Good Evolves

Early in our marriage, my wife and I played host to a large number of folks from various nations in Africa. For some reason I never fully understood, Africans flocked to us in the same way that lint gravitates to Velcro. One of our guests, a Kenyan, once shared a piece of advice that seemed useless at the time of its offering. “When you are charged by a rhinoceros,” he said, “stand still! Don’t try to run away. Wait until the rhino is about five feet away, then take one step to the side. The rhino is so big that it can’t turn quickly and it decelerates slowly. By the time the rhino slows down enough to turn around, it will be a hundred yards away and you will have had ample opportunity to escape.” Well, uh…thanks, I guess.

The current frantic response in the United States to the imperfect implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act is predictably characteristic of the impatience generated by age of the quick fix. The assumption by consumers is that all things presented to us should be immediately satisfying and efficacious. I suspect that we, no longer a nation of experimenters and tinkerers, have lost tolerance for the process of becoming. The Obama Administration, for all its faults, is redirecting a rhinoceros. I’m not surprised that it isn’t fast, it isn’t elegant, and it isn’t comfortable.

Our response, may, however be indicative of another disquieting reality – good, like everything else, evolves.

The outpouring of respect, admiration, and grief at Nelson Mandela’s death is surprising only in its stark contrast to attitudes that attended his life 50 years ago by the dominant culture in which he lived. While his commitment to ideals and values may have been admired by those outside his country (and, likely, many inside), it took half a century for South Africa to grow into Nelson Mandela. It certainly wasn’t an international first – it took the United States more than a hundred years to grow into distaste for slavery and we’re still working on growing into a universal attitude of tolerance and acceptance for those among us who don’t emulate the look or tastes of the dominant culture.

The Second Sunday of Advent focuses on the quirky life and message of a crazy man. John the Baptist, embraced by his followers as the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hope, was a first class whacko by any standards. He set himself apart from his dominant culture not only in value and ideals, but as well in dress and diet, if the gospel accounts are to be believed. His message was abrasive, confrontational, offensive – There’s something fundamentally wrong with you. You’ve got to change. Certainly not a song that’s destined to top the charts.

And yet, from my perspective, it’s a lesson that doesn’t stand as a time- or culture-specific taunt, but one that we need to grow into age by age. It’s certainly a challenge that we need to hear again in a nation shaped by its addiction to comfort and consumption. And while the hearing may be hard and the response may be slow, we still have the power to grow into the good that awaits embrace.