Dread.

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- Troy Hatfield

Since getting married, a lot of things have changed in my life – chiefly among them might be my TV-watching habits.  My sweet wife has me watching “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Glee” with a modicum of interest, but I’ve been won over fully by “What Not to Wear.”  In a recent episode, a crazy-clothed woman tearfully explained her choice of rainbow socks, bright red corduroy pants and logic-defying shirt with the sentence “I was tired of being overlooked – of being invisible.”  It seems a variation of this theme runs through most of the episodes I’ve seen – the ill-fitting, attention-grabbing or shockingly-missing clothing points to this intense desire to no longer be ignored.

In 1847, Søren Kierkegaard, whose death date I remembered recently on September 8, wrote in his journal, “Deep within every man there lies the dread of being alone in the world, forgotten by God, overlooked among the tremendous household of millions upon millions.”  

For some it’s clothes – for others it’s being funny or right or sarcastic – for others it’s dating someone new all the time or compulsively buying the next new Apple product.  The variations are as numerous as there are people.  Ultimately, I believe, each of these is an attempt to address this dread.

This reality challenges me in four main ways.

1.  Remember this dread is in each of us, even if one cannot/refuses to admit it.  So when that difficult person overreacts again, or lashes out for seemingly no reason, complains or corrects the slightest details in conversation, remember their nagging dread and fear of being overlooked and alone.  

2.  Choose to look beyond (through?) that outward expression.  When I feel that familiar frustration arise, I want to breathe deeply and ask, “What is behind that reaction or behavior?  Could this possibly be a not-so-subtle crying out for acknowledgement?”

3.  Be the kind of person who communicates and expresses presence.  I want to regularly be one who sees and joins and recognizes people.  I hope to embody, in my own broken and incomplete way, the un-forgetfulness of God.

4.  Remember this dread is in each of us – and that means me.  What are the ways I express this dread that lies deep inside of me?  Who reflects reality back to me, serving as a mirror that allows me to see and name my own dread?

This kind of approach demands a redemptive imagination.  “We need to recognize our failures of imagination,” according to David Dark.

“To imagine one another well requires a serious (call it religious) commitment to rightly hear the voices that come to us in conversation, in texts, in song, and even on television.  Voices of anxiety, tragedy, and hope.  Voices with wounds in them. Voices that might prove to be a means of grace. Voices that might save our lives.  Voices we miss at our breakneck speed.”  (The Sacredness of Questioning Everything)

As much as I like the show, I really love the idea of a world where less people are qualified to be the subjects of “What Not to Wear” – people less desperate for attention and acknowledgement;  a world where more than well-dressed hosts are helping people to grasp their value and worth; a world where one can be acknowledged and recognized without having to be nominated for a reality show.  

May we all take part in helping that world become a reality.

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Troy is Lead Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, where he’s been on staff since 2004. A musician, Anglophile, voracious reader and owner of more black clothing than anyone he knows, Troy has also recently married Lis, a violinist and lover of every member of the animal kingdom. Follow Troy on twitter @tr0yisbald.