a crisis of mattering

We are in a crisis in our country. Actually, we are in several overlapping crises in our country. In just the last 24 hours our country has experienced horrible fires in California, a powerful hurricane in the Gulf coast, widespread civil unrest and rioting, a polarizing Republican National Convention, oh, and don’t forget that we are literally living through a global pandemic where thousands have died and millions more are suffering in other ways.

So many of us are not okay. How many of the following words would you circle to describe your state of mind right now?

tired    confused    angry    scared    sad    frustrated   

hopeless    resentful    cynical    depressed

We’ve all made jokes about 2020; a little gallows humor to momentarily lighten the mood, but there is truth in the joke. I’ve gotten the same text from multiple friends in recent weeks: “Everything is stupid.” Heck, I’ve sent the same text. 

All of these crises are exposing one fundamental crisis of modern life. The crisis has been unfolding for years, but now we have been forced to face it, unblinking and without distraction. It’s a crisis of mattering.   

We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about mattering lately. The ugliness and tragedy of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota sparked a difficult and needed national conversation about how much black lives matter. Affirming that black lives do, or must, matter should be a simple thing in a civil society, but it has only highlighted our current crisis of mattering. 

Do blue lives matter?

Do all lives matter?

To even ask either of the two questions above is regarded as controversial. Both the person who says “all lives matter” and the person who is offended by it know that something controversial has been said. At the very least what this should tell us is that we are living through a crisis of mattering. We can’t talk about what matters without controversy and conflict. 

But the crisis of mattering is about so much more than race. We find ourselves asking about what matters in almost every area of what used to be our lives. 

Do sports matter? Does it matter that we have a baseball season? Does it matter that the NBA finishes its playoffs? Does college football matter? 

Do buildings matter? In the midst of mass protests, does the destruction of property matter?

Do schools matter? Does it matter if kids are in school or not?

Do churches matter? Does it really matter if churches are allowed or not allowed to meet in person? 

Do businesses matter? Does it matter if a business stays open or closes permanently? 

Which workers matter? What is the difference between an “essential” and a “non-essential” worker?

Do crumbling institutions matter?

Do politicians and politics matter? Do they often matter way too much?

Do hugs matter? 

Does that trip to the beach or the theater matter?

Does coffee with a friend matter?

Does seeing a loved one in a nursing home matter?

A lot of us have found ourselves asking personal questions about mattering in this season. What matters most to me? What matters most to my family? What matters most to the well-being of my friends and community?

A lot of us have found ourselves trying to find an impossible balance between competing “matters.” It isn’t just about what matters. It’s about what matters more than something else. How do you rank of the matterings of physical health, mental health, social justice, personal liberty, economy, and education? 

We are living through the greatest crisis of our lifetimes, but we haven’t named it. It is a crisis of mattering. The efficiency and comfort of modern life have protected us from having to ask these questions for so long. We are ill-equipped to answer them.

We are living through the story of Ecclesiastes which is a book that is all about the crisis of mattering. Facing the realities of old age, the author realizes that none of it really mattered. It was a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes is not a book of sunshine, but it strikes me as exactly the kind of book that we need to read when it is sunny. The question of mattering cannot be put off until old age or until the dark days of 2020. We must dare to ask the question in our health, in our happiness, and in our peace.

The main lesson to be learned from Ecclesiastes is a relatively simple one. We will always be in a crisis of mattering until we discover what ultimately matters. Why are we so confused about what should matter? Why must we constantly fight with each other about what matters? Well, when we have collectively abandoned any notion that there is an Ultimate Matter of life, we are left with no choice but to yell and scream in order to have our voices heard. When we have rejected the notion of an Ultimate Matter, we lose any frame of reference other than our own personal preference for making a claim about what matters. When there is no common thread that binds all our matterings together, we are left with lives and societies that easily fall apart under stress. 

What is the Ultimate Mattering? Hear the words of the teacher:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth 

before the days of trouble come and the years approach 

when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”

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