Repairing The World
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
I have a friend who had a leak coming through the drywall in their house. It is a homeowners worst nightmare. When the wall was opened up, they discovered someone at some point in this home's history, had jury-rigged an empty bottle of Suave shampoo and a few rounds of scotch tape to serve as a patch to a broken water line.
Sometimes when you peel things back a layer and see what is underneath, you get a better understanding as to why it isn't working.
I admire people who can look at something that is broken and know how to repair it. From amazing doctors who can assess and heal, to mechanics who can hear a car starting and know where to pull things apart, to a talented therapist who can see the soul and know the path toward hope.
Can everything be repaired? Can everything be fixed?
We once had a washing machine repairman come to figure out what was broken. It was as if this Barney Fife-like character was sent directly from the town of Mayberry. After his inspection, he pulled his head out of the drum of the washing machine and gave his verdict. "Welp, yer doomed!"
There was no repair. This time, it was replace.
Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was chased by armed white residents, a father and his son, in a South Georgia neighborhood in February of 2020. He was shot twice in the chest. A video of this incident was recently made public, leading to the arrests of Gregory and Travis McMichael months after the shooting. More brokenness in need of repair. Is the racism ever going to end? I don't pretend to understand this depth of pain for the black community, but it is real. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist who just passed away today, said, "You'll never understand a person's soul until you understand their hurts." I want to know more.
There is a concept within Judaism called, "Tikkun Olam," (תיקון עולם) meaning to repair the world. Today this is practiced within the Jewish community through social action and the pursuit of social justice. Tikkun Olam addresses questions like what are our duties to others, to society, and to humanity?
In a book well worth our time, "To Heal a Fractured World," Rabbi Jonathan Sacks looks at the ethics of responsibility in trying to answer some of these questions. “We are here to make a difference, a day at a time, an act at a time, for as long as it takes to make the world a place of justice and compassion.” In our climate of political and religious division, we need now more than ever to have a greater call to understand “it is by our deeds that we express our faith and make it real in the lives of others and the world.”
Here are five quotes from his book I've been thinking about and they somehow start to loosen the paralysis I feel by the largeness of the task before us.
“Small acts of kindness can change and humanize our world.”
“The good we do lives on in others, and it is one of the most important things that one does.”
“Tomorrow’s world is born in what we teach our children today.”
“Freedom is won by making space for the people not like us.”
“The battle for freedom is never finally won but must be fought in every generation.”
Soak this in for a moment.
This brokenness that leaves our world in disrepair has been passed down from generation to generation. While our aim is to pass to the next generation a sense of blessing and a hope that their lives will be better than our own, inevitably we also tend to pass down things we would rather not. As we look at all of the turmoil in the world today, it can feel like our verdict is the same as my washing machine repairman: "We're doomed." It feels like the repair is too great. Many of us end up at this conclusion and it leads to despair. As a result we have lost our sacred discontent and dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Look at our world. The hunger. The climate. The racism. The politics. The pandemic. The terrorism. The religious division. The disease. The death. The poverty. The abuse. It seems impossible.
Imago Dei. We have ALL been created in the image of God.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27
In this world in need of repair, we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten who each other is. No one says it better than C.S. Lewis.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
I've quoted C.S. Lewis, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and Ravi Zacharias. The only one left to quote is Henri Nouwen. If we were to measure the success of our days and seek to do our part in repairing the world, perhaps these questions are a good place to start.