Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Goodness as Beauty

I'm writing this, my 100th post, in the hopes that is it not my last "academic" entry for the next 3 years. However, as I have moved into a new and very different role here in Ukraine, I wonder if it might be. A month ago, I became the area director of our mission here and will thus spend my time working with people, leading and participating in meetings, strategizing and, of course, answering a steady flow of emails. I was going to be teaching ethics in March and would have spent the summer and fall reading lots of great stuff, like the article I'll be discussing below, to get ready for that. But with the job change, I'll spend much less time with my head in a book, and so I wanted to get this idea down before it is replaced by conflict resolution principles.

The April 2011 opinion piece in First Things entitled, "The Beauty of the Ethical," by Ross McCullough is, well, beautiful. McCullough talks about the essence of ethics, which boils down to the the way we interact with people every day. All of the theoretical, dilemma-ridden ethical discussions that arouse our passions but are rarely materialized in real life, should take a back seat to the way we act toward the person who sells us our groceries. The heart of ethics is found in what we really do rather than what we want to do or think that we should do. And so, as we live out our lives and act out of goodness toward others, we are being ethical, even if it it doesn't seem like we faced up to and overcame a major moral dilemma. To witness a life lived consistently in accord with well-grounded and truth-infused daily ethical standards is a thing of beauty, even if that life is never publicly acknowledged or rewarded in any way. The goodness of that life is itself beauty and we should strive to exemplify that everyday beauty as much as or more than we should worry about the right way to solve illegal immigration, the Arab-Israeli conflict or world hunger.

In case you don't want to read the whole piece, here are a few of McCullough's thoughts that bring ethics down from the top shelf and put them into the grasp of the everyday, illuminating the grandeur of a consistent, cultivated ethical character.

On the loss of a grand moral vision:
"Somewhere along the way the traditional scheme of virtues was greatly flattened. Morality was collapsed into justice and justice reduced to its political dimensions: Prudence came to be conceived as cleverness, temperance as a lifestyle choice, fortitude as an admirable but not a moral thing. General prohibitions and political action items became the substance of everyday moral thought: Do not rape; end global warming. We lost sight of the truth that chastity is no more about avoiding rape or even adultery than kindness is about avoiding murder: Certainly the two are incompatible, but cultivating the virtue goes far beyond avoiding its most flagrant violation."

On the bankruptcy of secular morality:
"And his [the secular moralist's] great fault is that he lacks a sense of the intimacy of ethics. ... They [the secular moralists] live their ethics in the selection of sandals, the choice of coffee stands, in the produce aisle: common enough situations in life, but hardly the stuff of it. They think always in grand terms, as if good politics made a good life, or love of man were the same as the love of men, or philanthropy charity. They judge their moral success always by the fate of the world and never by the fate of their marriage."

On the beauty of the moral life:
"There is a beauty to the moral gesture, the moral life, the moral soul; there is a quiet harmony to the parts of the act and to the priorities of the life and to the passions of the mind; and there is from all this a beauty that spreads slowly and subtly but unstoppably out across this sleeping world, like the first signs of the sun."

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Day I Almost Maimed 5 People

We've been home for 3 days. We'd been traveling for the previous 7 weeks. That's not an excuse for not blogging; it's just an explanation. The last leg of our trip had us in northern Germany. Man, that's beautiful country! The Bible school that hosted the SEND Eurasia Family Conference was perfect for just about everyone. From elderly couples on the brink of retirement to young families with kids of varying ages, we all had a blast.

On our excursion day the "grown-ups" visited an old city and had a historic tour. The "young'uns" went to a bird park. It was half bird zoo and half super-cool playground. Here's Lev chillin' out with daddy to prove that it was a grand time, and to show how amazingly cute he is.

Time for the maiming. Here's me shooting out the barrel of an amazingly fast slide.

At the end of this slide you have two options. Option 1: Stay in the seated position and end up with a bunch of sand up your shorts. Option 2: Plant your feet and let the momentum stand you up straight. (Notice that there is no significant drop; it really does shoot you out with enough force to put you on your feet.) Here's me going with option 2.

Now, if I would have gone down the slide before taking Lev down with me, I likely would have opted for option 1 when I did go down with him. But that's not how it went down. Rather, as I stood at the top of the slide, Lev in hand, to monitor Dietrich's first slide run, I let two other SEND missionaries talk me into taking Lev down with me on my first attempt. Here we are, like a cannonball out of a cannon.

Looks fine, right? It was, until the extra 25 Lev pounds kicked in. Instead of just planting my feet and being stood up straight, I planted my feet, was stood up straight and pulled forward so powerfully that I had to take huge bounding steps forward to keep from falling over on Lev. And what you can't see in the photos is that there is only about 10-12 feet after the edge of the slide before a foot-high wood barrier separates the sandbox from a downward-sloping hill. Just beyond the barrier are huge bushes covered with inch-long thorns.

So, the first two people potentially maimed are me and Lev. I could have fallen on him or carried him right into the thorns with me. The third and fourth potential victims were the aforementioned missionaries who talked me into going down with Lev without a test run. They were sitting directly opposite the mouth of the cannon and, if they hadn't stopped me, would have been bowled over backwards right into the thorns. Thanks, Dave and Gardner.

The most unfortunate and actual victim of this whole affair was 7-year-old Matthew, who was innocently digging in the sand in front of his dad, Gardner. He—his right leg, to be specific—was right in my path as I lunged forward. I stepped right on it. As soon as I felt that I was on his leg I tried to ease up but even half of my weight (plus Lev's) would have been enough to do serious damage. Thankfully, nothing broke and he was alright after a few minutes. Poor little guy.

So, there you have it. I could have been responsible for quite a lot of pain on that pleasant Sunday afternoon and several of us could have experienced the German health care system, which is surely fabulous. Was it dangerous? Yes. Was it fun? Yes. Should I have followed my instincts and done a test run instead of my live-up-to-the-challenge nature? Yes. And am I thankful that no one was seriously injured? Yes and amen!