video footage of their advancing tank columns came from a video game. A St. Louis suburb exploded in race riots, with some elected leaders promising more if the system doesn’t go their way.
And Americans responded by dumping ice water on their heads.
It was difficult not to feel paralyzed by all of the insanity. Instead of dousing my head with ice water, I wanted to bury it in the sand like an ostrich. I was worried about all that was going on, and frustrated by my own smallness. What could I possibly do to affect even one of those headlines?
Should I tweet something—the twenty-first century equivalent of passing out flyers? Post a shocking photo on Facebook and express my sadness? Join a street march? Or perhaps send money?
But send money to whom? We don’t always know.
I understand that people of faith must respond to these crises, must work toward social justice. However, on some of these issues, I am not exactly sure which parties to support, or how. I believe our response should be based on the truth, but sometimes the truth isn’t easy to ascertain. So what can I do to bring good to those around me?
This brings my back to the ALS ice bucket challenge. At first, I dismissed it as pointless and superficial. I mean, what’s the point of over two million people braving a bucket of ice? And what are the odds that ALS will be forgotten again by Halloween?
But then, like a photographer adjusting a camera lens, God adjusted my focus. I saw that in a world of seemingly unsolvable problems, these chilled folks at least did something. What they did was small, but heartfelt. They didn’t do it to assuage their guilt, or to show their moral superiority. They simply turned on video cameras and poured ice water on their heads. That was it.
But together, their individual acts raised over a hundred million dollars (http://time.com/topic/als-ice-bucket-challenge-2/).
I felt as if God was saying to me, “I’m in control. I’ll worry about the big stuff. Just do what you can for those around you.”
This is how I as a Christian can advance God’s kingdom on earth: not by measuring other Christians to see if they are doing “enough” by my yardstick, but by doing something myself.
In the middle of all the craziness last month, I was impressed by something that happened in Ferguson, Missouri. As tensions flared white-hot, the police asked local pastors and church leaders to step in and help calm the situation. I have no idea what any of those pastors felt about the events leading up to the riots—perhaps some were just as angry as the protesters. However, each chose to imitate Jesus and bring peace. I deeply respect their simple acts of love that were underreported by a media hungry for explosive violence.
We will never be able to stop every crisis or heal every disease. And if we try, we will quickly feel overwhelmed and burned out – as I did in August. But we can each reflect Jesus to our own little corner, whether by bringing peace into chaos or by dumping ice water on our heads.
We can still accomplish great good—one ice bucket at a time.