Burning building / by Alice Su

I love this piece for its confrontation with so many realities: the irrational hope that faith can bring to people living in real danger; the twisted nihilism of believers who say their religion is about “love” but then exult in fantasies of war and destruction; the irresponsibility of apocalyptic escapism, the idea that the world is burning but thank God, we’re in the “saved” group that’s going to get out.

I grew up within evangelical Christianity, often hearing that humankind was trapped in a burning building with only one way out, and that it’s the job of Christians to pull everyone through our escape door, whether they think they’re on fire or not. Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, agnostic - whatever they are, if they’re not in our group, they’re damned, and they’re going to be left behind. I’ve only recently figured out why this idea disturbs me: it’s a worldview that’s already given up on this world, that lets the poor be poor, the blind be blind, the children lie slain on the beach, the chemical attacks continue, and the lucky few get away. It’s linked to the kind of vile, slickly cynical temptation that tugs at me in weeks like this, when we grieve the deaths of bright, brave colleagues in submarine horror or amid the unending killings in South Sudan - the voice that says, What’s the use of bearing witness? Everything is burning and you’ll only burn along with it. Give up. Turn away.

I love this piece for its quiet refusal to look or walk away from our world, for its assertion that even with eyes wide open and chests breaking apart, there is Life worth living. It reminds me of an idea a dear friend posed to me several weeks ago: maybe we are in a burning building, with a task not to run away but to stay, join hands, go deeper, go where it’s hot, put the fire out, try to grow a garden. Isn’t that what Christ did - come straight into the fire, spilling water into every untouched corner, kneeling down, washing feet, leaving those who thought they were Chosen and Good speechless?