What’s wrong with the world? I am.

I thought that as I aged I would become more wise and understanding of how to deal with evil in the world.  There are times when I wish I was more tolerant of evil for my own sanity.  Case in point – an older gentleman at my church decided to tell a university student to stop talking on his cell phone in a very curt and rude manner today at the worship service at my church.  Me? Let it go?

No way.

I tracked him down, and sternly told him that was not acceptable behavior (all while quivering in anger and fear at confronting someone at least thirty years my senior as his “elder”) for becoming a welcoming community.

Wouldn’t it just be easier if I could accept evil? Why don’t I just let it go and make my life easier?

G. K. Chesterton, when asked to write an essay by The Times of London on the subject, “What’s wrong with the world?”

Chesterton gave this simple response.

Dear London Times,

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G. K. Chesterton

As much as I and other folks like Bono in today’s New York Times still expound on the problem of evil, and the church’s lack of response, the problem will never be addressed in full until we come to understand in our minds, hearts, hands, guts, and soul that the problem lies first and foremost within us.  Bono lauds Buffet and Gates – but they give out of their abundance, not sacrificially.  What if Buffet and Gates chose to give sacrificially in solidarity with those who they seek to serve – like the woman who gave her two copper coins?

The values that I and other staff have had for becoming agents of justice and righteousness in the world have infected many of our students.  One of the blessings that I have seen over the years is that many of my students have been involved in the global engagement summit at Northwestern University – a way they can engage the campus, partner with those who are far from God in engaging God’s purposes.

Sometimes I wonder if what we are seeing is an authentic revival of the activism we saw in my parent’s generation in the 1960’s that could truly change the world.

At others I cynically wonder if it’s just youthful optimistic high from an overdose on the self-esteem movement that will crash at the experience of real evil – the kind that etches it’s way into your mind and heart like a tattoo that can never be removed.  Students who I have taken among the poorest of the poor suffer often suffer from depression because the despair they encounter is contageous.

Sometimes I wonder if they will cope in the same way we saw those 60’s Hippie’s that today drive the SUV’s, built the big homes, ran businesses like Enron and Arthur Andersen, and now blame others for our planet’s problems.

Those are the days when I want to throw in the towel, and wonder if it is really worth it…am I just enabling a faith that is a “college thing” that will die once students hit the real world and the hot idealism is tempered.

This is why I need hope as much as any – for giving up means I’m just as much a part of the problem.

Today was especially impactful – when the liturgy of my church gives words when I have only groans.

O Risen Christ, you asked for my hands, that you might use them for your purpose.  I gave them for a moment, then withdrew them, for the work was hard.

You asked for my mouth to speak out against in justice. I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.

You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty.  I closed them, for I did not want to see.

You asked for my life, that you might work through me.  I gave a small part, that I might not get too involved.

Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you – only when it is convenient for me to do so, only in those places where it is safe to do so, and only with those who make it easy to do so.  Father, forgive me, renew me, send me out as a usable instrument, that I might take seriously the meaning of your cross.

Then later we sang from Christ is Alive:

“In every insult, rift, and war, where color, scorn, or wealth divide,

Christ suffers still, yet loves the more, and lives, where even hope has died.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age,

Till earth and sky and ocean ring with joy, with justice, love, and praise.”

The hope of Easter is that Christ is alive.  Hope is only needed when it seems absent, and that the hope of all was killed made hope disappear.  But the resurrection proves that death doesn’t win in the end and that my job is just to hold on, be faithful, and not give up.  The setbacks of today will be pushed forward with or without me,  just as he will make all things right in the end and judge justly. Or as Fydor Dostoyevsky says in The Brothers Karamazov,

“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

3 Responses to “What’s wrong with the world? I am.”

  1. 1 Julian D. Woodruff May 23, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Your anecdote begs the question: why was the university student speaking on the phone during church service? On the face of it, doing so shows a lack of reverence for the holy one, and a lack of charity toward neighbor. If one forgets to turn off the cell phone entering church, or feels compelled to leave it on, pending some critically important contact, usually one can without much ado excuse either turn the device off or excuse oneself to take the call in the vestibule. Hence, the “gentleman”‘s annoyance & indignation. That said, the harshness of his response calls for rebuke, even if most of us would be less inclined to serve that up than you were.

  2. 2 andybilhorn May 25, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    The student was speaking on the cell phone after the close of the service – when it is common for people to be making small talk and enjoying conversation with one another.

    The conversation on the cell phone did not show irreverence for God given the context of the situation.

  3. 3 Rex August 10, 2011 at 4:31 am

    This is a wonderful and eye opening meditation on good and evil. Thank you for sharing this.

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April 2009

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