The first thing I did when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 was run out to my car and peel off the bumper sticker that said "Job was the first Red Sox fan." The visible statement provided an immediate connection with other New Englanders (where I lived at the time), because we could commiserate on 86 years of futility, heartbreak, the curse of the Bambino and God knows how many lost opportunities. "Ain't it awful" was an instant conversation starter among the faithful, which invariably led to a competition over who had the longer list of disappointment.
"Ain't it awful" is fast becoming the metaphor of the moment, regardless of whichever side emerged after last week's election. "Ain't it awful" that people are protesting in the streets; "ain't it awful" that certain minorities are being racially or religiously targeted. "Ain't it awful" that the economy will go down the tubes; "ain't it awful" that people can't see that new leadership will bring back jobs.
We have competing narratives of "ain't it awful."
"Ain't it awful" feeds on itself. It takes a person or a group or a movement down a deep and dark hole that is very hard to climb out of. I remember a friend of mine once saying, "if I feel this good when I am miserable, think of how much better I will be when things get worse."
This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year. The biblical stories that will be read give very graphic pictures of the end of time as we know it, which most people in Jesus' day thought was just around the corner. Talk about awful. Earthquakes, plagues, famines, nation rising up against nation. Hatred and betrayal.
And yet – there is the promise. The ancient promise that is God is with us. The continuing promise that God has been with us, and God will be with us, and Jesus is with us and the Holy Spirit is with us – and this mysterious Trinity wants us, no, expects us, to join God in healing the world. To stand wherever and in whatever feels or is awful with hope and heart. God needs our witness, not our whining.
When the Red Sox won in 2004, my theology began to change. I began to give up "ain't it awful," because it wasn't anymore. My non-ending complaints about the 86-year famine fell on deaf ears, including my own.
We can complain about polarization and different visions for our country, and about the famine in civility and respect. We have evidence of it everywhere. But we also have the gift of freedom given us in the living Christ. That can transform how we live and act in the world.
And we need to use it.