There’s no earthly way of knowing
Which direction they are going!
There’s no knowing where they’re rowing,
Or which way they river’s flowing!
Not a speck of light is showing,
So the danger must be growing,
For the rowers keep on rowing,
And they’re certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing…
Poem by Willy Wonka
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The above quote captures for me the feeling that we have about our institutions in Western culture. They are speeding away towards some kind of forced unknown future and none of us is really sure about the destination.
Our government, health care, education, financial, marriage, organized religion… all are facing low levels of trust. This is true of all generations, but especially of our younger generations.
Do I have data to back this up? Hard and fast data? No, but let’s be honest would it really persuade you if I showed you all the empirical evidence that I could muster? Probably not. Plus, you may not even believe the conclusions that I draw from the numbers.
How then can I reach these kind of conclusions? I listen to what people are saying and they have expressed that they have lost faith in many if not all of our Western institutions. In general people are frustrated. They don’t understand why something that was supposed to help create order in our lives has become contentious, gridlocked, and in some respects dismal failures.
If our institutions are like car engines their “service engine soon” light has been on for decades. Unfortunately, instead of performing proper maintenance we have tried to swap the entire engine block out when all we really needed to do was change the oil, replace the filter, check the spark plugs, timing belt, and fluid levels.
[All metaphors are flawed. Therefore, I recognize that engine maintenance image does not work when there is the presence within the system of oppression.]
If technology and medicinal practices advance, making previous forms obsolete, why can’t we strive for shifts in the institutional systems that order our lives? While this question has been sown into the minds of the people the bureaucratic leadership has demonstrated moral and ethical failures with tremendous frequency and regularity. These have contributed to our current feelings about institutions.
Before we start to conclude that we need to begin again from scratch we should briefly look at how we all play a role in this problem. When I say “we” I am talking about humanity. I believe that the institutions that we have are tools to achieve the goals that we set before ourselves. The problem has not always been the tool, but those who are using the tool.
A couple of weeks back I was trying to remove the pit from an avocado. The first half came off cleanly, but it was the remaining half that was proving to be a bit of a problem. Rather than practice proper kitchen knife safety and slow down I did a stupid thing and held the half with the pit in one hand and then used the knife incorrectly with my other. As a result, my children, who were standing next to me at that moment, witnessed blood and their hurt father (pride and physical). A couple hour visit to the ER and five stitches later I returned to my family. They did not want me to buy any more avocados or use the sharp kitchen knives. I appreciate their care and concern for me, but I needed them to know that it was neither the avocado or the knife that was the problem. I made a mistake and as a result injured myself.
Our institutions, when not used correctly, can cause great pain and injury, but it is not their existence that makes these things happen. Humankind in its own falseness plays a big part. We are not perfect and we sometimes make decisions that cause pain. We need to always reform and sharpen our tools by the renewing of ourselves. We can do that by committing ourselves to God’s love for us and making the commitment to love one another.
Where are our institutions going? They don’t have to crumble or be used to cause pain. We can reform them as we are renewed by the love of God.