I was on the phone a couple days ago with a wise old friend. We were talking about the kind of crazy year 2020 has been when he said to me, “Do you know what I have learned during this time, Todd? Your day is what you make it.” That is worth thinking about a bit.
With that thought, I offer you this quote from Michael Ramsey, the esteemed Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, from 1961 to 1974.
“When men do what is right in the particular circumstance, in the task at hand, in the details of what lies immediately before them, they may be building greater than they can ever know. It is not given to most men to see great visions, or to construct grand concepts. But it is given to every man and woman to make decisions about matters immediately at hand, putting what is right before what is capricious, putting divine law before human wilfulness.
When that happens, God in his good providence gathers up our little actions of the moment, and uses them in his design down the ages. Did not Christ say that he who is faithful in little shall have great riches? The riches may be incalculable results in later times.”
Jewish sage Jesus ben Sira wrote, around 200BC, “Conduct your affairs in humility…. what is committed to you, attend to…. work at your tasks in due season – and in his own time God will give you your reward” (3:17,22; 51:30). The first three phrases are wisdom in and of themselves. The last part about God’s reward is icing on the cake.
There are frequent moments when I find myself thinking about some social media rant of this or that friend, “You and I have the same goals. But I think we have different thoughts on what needs to be done to reach those goals. So what is needed is the wisdom and knowledge/experience to know which approaches will actually create a net gain in shalom for the people we are concerned about, and which approaches may seem promising [and popular] but will turn out to be at best less effective, and at worst, counterproductive and actually harmful to the people we are trying to help.”
The UN has run up against this reality time and again, trying to help and then realizing this or that approach has created unforeseen results counter to the goal, harmful in fact. There are many popular “fixes” being advocated today, popular as in, it is trendy and hip to advocate those approaches, and young people -and perhaps even your leaders- will consider you enlightened and with-it if you advocate those ideas, but which, in reality, do not solve the problem, will not create a net gain in shalom, will harm those we are concerned about, and are “empty clouds that produce no rain”.
None of that is to say that nothing should change, nor that we should just do what we’ve always done. No one who, in their mid-40s, spent the time and money on an expensive degree in International Development would ever suggest such a thing. What I do suggest is that jumping on the bandwagon of our favorite political party and advocating, without studying an issue carefully over time, whatever trendy fix is in the news at the moment, is not “the work of mature wisdom”. What I do suggest is that at this present moment, many people in our society, and in my own denomination, are advocating trendy fixes which a bit of mature wisdom, experience, and understanding of economics and community development should indicate are hollow approaches which will do more harm than good for the very people we love and want to bless.
3000 years ago a Jewish sage wrote “Zeal without knowledge is not good, and the one who acts hastily sins.”
There’s a lot of truth there.