I’d Love to Change the World

So, a Christian is someone who wants to change the world.  Since I’m trying to be clear, maybe I had better add the words “for the better.”  Many people have changed the world for the worse, but I  want to make the world a better place.  Maybe this is obvious, but I can think of three common objections; and I’d like to consider them before going on.

  1. There are a lot of people who want to change the world.
  2. I thought you Christians were only interested in another world.
  3. What does faith have to do with it?

There are a lot of people who want to change the world for the better.  There are a lot of people who care about war, poverty, disease, oppression, injustice, global warming, education.  There are a lot of people who have compassion and are doing something about it.

That’s great, the more the better.  I’m not trying to prove that Christians are better than other people or the only ones who care.  I’m just saying, if you are a Christian you should care.  I am saying among those who care, Christians are included.  In the civil rights movement, in health clinics around the world, in organizations like physicians without borders, engineers without borders, amnesty international, Christians work side by side with people of other faiths and people of no faith.

Christians want to go to heaven when they die, yes.  I recently wrote about my aunt’s passing, and I’m glad my family has the hope that she lives now in the presence of God.  When I think about Jesus’ teaching about the final great judgment one thing stands out.  We will have to give an account for how we have treated the poor in this world, here and now.  Belief that there is a better world coming motivates us to do what we can to improve conditions in this world.

What does faith have to do with it?  When we lived in Memphis I met a woman who had worked in the juvenile justice system for about thirty years.  Trying to make conversation I said,

It must be difficult work.

She agreed.  But then, wanting to say something positive I said,

But it must be gratifying when a young person comes back some day and says, “Thank you, you helped me turn my life around.”

She said,

That has never happened.

I’ve thought about that ever since.  Whatever it was that kept her going–I have to admire it.  For me, I need either to see results or at least to trust that it’s all in someone’s hands who is bigger than me.

Christians believe that changing the world is God’s work.  But he has called us to participate in his work.  A Christian is someone who wants to participate in what God is doing in the world.  Our motto is not pray instead of working but work and pray.

I Was a Rampman

Almost in another life, twenty-some years ago, to support my habit of going to graduate school I worked as a ramp service worker for Eastern Airlines. It was a good job. I worked with a bunch of young, hard working, conscientious people. The job involved hard physical labor, but most of the men and women, like me, had college degrees.

We directed airplanes to their parking spot on the runway, checked the oil, de-iced the planes in the winter, and otherwise serviced the aircraft during the few brief minutes they were on the ground. We also unloaded and loaded cargo, including passengers’ luggage, traveling animals, air freight, and the U.S. mail.

When our employers wanted to emphasize to us how important our job was, they called us by our official title, Ramp Service Workers. When they wanted to remind the public that we were overpaid, they called us baggage handlers.

We had a lot of camaraderie among the workforce. I remember the song, “I Was a Highwayman” by Johnny Cash, Chris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. We improvised our own version, “I Was a Rampman.”

We would work hard for an hour or so at a time while a dozen or more aircraft were at the gates. On the evening shift, though, there was usually at least an hour of free time between rounds of flights. We had to be ready to respond to any urgent needs, but otherwise were free to entertain ourselves as we pleased. There was a large public break room with a television, tables, and comfortable chairs, and a sink to wash one’s hands after servicing aircraft. I used some of this time to keep up with my studies. I taught myself Latin at KCI.

One day a pilot and the flight attendants came into the break room. The pilot asked me if there was a place he could wash his hands, and I pointed to the sink. He leaned toward me and said, “I mean, I need to use the restroom.”

Oops! I had missed a euphemism. Euphemisms are polite ways of speaking about things that are embarrassing, unpleasant, or private. Normally we use euphemisms to refer to death, sex, and private bodily functions. Euphemisms are handy for those awkward situations where we have a need to refer to such matters without unduly offending or disturbing anyone.

But euphemisms are also used by politicians to obscure the truth.

My kids liked the late comedian Mitch Hedberg, and they went to see him in one of his last performances before his untimely death. One of his jokes I liked was about catch-and-release fishing. He said, “They don’t want to eat the fish, they just want to make it late for something.”

I don’t know why, but this joke makes me think of the current euphemistic use of the words, detain and detainee. Somehow being a detainee sounds nicer than being a prisoner. Detainees are even entertained by waterboarding, a procedure evidently so innocent that our current attorney general can’t call it torture.

I understand that politicians have to use euphemisms when the truth would hurt them. But don’t you think that when journalists adopt their reality-evading jargon, they become complicit in deceiving the public?