World Vision, Smoke, and Flame…

I have been processing the recent fecal storm created in the wake of an announcement and subsequent recanting of that announcement by the large relief agency, World Vision. I have also been watching a television show that features a political election as one of the storylines. The combination of my processing World Vision’s drama and my watching this show has illuminated a cultural trend in our country.

As many of us know, politics often seems to be 20% important policy and 80% PR campaigns. Many of us get sick of watching debates where nothing is really accomplished, except that one person’s smoothe words apparently convinced some of the viewers to change their vote when their candidate just couldn’t perform. The mentality that drives these ads, debates, public announcements, etc. is that we (the American People) aren’t really that interested in the depth of what is actually happening. No, we are apparently significantly more interested in who can catch our attention the best and give us warm and fuzzy feelings through clever advertising and moving speeches.

My wife will tell you that I rely too much on analogies. She’s probably right. But here’s one anyway. Debates, ads, press releases; these are the smoke. The work that a person feels drawn into through a deep conviction to leave this world a better place; this is the fire.   

You can all predict the next line, I’m sure. This World Vision announcement and the whirlwind of controversy that has come in its wake is all contributing to the smoke. The slightly less predictable line might be the next one. It’s our fault. We, as a culture, are so obsessed with the smoke that most of us are at least disinterested in the fire–and some of us might be so immersed in the smoke that we forget there even is a fire!

Richard Rohr has been quoted as saying, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” I am not saying that the issues so deeply tangled within this PR nightmare are not important. I would say it’s fair to consider them civil rights issues worthy of conversation. Rather, what I’m saying is that this entire thing, from the first announcement through to the recant, is void of any fire. It’s all smoke. One look into the flame would show that World Vision is a hopeful voice for so many children across the world and yet people on both sides of this smokey debate are willing to base their decision to either support or not support on press releases and clever (ear tickling) policy adjustments.

I wonder what our culture would look like if we abandoned our obsession with the smoke. What if our vote was earned through the writing of policies that are in line with our deep convictions? What if our support of a relief orginization was determined on whether or not we thought they were doing good work? I end with a confession. I am just as obsessed with the smoke as anyone else. This blog is written with a great deal of introspection preceding it. I want to focus my energy on actually doing good rather than simply talking about doing good. I want to support people and organizations based on whether I feel they are actually doing good rather than on whether they agree with my politics/theology. I want to learn to be far more concerned with the fire than the smoke.

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