The Things We See and the Side We’re On
There comes a point where you choose. Either you will be on God’s side or not. To be on God’s side is to be on the side of life, love, and wholeness, to seek to make the world a better place.
For years there was a Child Protective Services person who was my go-to contact for counsel on abuse. She had been in the West Valley for decades and was widely known. Carol (not her real name) was the person who answered the phone in Buckeye when a toddler walked down the street soiled and bruised on a 108* day with only a dirty diaper and no shoes.
Over the years before her retirement, she gave me advice on kids and youth, parents and families from the point of view of someone whose primary experience was in the darkest places of our lives. And what I learned from her was that these lives are our lives. There was horrific abuse in hovels and mansions and in homes like mine. There was no place that the shadows didn’t reach, and therefore no excuse for not being involved.
In theology we have a technical term, theodicy, to cover the problem of evil and suffering. No-one really wants to go down into that dark place until they have to. We sublimate it through movies and prurient news stories.
The reality is that here in Paradise Valley at Christ Church of the Ascension, we do not see those dark realities very often. Our neighborhood location and put-together families and well-dressed members insulate us, but none of us is far removed from evil, and it is worth taking a moment to think about those places where the problems are more than bad traffic from the construction on Lincoln.
In one popular form of theology evil is merely the absence of good, as dark is the absence of light. I held this view for a while because it helped to understand how our small indiscretions are tied to the larger issues of history and class. My unkindness or use of an offensive word is a shadow to the larger issues of race for example. It was a matter of ignorance or lack rather of understanding or love.
But in the Bible and in the streets of ministry I began to see evil as more than absence. It is an active and real force with seeming personality and cruelty that works against the purposes of God in the world. It seeks, as Christ described the thief in John 12, to steal, kill, and destroy.
We are against evil. It seems like it would be unnecessary to write that, but in today’s world too many of us have gotten comfortable with vampires as heroes in movies and the everyday evils that build into historical atrocities.
I challenge us, you and me, to look at ourselves, our own logs in our eyes on this and not take the common tact of pointing to some easily seen speck in our neighbor’s eye. Don’t scapegoat out politics or “the other side.” Where do we participate or even just accept evil? Where do we turn away from the child in the street with no shoes?
One commentator called this “whataboutism.” Sure, what I did was questionable, but what about . . . ?”
We have to say no to evil, but it has to be more than negative. Be good. Do good things. I know that sounds small when thinking about bad people and historical atrocities, but there is tremendous power in beginning with our own shadows, thinking about how we talk and what we think.
Be honest. Be generous. Be kind. Be strong. Honesty, generosity, kindness, and strength are hard virtues not soft. They require integrity, prudence, will, and work. But we are building a kingdom out from this embassy we have been given at Christ Church, and the kingdom of God is good, and we are its ambassadors.
“And hell will not overcome it.” Our lives are not our own. We have given them up, as Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that live, but him who lives in me.” God lives in Christ, and Christ lives in you through the Holy Spirit at work in you.
When we abide in Christ, in the light as John’s Gospel put it, we are able to walk into the dark places as a beacon of hope. We do more than long for the light, we can bring it.