June 11, 2008

Healing the Uncaring Heart

2008 1516 page5 caphe declaration on the T-shirt was aggressively definitive: “I just realized. I don’t care.”  
I flinched slightly in the ticket line, not accustomed to displays of cynicism from persons older than myself.
I studied the wearer, a tall, balding man at least 60 years of age, accompanied by two women, one of whom was clearly his wife, and the other probably a family friend.
The T-shirt asserted that he did not care. Ah, but he did, at least about his appearance. I noted the neat, almost military hairline, arched above the ear; the carefully groomed salt-and-pepper mustache; the khaki shorts ironed to a fine crease; the white anklet socks crowning expensive running shoes. Whatever his declaration of uncaring meant, it certainly didn’t apply to his own body or his appearance.
The woman I guessed to be his wife also sported a T-shirt beneath a light jacket. Two-inch block letters and an American flag insisted, “Support Our Troops.” My uncaring line companion must have found it in his soul to care about his country, or at least to travel in the company of a woman who cared—profoundly—in red, white, and blue.
2008 1516 page5And he clearly cared about civility, for he was patiently standing in the line that snaked toward the ticket counter. A truly uncaring man would have vaulted the burgundy ropes, pushed his way ahead of other customers, and insisted that he be served first.
The contrarian in me was rapidly assembling a list of other things about which he obviously must care, such as the destination to which he was going—Manchester, instead of Manhattan—or his marriage, for he stooped gently to listen when his wife spoke softly in the noisy terminal.
So what did the T-shirt declaration actually mean? Personal appearance, patriotism, civility, relationships, even destination clearly mattered to the wearer. Who, then, was supposed to “get the message” of his screen-printed hostility?
Despite my distaste for chic new diagnoses, I’ve concluded that there really is such a thing as “opinion fatigue.” My fellow traveler was surely announcing that he had reached his fill with all the causes and concerns that vibrate in our collective cultural soul. Save the whales, but not the eels; vote for change, but also for experience; drive a hybrid, but watch out for new species of predatory foreign plants; care for the rights of immigrants, but not when they take a job belonging to a native-born worker; be frugal with your tax refund, but do your part to spend the nation out of an economic slowdown.
Assaulted every day by dozens of causes and concerns requiring attention and commitment, the typical man or woman naturally retreats into a defensive shell well summarized by the traveler’s slogan: “I just realized. I don’t care.”
In such a welter of competing and contrasting opinions, the movement we love must not allow
itself to become just another cause among so many others. Distinctive, clear-edge doctrine has always defined and should always define Adventism, but doctrine by itself will alienate many fellow travelers who find themselves exhausted by all they are supposed to care about. “Whole life” solutions are much needed in our culture now—integrative, health-producing ways of living that bring clarity, rest, and sanity to stressed and cynical people.
This, it seems to me, is the genius of Seventh-day Adventism: it offers both clear thinking and clean living, a lifestyle growing from the Word of God that promotes healing in one’s body and between everybody. Our message for the world is greater than any single part of it, and we must train ourselves to think and talk about it in the broader language it deserves. When we reduce the “faith of Jesus” to only the Sabbath or the Second Coming or tithing or vegetarianism, we offer the world less than the Lord has offered us. We become just one more flag waving on the boulevard, one more cause among so many others.
The Adventism I know and love would be a welcome gift, even to the man wearing the hostile T-shirt. In this faith he would find a way of life that matches what he still has energy to care about: a higher reason to seek wellness for his body; a Christian social ethic that helps him become the best kind of citizen; an unsurpassed model for public and private conduct; new life skills for his marriage and his friendships; and—ah, yes—a final destination unlike any other.
Even he might discover that he cared about such a blessing.

Bill Knott is editor of Adventist Review.