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Escapism and Peace on Earth

Once upon a time, when my father worked for the Department of Defense, I asked him, “What do you want for Christmas?”

The gift of peace would be the best gift.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood via StockSnap

He paused for a moment on the stairs and answered, “World peace.”

“But,” I argued, “then you’d be out of a job.”

Then he paused a bit longer this time, looking down as he considered my words. He brightened up and looked up. “I’d be ok with that,” he declared.

I often think about that conversation, especially at this time of year. And I think a lot of us can resonate with it, honestly. Many of us work in jobs that, in a perfect world where our wishes were fulfilled, would be worthless and eliminated. After all, what oncologist wouldn’t prefer to live in a world where no one ever got cancer? What firefighter wouldn’t prefer a world in which no one’s life or property was ever threatened by fire?

But here we are, working through the darkness, fighting against suffering wherever we can because, at the end of the day, it’s really all we can do. But we still long for more.

Sometimes fantasy, as a genre, is dismissed as mere escapism, an unhealthy avoidance of reality. But escapism has a better effect: it gives us a space to imagine a better world, a place to try out what might be true, if only.

Lately I’ve been voraciously tearing through Erin Hunter’s Warriors series, and while there are many reasons I’m loving it (cats + epic fantasy–what else could I ask for?), it has occurred to me this week that, given these “interesting times” we find ourselves living it, what I’m really getting out of the series is pure escapism, a fantasy of a culture that has no concept of money or other currency, and which generally agrees (and encodes in its social systems) that everyone inside the culture has value and deserves to be fed and sheltered according to their needs.

Cats and epic fantasy? Say no more.
Photo by Irene Lasus via StockSnap

It’s not a perfect world, of course. No fantasy world is. There is conflict and there is suffereing. There simply wouldn’t be a story if there weren’t conflict and suffering, of course. But it is filling a longing that has been welling inside for a long time–a longing for a place where people’s lives and talents aren’t reduced to mere ledger figures and squandered in pursuit of money because money is somehow required to fill basic needs such as food, shelter, and belonging.

It is, in some way, my own “world peace” wish, a wish for the entirety of the systems that I live in and admittedly–speaking from a place of considerable privilege as I am–benefit from to be entirely overturned and rent asunder. I long for a general agreement that everyone is valuable, even as my own livelihood as a college instructor is firmly rooted in one of our most hegemonic sorting systems that upholds inequality.

And of course, in this Advent season, there is perhaps no better time to long for such an upheaval, such a radical overturning of our systems of inequality and lack. For it is in Advent that we can sing along with Mary in her “Magnificat”:

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53, NRSV)

Now we sing with Mary: Love casts the mighty from their thrones.
photo by Ben White via StockSnap

I’ve seen this translated in song as “Love casts the mighty from their thrones,” and it is that which is resonating in my heart this season. Even if I wind up being the rich turned away hungry, I would wish it to be so. May it truly be so, and soon.

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