Growing Good

A friend sent me this George Eliot quote the other day:

“For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

For the past two weeks, historic acts have ruled the news cycle and everyday discussion. The election has been followed by acts of violence and attempts at peace, relentless social commentary, and, for some, a newly formed sense of fear and foreboding. We are worried, we are unsure, and yet the world goes on. The world does not seem to be doing much “growing good,” as Eliot puts it. Many would argue, Christians especially, that our world is a fallen lost cause. Depending on your religious inclination, we need to plan to start over, whether on Mars or in the New Jerusalem.

This idea of the growing good of the world is at odds with what is regularly told to us. We’re getting worse, not better, our bodies moving towards death from the moment of birth. Morality is not what it used to be, and our country’s gotten so bad we elected someone who promised to “make it great” with no real plan to do so.

In the face of a government that wants to work only for the citizens it believes deserve it, the most marginalized and oppressed among us are even more vulnerable. As the rich get richer and those born into privilege are handed more opportunities, those who already started life at a disadvantage due to social class, limited financial mobility, and long-held prejudices are staring at an even greater upward climb — over a wall, some might say.

Laura Turner recently tweeted, “As a Christian, one of my core beliefs is that my well-being is bound up with yours.” As a white, educated, middle-class American — a person of privilege — my personal well-being is not jeopardized by recent events, and I might not personally feel the effects of our new administration. However, if I am concerned only with my own personal gain, I miss entirely the inclusive nature of the gospel, of a religion founded on the idea of saving the whole world. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and those who dwell within.

Miroslav Volf writes,

“When it comes to life in the world, to follow Christ means to care for others (as well as for oneself) and work toward their flourishing, so that life would go well for all and so that all would learn how to lead their lives well.”

Life in Christ is not an individual pursuit. We thrive in community, and even the monastics live life together. As one member of a family flourishes, perhaps by getting a new job, the entire family will feel those effects. We bring others up with us as we succeed. The work of restoring the world and putting it to rights is accomplished in the slog of daily life, in our minor successes and painful failures, and it is accomplished together.

This work also is just that — work — and as such requires intention. We wake up every day and decide to act out of the impulses of love. We seek to become aware of the injustices that befall our friends and neighbors, and out of that awareness we live out “small acts of faithful love,” as my friend Joe says.

Mother Teresa, when asked how to achieve world peace, answered “Go home and love your family.” Loved people effect change. Love, as Maya Angelou puts it, is liberating, and sets us free because when our hearts are planted in love’s holy soil, we can go out into the world with the knowledge that we have a home waiting for us. When those in our spheres are loved and affirmed, they can go do their work in safety.

For the growing good of the world, we participate in unhistoric acts. What does this look like?

Pastors that champion the marginalized, who maybe even put into places of visibility people who don’t look like them, who think differently, who the world and its systems of power would routinely turn away. The gospel scoffs at systems of power.

Communities that practice hospitality and welcome. Rachel Held Evans writes, “what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.” The kingdom of God is open to all in a time when the door to earthly success is slammed shut to many.

Teachers who fight for their kids, who sit through IEP meetings, work with people they can’t stand, and deal with lack of funding and yet show up morning after morning because every one of their students deserves an education. These students are part of a world that says their location and their financial status dictate their opportunities. The gospel says blessed are the poor.

Friends who are honest, who admit their shortcomings, who find ways to affirm each other regularly, who discuss the hard things and point each other in the right direction. Roommates that share burdens and the business of figuring out life. Coworkers that push each other to do better, not in competition but because they seek to influence their corner of the world through a job well done.

We combat systems that oppress with our everyday actions, through unhistoric acts that no one celebrates. Start today.

Also, for those interested in working with some of the most vulnerable among us: