I’m disappointed with the world.
I really did not expect to be here as a 58-year-old man. Call it optimism, theological progressivism, maybe naivete, but I didn’t expect to be so disappointed with human beings at this stage of the game. I keep trying to fight it, but I cannot, so let me just name my honesty. I’m disappointed.
I was born in 1964, so I was alive but unaware of the waning turbulence of the Civil Rights movement and was too young to have shared any concern over the assassinations of King or the Kennedys. When the end of the Vietnam War was announced in 1975, I was in the fifth grade. I remember joining the celebration. There was a call for churches to ring their steeple bells on a given day, maybe at noon. We had an old farm bell mounted to a post that stood in an area of landscaping in our back yard. When the bells of my church rang next door, I gladly joined to celebrate peace.
In the coming years there were skirmishes in Grenada, the Persian Gulf and Panama, but according to a Department of Veterans Affairs listing, those bells ushered in a 15-year era of “peace,” our next named war being Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990. My childhood and adolescence were informed by this relative calm. Maybe we were becoming the “kinder, gentler nation” George H.W. Bush later would proclaim.
Or maybe not.
My wife and I were students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and active at Crescent Hill Baptist Church when the chaos began in the Persian Gulf. One Wednesday night, amid the Crescent Hill regulars, Bill Johnson announced, “We are at war.” An audible moan suffocated the room. Maybe that’s when the façade of progress began to fade. Maybe the real world was just coming into my view.
“Maybe the real world was just coming into my view.”
Corresponding with a grown-up end-of-innocence that any good theological education will bring, the intervening years of my life seem to have been a spiral of revelations. Our penchant for unending war, the presence of religious extremism (and I’m not thinking primarily of Islamic terrorists), the two-steps-forward-one-step-back that seems about the best we can do with racism, the embrace of immoral, autocratic leaders, conspiracy theories adopted as truth for large swaths of a mostly educated populace, the embrace of proven lies, a politics almost entirely based on ad hominem meanness, the trembling of democracy that results.
Today I’m faced with another disappointing reality: Humans still have not given up the cruelest treatment of one another, for the pettiest of reasons. Despite the advances of the day, authoritarians still rain hell from the heavens. Just when some thought human beings might have finally outgrown the childish atrocity of conventional warfare, Vladimir Putin’s cruel ego takes center stage. The shelling of civilian centers and humanitarian corridors, the pathological killing of thousands of innocents, the senseless waste of cities that turns millions into refugees (children and the elderly in the center of the horror), all the useless warfare puts the stupidity of the most-failed of all human responses to conflict in a terrifying spotlight.
War is never a lasting solution to anything, but when a nation spends $800 billion, as the U.S. does (more than China, India, Russia, UK, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Australia combined), well … we’re likely to keep believing it, too.
And on the home front, a foolish “culture war” that politicians have carefully nurtured for the sake of votes and power is erupting into an uncivil war that may yet be the undoing of democracy (heretofore one of the best contributions to world history). The latest protests, and the protests yet to come over the regression on Roe v. Wade reveal a host of fascinating observations about what being “pro-life” and pro “small government” mean to our supposedly nonpartisan justices.
So much for adult conversations on difficult issues, for any nuanced understanding of the most difficult of all issues. The fallout from playing politics with the most private of concerns will yield unintended consequences the well-meaning will likely come to regret. As some have already noted, you cannot end abortion, only safe, legal abortion. Yep, more disappointment to come.
“I guess I thought as I grew up, the world would, too.”
I did not expect to be here. I guess I thought as I grew up, the world would, too.
Yes, I’m disappointed with humanity, but maybe I chose the right profession after all. It is in some of the darkest, most troubling times that people are forced to reflect, rethink, regroup — as the Psalmist knew so well: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” And crises in culture often have been the source of new visions, new theologies, new practice for the church.
So, there is hope. Always hope. Maybe out of this critical moment the church will reconsider what is most important and return to the voice and vision of Jesus and the transcendent wisdom of the biblical tradition: Loving God and neighbor … Doing unto others … Turning the other cheek.”
Loving … forgiving … hoping against hope.
I’m disappointed, but maybe there’s still a career to be had in preaching. It’s called “Good News,” for just such a time as this.
Russ Dean serves as co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. He holds degrees from Furman University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Beeson Divinity School. He and his wife, Amy, have been co-pastors of Park Road since 2000. They are parents of two sons. Russ is active in social justice ministries and interfaith dialogue. He is author of the new book Finding a New Way.
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