Doing good things

How do our campaigns to “do good” and “change the world” fit in with our plans to live in nice houses?

This question passed over the dinner table last weekend (the night Thomas and I gorged ourselves on chicken piccata, amazing, off you go to the recipe). We were thinking, firstly, about the plethora of inspirational stories around here. It’s Silicon Valley, HQ to runaway geniuses who founded revolutionary corporations; startup entrepreneurs who promote amazing worldwide missions; philanthropists who fund everything (including my fave commute companion, NPR). These visionaries visit Stanford in 1.5-hour speech-sized time slots and leave grand messaging behind them. The optimism is enchanting. In the land of Change Something, Anything!, the winds of freedom, change, human potential blow pretty darn hard. At a glance, it appears we’re all doing good around here.

This is also the land of millionaires living in houses that, I’m serious, look like upgraded imports from fairy tales. I think one of the most expensive cities to live in the world is around here. And Stanford is totally rich, and offers gourmet dining hall food and luxurious chairs in cool buildings. This combination of facts is confusing sometimes. It seems ironic. It makes one wonder: Is it easiest to be generous when it comes with great news headlines? Is it okay to protest ruthless corporate leaders we don’t know when we ourselves hold out for glamorous nonprofits? Am I okay with getting dressed up for church, listening to a sermon on loving others, and then getting back in the car and gossiping (but innocently, of course) about a coworker?

Is it appropriate to call ourselves good citizens when, honestly, most of us just want to be comfortable?

The conversation can be discomforting. Unlike other casual, intellectual indulgences, the question requires more self-justification and secret consolation prizes to deal with our lingering suspicions of self. And as Thomas and I talked, I couldn’t help but think that only the Bible has yet explained any legitimate answers to me. I don’t know what else is more honest about the human heart, and I wish more people pored through it to reach the hope in it, too.

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2 thoughts on “Doing good things

  1. one of the more recent quotes I’ve run across (and really like) speaks to this idea: ”
    We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. ~ Wendell Berry’s “A Native Hill”

    1. Ashley, I know you know my armchair-critic side, verging on pessimism about proactive anything. BUT, the other side of me reads in that quote God’s hope that we take on an individual action – Berry’s “contrary assumption” – that would change the world if we all conspired to it. (And I know you more readily act on this, too, which inspires me.)

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