I woke up this morning to my daily dose of email notifications, and saw a very relevant one from Medium’s daily picks for my reading. “I Don’t Know How to be on Medium Right Now”, a short piece by Ms. Molly S. Hill, can very well describe my own feelings regarding social media for the past few weeks- even the past few months. I’ll never forget my first EDM concert- it was loud, bright, and exciting. However, that’s not why it was unforgettable. My first EDM concert will never leave my memory mostly because I wasn’t able to hear anything the next several days following. For about a week straight, morning, noon, and night, all I heard was a perpetual clang, a nonstop ringing in my ears. What was fun at first (loud, percussive beats; bass drops, electronic melodies) became the bane of my existence, the assailant against my sanity. Similarly, this year of 2016, especially during these past few months leading up to the US Presidential Election, has become an unforgettable ruckus of clamor, especially through the medium of social media. What began as fun (sharing memes against Trump, getting that ‘first’ comment on CNN’s Facebook posts, etc.), quickly became the source of my angst. I look back at what I posted. My newsfeed is still littered with political rants and debates. I cannot go on Facebook, log onto Twitter, or even spend a decent time on Instagram anymore. I am experiencing post-election fatigue.
You see, I’m tired. I’m a graduate student in the last few weeks of the fall semester. Regrettably, I feel like I put more effort and time following every little detail of the 2016 US Election than I did to any one course I was registered for. Yes, I did my work. I showed up to class. I wrote the papers. But I oftentimes did my daily obligations in a spirit of absent-mindedness, as almost a respite from the place where I put the majority of my energy- time spent arguing with Trump supporters on Facebook comments, or seeing how many ‘retweets’ my tweet under the hashtag #DebateNight got. Between Hillary’s emails, Trump’s xenophobic, ableist, and misogynistic comments, and Gary Johnson’s inability to pass fifth-grade geography. When I cheerfully brought in the new year with excited friends back on December 31st, 2015, little did I expect that by December 2016 I would be a worn-out, tired, angry mess. Despite very little of my own personal life changing due to the results of this presidential election, I feel within myself a decaying, a general “icky-ness” to my soul. And this gross feeling is a direct result of my conduct this past year, especially online. What have I said, in anger and frustration, to random strangers on the Internet? How many souls have I judged for their political views? How has my social media obsession this past year actually helped my local community. Do I really think that the homeless man asking for spare change on the Boston Common really cares about my political beliefs? How many people have I ignored, turned away, and discarded because I was too busy writing a damn thesis on every Facebook status? Sure, I can say that I suffer from post-election fatigue, but the real world also suffers due to all of the misplaced energy I spent campaigning for different people who I have never met, all while disregarding the needs of those persons whom I encountered on a daily basis. And what’s even worse for me is the neglectfulness I harbored towards my spiritual life, my prayer life. How can I welcome Jesus in the manger in a few weeks when I spent the past few months ignoring Him in the chapel, on the streets, or even in tweets?
This is where Advent comes in. For those who may not know, Advent (from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming towards”) is the liturgical season where Christians prepare for the coming of Christ- both in the manger at Christmas, and at the end of time at the Second Coming. The season of Advent is popularly characterized by “Advent wreaths”, a wreath containing four candles- three purple, one pink, with one lit each week preceding Christmas. And while Advent is not always seen as a season of penitence (like Lent), there is a sense of repentance involved. Take for example, the Scriptures chosen for this season. On this upcoming Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent, the Gospel chosen discusses the coming of Christ as foretold by St. John the Baptist. Here is an excerpt:
“John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.” (Matthew 3: 1–3)
John the Baptist foretold of Christ’s coming. Christ was the promised Messiah who was to save the world from sin and to usher in the Kingdom of God. As the writer of the Gospel according to Matthew points out, John the Baptist was also an object of prophecy: he was the “voice of one crying out in the desert” as prophesied by Isaiah. Of course, he was proclaiming the coming of the Messiah to a people who long-expected one- the Israelites. Their understanding of “Messiah”, however, differed greatly from the one that was sent. For the ancient Jews, the messiah was to be the warrior-king, the anointed ruler of Israel who would take back much of the land that was stolen from them in years past, and lead their nation to a glorious rule. And, of course, Christ was none of that. It is safe to say that many people rejected Jesus because their understanding of “messiah” was still too small, too narrow, too limited. I once saw one of those relationship memes circulating on Facebook; it was a cartoon of a woman slumped over the bed, crying, while her (presumed) lover was walking out of the room, with a silhouette behind him that revealed devil horns. The meme was captioned “Expectations lead to disappointments.” While it is a poignant picture, I would argue differently- expecting something from the wrong thing leads to disappointment.
I think a large reason why I came “off” the election season so drained was because for months, I was putting my trust and faith into a political system which has, through the years, revealed its many flaws. I put faith in my politics and my social views, and while these are not erroneous in and of themselves, they do not contain the fullness of truth and infallibility as the words of Christ do. I expected something (ultimate meaning) in the wrong thing (the 2016 US Presidential Election), and what I got in return was an emotional face-plant (my current ennui).
In other words, I was looking for the Messiah in all the wrong places. I placed effort and energy into political discourse, arguing ad nauseam over political issues, typing furiously on my smartphone, constantly checking for notifications and updates from those who disagree with me. And once that energy was devoted to that project, I simply had no energy to head to the chapel and pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, where the true answer to my well-intentioned desires were. For months, I acted as if salvation came from the election of my preferred candidate, and not through the outstretched arms of my Savior, hung upon a tree. As Sacred Scripture reveals, the Messiah was not to be found in political power, but instead in the manger- cold, defenseless. The same applies to today. Jesus is found, not in a megalomaniac ruler seeking the Oval Office, but rather in those vulnerable persons seeking to defend their sacred land from yet another white, imperialist exploitation. The “worldly” understanding of the Messiah as the “anointed one”, the one who would be a powerful military ruler, conquering his enemies and “making Israel great again”, was exactly the understanding that Jesus rejected. The Christ-child in the manger identifies more with those Syrian refugees seeking safe haven from a sectarian civil war than the Vice President-elect who vowed to bar those same refugees from asylum in Indiana. I missed the grace-filled forest for the Facebook-rant-tree. Whereas I could have used my desire for social justice and solidarity for good these past few months, I instead decided to place my loyalty to partisan politics, and abandoned Christ the King. And when you abandon Christ the King, you abandon the poor, the lonely, and the suffering. Ultimately, Christ was in the faces of all of those whom I disagreed with, who I cursed and scoffed at, and all of my political adversaries. And so, I have no one to blame for my post-election fatigue than myself. But on the bright side (if there even is one), it outlines a good project for me this Advent.
This Advent, I do not simply want to just be “better”. I want to expect “better”. If Advent is a season of anticipation, then I want to anticipate and place my hopes in the ‘right’ thing. I want to prepare a highway in the desert of my sins so that the Lord can push through and bring me closer to Himself. I want to expect better conduct from our elected officials, church leaders, and of course- myself. I will be returning to daily mass, daily prayer. I’ll spend less time on social media, endlessly scrolling, looking for sustenance, and instead will be getting more involved with Pax Christi, the international peace & justice group in the Catholic Church. I will cultivate the gift of music that Lord has given to me by singing in choirs for Lessons and Carols, cantoring masses on weekends, and continuing to study voice. My schoolwork will be seen as a way for me to get to know God and humanity better, instead of being a tool used to promote my own agenda. In all of these things, I will be preparing for something better- the coming of Christ. If the election season was preparation for that fateful day in November, then the Advent season is a preparation too- not only for December 25th, the date of Christmas, but also for that day which we do not know (Mt 25:13)- when Christ will come back to judge the living and the dead. And hopefully, whenever that day comes, I am prepared.