Friday, August 22, 2008

Under Heaven

There is evil in the world – cruel, brazen, mocking evil in the world. You can stop your ears. You can avert your eyes. You can fortify your life like a medieval castle, complete with moats and turrets, against the day that evil finds you where you live. You can box it up in neat philosophies and tie it with a bow of flawless exegesis. You can sleepily forget that it exists, even for years at a time . . .

But for all that, evil will not suddenly become less real, less aggressive – not to the child sold into a brothel before she can spell her name, not to the homeless man beaten for the amusement of teenagers in an American city, not to the Sudanese woman who bears the child of a systematic rape campaign.

If I have shocked your sensibilities, you who come here for your dose of lyrical prose, I am not sorry. It is midnight, I have turned the lights on, and around the world there are some two million children whose dignity goes for the price of a steak dinner. Tonight I have five of them stuck in my head (the five are somehow less bearable than the two million), so let me for at least five minutes refuse to look away from them.

Evil demands response. It will either run us over or rouse us to combat.

What shall be done?

It is one of the great advantages of Christianity that it takes the reality of evil as its starting place. Pure wickedness, and nothing else, necessitated the work of the cross. Christianity is thus well-reconciled to the accumulated life experience of most people under heaven. This faith becomes more difficult to understand, though, because it does not stop with recognition. It charges ahead with its lovely, terrifying images of the kingdom of God: days of judgment, the drying of all tears, heaven and earth remade without the blot of an accursed rebellion.

Indeed, it goes too far. It strains credulity. Two millennia later, where is the promise? Do the prophets of that kingdom live where the poor live? Do they walk in the Managua trash dumps, the Freetown slums, the Burmese refugee camps? Do they read the same newspaper? Surely they are fools are dreamers all to proclaim that the unjust execution of an itinerant Jewish teacher and miracle worker – a minor act in the history of the world’s gross excesses – will make everything good as Eden again. Evil doesn’t just linger with us; it laughs, it romps. By all appearances, it reigns.

What shall be done?

I have wept at evil. I have wept because it mocks the goodness and glory of my Maker. It treads His name in the gutter.
I have raged blindly at evil. I have raged because it praises the perverse and lays snares for the sacred.
I have sat frozen in the paralysis of despair. I have sat frozen because the weak cried out and the righteous faltered.

What shall be done?

The ancient Scriptures are not silent concerning the reality of evil. Nor are they silent about the end of evil, and how that evil shall be ended. The answer has two parts: “Take heart! I have overcome the world,” says Jesus, the Word whose words are life to us. In His coming, His atonement, His resurrection, He has overcome the resident evil. He has knocked over the first domino. He has sung the first verse of a new and brilliant music. But there is a second part.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is our mandate, our portion. We are to take up arms against evil, and our arms shall be the same as Christ’s, who wielded both authority and humility, truth and compassion, power and the obedient sacrifice of His will entire will and being.

What shall be done?

I dare you (as I, trembling, dare myself) to let yourself be re-arranged by two realities – the reality of evil and the reality of our responsibility to address it. If you call yourself Christ’s, this is not an additional feature - it is the very substance of the life of redeemed creatures. The answers we find are unlikely to seem rational, reasonable, or sufficiently moderated. But they will have the smell about them of things that are right. And sometimes in this world of unvarying gray, we still have to choose.

Am I ranting more than usual? Undoubtedly.
Am I over-simplifying? Almost certainly.
Am I wrong? I must own the possibility.

But this, God willing and God aiding, is what I shall do.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You know you want to . . .

. . . come to an IJM Benefit Dinner this fall. All events will have Gary Haugen, IJM President and Founder, as the speaker and Lamont Hiebert of Ten Shekel Shirt as the performing IJM Artist Partner.

October 14 - San Francisco - Fairmont

October 30 - Houston - Westin Oaks

December 11 - DC - Omni Shoreham


Monday, August 18, 2008

Three Feet of Green Space

Yesterday, I prayer-walked the campus of Georgetown University. The freshmen are arriving, posing for pictures in Dahlgren Square, and the football team (such as it is) is practicing without pads on the carefully painted yardage below the Southwest Quadrangle. Which means, of course, that another summer has fled. There are other, subtler signs of its lingering departure: The fireflies have all gone, the thunderstorms are fewer, and the light has a leaner, yellow quality.

The election season is ramping up, too. The McCain staffers have multiplied like hamsters, and by all appearances, they never go home. Taking a break on the esplanade today, I found one of them stretched hobo-style on a bench, barefoot, his tie undone and his bicep pressed against his eyes, blocking out the world.

I am in his camp today. I am hiding from my spreadsheets and my Outlook calendar amid three feet of green space, amid breezes that rustle a thousand five-pointed leaves, and bugs that tick and chew and buzz. It is the deep breath before the long, sustained effort at perfection that comes with the banquets.

It is the beginning of my third year at IJM. My work is steady and repetitive, but it no longer overwhelms me on the regular basis that it once did. I can barely account for the passage of time, and before I know it this tree will be bare-limbed, groaning with fresh-fallen snow. I strive to remember important and calming truths: What needs to happen will happen. And what doesn’t will fall by the wayside. And the fireflies will know when to come back.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Lunch Break Poem

On my own
Naught can I do
Of the good
You will me to.
Can You tame
A heart untrue,
Bend it from
Unholy views,
Stir it from
So long disuse,
Make it yield
To Thee Thy due,
Health and life
In it imbrue?
Many words
Meet with Thy few:
“Abide in me,
And I in you.”