It feels like the world is a mess right now. And every pundit has a different opinion on how we got there. And on the social media outlets, everyone has an opinion on whose fault it is that we are here.
Personally, I want to know how we get from here to there. How we make the world as it is into the world as it could be.
As I have said countless times in my weekly newsletter, I believe that evil and ugliness is self-evident and obvious, but that goodness and beauty require you to search for them and work for them.
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I have a pretty cool job.
And one cool thing about my job is I get to be involved in some really innovative things. Or at least, that is what people tell me. I get invited to speak to groups about our “radical vision of inclusivity” or our “innovative funding structure”.
Honestly, the first time that happened, I didn’t know what they were talking about. It doesn’t feel radical or innovative to us – it feels like life.
In the postscript of the memoir of Dorothy Day, the Catholic activist and founder of the Catholic Worker movement, she describes how the movement came about, or at least, how it felt.
“We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, ‘We need bread.’ We could not say, ‘Go, be thou filled.’ If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread. We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded. We were just sitting there talking and someone said, ‘Let’s all go live on a farm.’ It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about. It just happened.
We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.”
It all just happened. We were just sitting there, talking, when it happened.
It feels that way sometimes here, too.
Of course, the truth is, the Catholic Worker did not just happen by accident, and neither did Love Wins Ministries. But the sense that you were just doing life with your friends and one day, you look around you and there is a hospitality center, a food distribution program, a worshiping community and a steady stream of folks who are nourished by your work and who bring nourishment to your life themselves – that feeling I know.
But the reality is that it was the result of countless decisions. Ordinary decisions.
In her writings on the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “The banality of evil”. We want to believe, she argued, that massive evil is caused by external forces. Hitler was a psychopath, say, or that Eichman was mentally ill. But that isn’t true.
The reason massive evil happens is because of countless small compromises, countless small decisions that, on their own, are relatively benign and ordinary.
I have come to believe the opposite is true as well. And that opposite, the banality of goodness, is the sort of thing Dorothy Day is describing in her postscript. Somebody said “We need bread” and so, instead of saying back, “Well, that sucks,” they went and got them some bread. And then they did it again, and again.
So, the good news, the really good news, is that if Goodness is brought about not by Saints, but by small decisions, then we all get to be involved. We all get to play a part in turning the world as it is into the world as it should be.
The bad news is that if the world as it should be is the result of small, innocuous decisions, then we are out of excuses for not doing it.