I spent a lot of time cleaning the kitchen this past weekend. I scrubbed, mopped, wiped down, and put away for at least three hours on Saturday alone. I don’t like cleaning, I’m not particularly good at it (yes, neat freaks, in this context I grant you that this is the same as saying “I’m lazy about it”), and my eyes don’t tend to see the same messes my wife’s do. But this time, the more I cleaned, the more I recognized things needing to be cleaned, so I kept going.
The kitchen was dirty again Sunday night. I mean, we had our weekly family dinner, eight guests in addition to the four of us, so twelve times soup and corn bread plus a three-year-old in the mix and that critical mass of enough people that no one really thinks its their job…until it’s 11:40 PM and I still need to clean the kitchen. Again.
So I did.
The kitchen will never stay clean. I can’t fix that. But even I know you still have to keep cleaning the kitchen. Is that idealism? No one seems to think so–until you have this same conversation about other things that can’t be fixed but still need to be changed.
I won’t surrender my idealism. I will share it with you. But you can’t take away my hope that things can be better nor my commitment that we can improve. No.
Just because politicians have been lying and stealing doesn’t mean that politicians must lie and steal. I refuse to believe that. I refuse. Politics have become horrible–or maybe have been horrible and are getting worse–but I am believing in, praying for, and working toward better.
How about pollution? This week someone told me how ridiculous she thinks the idea of banning straws is. Such a tiny step, banning the smallest thing when our pollution problem is so severe. She concluded that she knows it’s all a big problem but she doesn’t have any solution.
I understand, and feel the same frustration and futility, but I will not stop there. I don’t know how to clean up this world that we’ve trashed, but we did trash it; we are responsible to clean it up and live in it more responsibly. I refuse to shrug my shoulders and utter an expletive (‘cuz you know I would never) and decide it’s hopeless. No.
If giving up plastic straws helps us to grasp that we have a problem and starts us down the road to cutting down on our use of plastic, especially single-use, then it’s a good step. It will take us in the right direction. Yes, it’s only 4 percent of our plastic that enters the ocean, 2,000 tons of the nine million tons. We are, collectively, dumping nine million tons of plastic into our oceans each year. That should make us scream in horror and change our habits. Cutting back by two thousand tons won’t fix this, but doing nothing won’t fix this, and making fun of the idea while doing nothing sure as expletive won’t fix this. This concept is obvious when we talk in terms of the kitchen. But pollution is like the massive dinner party that makes a huge mess but whose responsibility is it to clean up, anyway? Unless it’s killing you. Or your children.
Or our planet.
On Sunday, an older woman (that term is changing, now that I’ve hit fifty-one) approached me to tell me that her husband, who has been struggling severely with depression, is doing better. He seems to be coming out of it, has found energy to be active again, and can smile now. She wondered if I would be willing to talk with him sometime?
I told her “Of course, I’d be very happy to. I absolutely get it, since I struggle with depression, too.” I had assumed she was asking because I can relate. She did a double-take. Then she said, “You do? I would never have guessed that. You always seem so positive.”
I don’t always feel positive. A good percentage of the time, I’m discouraged by many people’s suffering, some people’s cruelty, and my own negative, self-critical thoughts. But I believe God is good and faithful. I believe Grace is somehow greater than all this evil swirling around us and battling inside us. I try to be as honest as I can–as honest as I believe is helpful–about my own struggles. It’s good to hear that people see me as positive. I want to be honest about my struggles and give people hope in the world. Yeah, this world is a crazy, ridiculous, tortured, miserable mess, but it’s also our God-saturated, achingly beautiful, hauntingly sacred home, and for each time I feel tempted to check out, I am also called back by something much deeper, and convicted to defend fiercely the ones I love. God’s work in me is to expand that category of whom I’m willing to love.
If I wax poetic here, you’ll have to excuse me. It is, after all, a post on idealism. I refuse to surrender mine. I’ll share it. I’ll give it away freely. I’ll call it out in others and wear myself out trying to fan the tiniest, weakest spark of it that I detect–in you–into flame.
Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but wisdom is a deep, running, crystal-clear stream. Wisdom may knock the breath from our lungs but it leaves us more alive and grateful to be alive. Cynicism is small and shriveled and self-protecting, a dirty puddle, or perhaps a brittle shell in which to hide and pretend to be untouchable. If love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, cynicism doubts all things, questions all things, disputes all things.
“All is not lost.
Reject hopelessness concerning humanity.
Hope is resistance.” –Bernice King
We are seeing the worst of humanity and yet I do not believe the worst about humanity. I do not believe God hates us, or finds us vile and unlovable but then Jesus changes God’s mind. I believe God loves us passionately, desperately, relentlessly, and God’s love makes us lovable, God’s image makes us beautiful–and we are born in God’s image.
I’m not hopeless about humanity. If a five-year-old girl can survive her father’s murder and grow to become a voice of love and reconciliation, I’m not hopeless. God redeems Yes, there are people given over to hatred. Yes, we resist them. We resist them with hope. We resist them with an immovable belief that this cloud of hatred will pass. When I say “immovable,” I don’t mean we never doubt; I mean we never quit, we never despair. God’s love will have the last word. It is tempting, every day I am tempted to return hatred for hatred. I am angry at so much of what is happening and it is but a small, sideways step from anger to hatred, at least for me.
But I am loved. God saved my life by loving me and love sets me free, not hate.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” “Perfect” here may translate better as “compassionate.” Either way, Jesus calls us to this idealistic, impossible life…then enters into this life with us and starts changing us into people who love instead of hating and fearing, who love others and ourselves as he does.
The kitchen will never be perfectly clean. Banning straws will never solve pollution. Loving our enemies will never make them our friends.
Of course not, of course not…and it just might.
Stopping cleaning the kitchen because we can’t get it perfectly clean and make it stay that way sounds ludicrous. Also, bad for marriage. Giving up on solving pollution because it’s too big and small measures don’t help–but who wants to agree to big measures?–is the same as saying, “I don’t care about the next generations.” I do.
Loving our enemies is every bit as idealistic and unrealistic…and is also the core of Jesus’ Gospel. Why don’t we call this “idealism?” Because we have faith God can work through love to make the impossible happen. If that’s not idealism, I don’t know what is. All my idealism is rooted in faith. It’s simply believing, by faith, that things can be better in spite of how bad they are now and have been before. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
This week, my friend Tim told me a story about his friend Jaideep. Jaideep directs a New Song school in India. There was a problem with one of the students, so he and his father went to pay the family a visit–and the student’s father and uncles pulled Jaideep and his father from their car and beat them. Of course, the children stopped going to school
Jaideep later returned to the family’s house. The father met him at the door.
“Where are the police?”
“I didn’t bring the police.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Your children need to be in our school. You need to let them come back.”
The children are back in New Song school. Jaideep loved his enemies.
I’m going to try–cleaning, fighting pollution, and loving my enemies–and I hope you are, too, because the alternative will lead us on a path away from hope and love. I won’t go there. Don’t you, either.
I hope I get to hang out with that older man coming out of his depression. I hope I can see beauty where others do not and then help them to see it, too. I hope by standing up against injustice, we change things for the better–including the injustice inside of us and the injustice of our making.
I’m going to hope for all this. I’m going to believe in the world Jesus calls us to see, through faith.