Monday, May 31, 2010

More thoughts on evil

So - writing that last post certainly didn't help me to STOP thinking about the problem of evil! Here are some bits and pieces that may or may not come across as being coherent.

Evil is a perennial problem. It messes everything up. It lies and cheats and steals and mocks and gloats. It manipulates and tempts. It cannot be trusted - ever. It is pervasive and persistent. It is always near - always lurking in the shadows and dancing in the light. And every person and every generation decides how they are going to deal with evil.

The three monkeys who say, "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" embody one attitude toward our relationship with evil (See for some background). It may keep you out of trouble, but honestly it's not a very inspiring posture.

I confess that I find it tempting to just stay out of evil's way and sometimes I'm not proud of it. Sometimes I want to have more courage to take evil on. For sure I want to see myself as being on the side of good. I don't want to be naive. I don't want to put my head in the sand and just fill my eyes and ears and mouth with pleasant and uplifting sounds and sights. But I'm noticing a disturbing trend, especially as I watch popular culture and how it appeals to the generation of young people - the teens and twenty-somethings. Always a rebellious age, but it seems to me that as a generation, they have adopted a reckless attitude toward evil. It's like they think they can mock it - toy with it - call its bluff - flirt with it. But still be able to walk away. Still be able to resist entrapment. Still be in control.

The post-modern aversion to absolute truth may have opened this generation up to a dangerous lack of respect for the power of absolute evil.

The truth is, I think, that there is a very fine line between good and evil. But it IS a line and we can't straddle it. We are always on one side of it or the other. We might for a time be able to cross back and forth - but that's a very dangerous game and one that most of us won't win.

There's a term in social sciences these days to describe people who defy the negative circumstances that they're in and manage to survive and even thrive against all odds. The term is positive deviance (see for one explanation of this concept). It's a neat thing. It's a woman who, in spite of all kinds of economic, emotional and physical hardships and oppression, has not only survived but also manages to provide for her children. Where others are crushed by life's circumstances, she finds a way. And here's the thing. When it's POSITIVE deviance, she does it without giving into the temptation of evil. She does it without cheating or lying or stealing. She does it by abiding by the rules, not by ignoring them or spitting on them.

In this generation I see an interesting combination of things at work: there is a longing for justice and goodness but it's mixed with a loathing for all pretense and then there is the arrogance of youth that presumes immortality in the face of danger. Danger? Bring it on! They ignore our words of caution and warning as feeble and cowardly and impotent babblings of a pathetic generation which spends most of its time pretending that things are not what they appear. Where I might try to tip toe around evil, they march right up to it and think that they might even beat evil at its own game. They might run with evil - laughing at our cautions - but in the end, they think that they can turn it in. Of course many youth will even laugh at our insistence to differentiate between good and evil. They may think it's all an illusion and that all that matters is the thrill of the ride - seeking out and squeezing every opportunity for pleasure. For a season they may be content with this philosophy of life but there may be moments when disenchantment casts a shadow on the good times. Drugs or alcohol or a good shopping spree might banish the disenchantment for a time, but at odd times you'll find it nibbling at the edges of your carefree contentment.

Evil is real. Hiding from it isn't the solution, but neither is it wise to make it your friend.

The problem of evil

Over the years many much smarter and much more articulate people than I have tackled this topic. I don't pretend that I have anything new to add to those voices, but I've been thinking about this so much of late that I just need to get something down on paper. So here goes...

A while back I was invited to speak at a pretty large church out west. As I usually do when I'm given the opportunity, I talked about some of the immense challenges facing humanity, and the growing disparity between the global rich and the global poor, and the opportunity and obligation for the "church" to live faithfully and justly and simply and to be a prophetic witness in our world - to live out a "different" way - to be and to offer a creative and positive counter cultural movement.

As the congregants filed out after the service, one agitated man confronted me at the door with the question, "what do you consider to be the greatest injustice in the world?". Now I suppose that I should be well equipped for such a moment with a clear and confident response to this question. It's a reasonable question, after all. But still, it caught me off guard. My mind raced through possible responses and I don't remember exactly what I said but it was something about there being so MANY injustices and all of them serious, but so many of them rooted in power and economic disparity. Whatever I said exactly, I clearly failed his test. As it turns out I think that to pass his test would have required that I simplify the whole thing and identify abortion as the greatest injustice. But I don't want to talk about that here - that's a topic for another day...

The question (of the greatest injustice) has been lodged in my mind and I can't seem to find an answer that completely satisfies me. Since coming back from Rwanda recently, I seem to be more aware than ever of the many big and small ways that humanity abuses and oppresses the marginalized and the weak. But I'm also more aware of examples - large and small - of people who refuse to take advantage of their positions of power and influence to improve their own position. The stark contrast between beauty and hope and resilience and generosity on the one hand and meanness and selfishness and brutality on the other hand has me baffled. I look at individuals who, acting out of some deep woundedness and sense of vulnerability, lash out at those around them in all manner of destructive ways. I listen to the news and feel an immense sadness for people who are SO hurt and disoriented that they truly don't know how to live well. The sadness is profound.

And I'm frustrated when Christians are satisfied with trite responses to the pain and evil that is so pronounced in our world. Years ago when I helped with our AWANA youth program one of the verses that the kids had to memorize was Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? The older I get the more I see our capacity for wicked thought, wicked action, wicked intent... but I also see the possibilities to stare down our own wickedness and do something else - something good and right and just. We CAN train ourselves to resist the evil that comes naturally to us. Maybe the first thing is to acknowledge that wickedness and evil IS our default setting. If we do nothing to change it, we WILL act according to our base nature of selfishness and greed. But it doesn't have to be so. We CAN be different. And as we pursue a different path we become part of a movement that resists evil in all of its forms. As individuals we live in such a way that people not only feel safe around us, but may even seek out our company so that they can find some space to gather strength for their own struggles. This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.

I think this is our first step - our Jerusalem. It's being light in the small sphere of our personal influence - our homes, our places of work and worship. It's no small thing. And I truly think that this is ALL that God asks of us. It's the only thing that we have to offer - our own life as we lay it down. What God will do with it beyond our Jerusalem is for him to decide. But as I've said before, this is not an invitation to apathy - rather, it's an acknowledgment that God is in control of ALL things, seen and unseen. He may use us in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth, but if we haven't figured out how to live simply and justly and faithfully in our own skins and in Jerusalem, we won't be much use anywhere else.

Evil is real - no doubt. And we're not going to outsmart it or outmaneuver it or outrun it. But we can - and must - resist evil... and be part of communities that help one another in our resistance efforts - in our own hearts, in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

Friday, May 07, 2010

World Religions Leaders' Summit in Canada

No doubt you've heard that Canada is hosting the political leaders of the G8 and G20 countries this June (the 25-27) in Ontario - the G8 leaders will meet in the Muskoka Region (in Huntsville) on June 25 and 26, the summit that some are already dubbing "the blackfly summit"! For trivia buffs, this will be their 36th annual meeting. The G20 leaders meet in Toronto, June 26-27.

What you may not know is that from June 21-23, just prior to the political summit, religious leaders from around the world will be gathering at the University of Winnipeg in a parallel summit (see to talk about the challenges facing humanity and to finalize an interfaith statement to be delivered to the political leaders. A draft of this statement, as well as a number of faith-based responses to it, can be found at This is the 6th Annual Relgious Leaders' Summit.

A Canadian Interfaith Partnership group (led by the Canadian Council of Churches) has been working for the past 18 months or so, preparing to host this event. The countdown is on and plans are coming together nicely. While the event promises to be a good one - with religious leaders representing the major faith traditions in the world, great speakers, a wonderful venue, etc. etc. - what remains to be done is to mobilize Canadians of faith to be effectively engaged in the process, now and in the future.

Political leaders can meet, discuss, strategize... faith leaders can meet, discuss, strategize. But at the end of the day, if the citizens of the world are not informed and involved, all of the plans and strategies may evaporate into thin air as new challenges and new crises demand immediate attention. The Millennium Development Goals are a case in point. When they were established by the United Nations at the beginning of the 21st century, we all felt comforted that problems had been identified, specific targets had been set and there seemed to be the political will to tackle the problems in a coherent and coordinated manner. The G8 and G20 leaders were all on side. But then, at each successive meeting, some new disaster diverted their attention away from the MDGs - 9/11, the tsunami in Asia, Hurricane Katrina, the global economic recession, the ongoing "war against terror", and most recently the earthquake in Haiti (to name but a few) - all big issues, but perhaps all symptoms of more fundamental problems which remain unaddressed and unresolved.

Leaders come and go, whether they are political leaders or spiritual leaders. They have good intentions. But they ALL work within systems not of their own making. There are political (both big "P" and little "p") realities and economic pressures that can be quite unforgiving. The effectiveness of any leader lasts only as long as their tenure, and that can be cut short in any number of ways. Point is, if we leave it to the leaders - whether political or spiritual - we shouldn't be surprised to find that progress has been slow and the good intentions haven't produced the kinds of results that were promised.

I'm absolutely 100% convinced that people of faith - and that includes any and all kinds of faith - CAN and SHOULD be involved in the political processes as informed and engaged global citizens. Working as a member of the Interfaith Steering Committee for the Religious Leaders' Summit has been my first opportunity to work in an interfaith context. And it's been refreshing and encouraging to sit around the table with people from various faith traditions, to talk about issues of global justice.

The Interfaith Partnership began our work together with a devotion that drew our attention to the fact that every major faith tradition in the world has some version of what Christians call the "golden rule" - "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (see It turns out that we have LOTS in common and when we don't focus on our differences, we have something of significance to say to our political leaders - and they WILL listen when we speak with one voice!

There's been lots of discussion in the media around the agenda for this event, focusing especially on Stephen Harper's intention to make maternal and child health a development priority for the upcoming G8 Summit (that is, Millennium Development Goals four and five - reduce child mortality and improve maternal health). And of course, economic issues will likely steal the stage as well as any current environmental crisis. In fact, the priority issues for the summit are the economy, the environment, and development (see for more detail).

If you want to get up to speed on the Summits taking place in Canada - both political and religious - here are a few good links:

For lots of good information on the G8 summits, including specific information on the 2010 summit, see

The website for the Interfaith Partnership is

There is an online petition that you can check out - it's pretty brief and to the point - you can find it at Those of you who know me, know that I'm not a big fan of online petitions because we sometimes use them to satisfy ourselves that we've "done something" when we actually haven't taken the time to understand the issues or to have an informed opinion. So, I encourage you to sign the petition, but only AFTER you've read it and have done anough extra reading and thinking to be confident that you actually DO agree with it!

Well, that should give you a good start. Also, a reminder - don't get discouraged thinking that the problems are simply too BIG. You can't do everything, but you can do something, and the first step is to be informed...