What’s Acceptable? What’s Possible?

About three weeks ago someone in my Sunday School class asked a simple question that has stuck with me.  We were studying the Beatitudes and talking about how completely counter-culture Christ is calling us to live.  In the discussion, this person asked


“I wonder what behavior we accept today that twenty years from now we will look back on and shake our heads with dismay.  For example, if I was a Christian in the South in the 1960’s I probably would have accepted or, at best, turned a blind eye to racism.  Today this is absolutely intolerable to me.”


I don’t know why this has stuck with me so long.  Maybe it’s because I know there are things that I overlook and just accept as reality – life is tough, right?  I have become comfortable in some ways with the injustices that are all around.  They sound too big for me to have any effect.


I just finished reading Jim Wallis’s latest book, The Great Awakening – Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America.  He concludes the book with a beautifully written chapter titled “What’s Acceptable, What’s Possible”.  In this chapter Mr. Wallis spoke directly to the question I had been wrestling with.  He says,


            “Each new generation has a chance to alter two basic definitions of reality in our world – what is acceptable and what is possible…  When the really big offenses are finally corrected, finally changed, it is usually because something has happened to change our perception of the moral issues at stake.

            That something is this: the moral contradiction we have long lived with is no longer acceptable to us.  What we had accepted, or ignored, or denied, finally gets our attention, and we decided that we just cannot and will not live it any longer.  But until that happens, the injustice and misery continue.

            It often takes a new generation to make that decision – that something people have long tolerated just won’t be tolerated anymore. So I ask students and young people these questions:  What are you going to no longer accept in the world?  What will you refuse to tolerate, now that you will be making decisions that matter?


What an incredible call to action for young leaders!  He goes on to say


…thirty thousand more children will die globally, today, from needless, senseless, and utterly preventable poverty and disease”  Many people don’t know those facts or, if they are vaguely aware of them, have never given them a second thought

            That’s the way it usually is.  We have “easy” explanations for why poverty or some other calamity exists, for why it can’t be changed – all of which makes us feel better about ourselves – or we are just more concerned with lots of other things.  We really don’t have to care.  So we tolerate the injustice and just keep looking the other way.

            But then something changes.  Something gets our attention, something goes deeper that it has before and hooks us in places we call the heart, the soul, the spirit.  And once we’ve crossed over to really seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting the injustice, we can never look back.  It is now unacceptable to us.  What we see now offends us, offends our understanding of the sanctity and dignity of life, offends our notions of fairness and justice, offends out most basic values; it violates our idea of common good and starts to tug at our deepest places.  We cross the line of unacceptability.  We become intolerant of the injustice.

            But just changing our notion of what is unacceptable isn’t enough;  we must also change our perception of what is possible.”


I can feel the ground swell of others becoming unsatisfied with the way certain things are.  So, what is it that makes you uncomfortable?  Listen to that impulse.  Get your hands dirty and get a first hand view of the problem.  Don’t stop at becoming knowledgeable about a problem, we have to change our perception of what is possible. 


The one injustice that I will be getting more involved in over the next year is the education of impoverished children in my community.  I plan on writing more about this in the future. 


So, What injustice are become intolerant of?


1 Comment

Filed under Books, Community

One response to “What’s Acceptable? What’s Possible?

  1. Looking forward to what you have to say on this issue. I work with At-Risk/Challenged Learners as a profession in my school district, with a great many of them impoverish and from very low socio-economic backgrounds. Most times I am at a loss of what to do with them, their home lives being what they are and such and my hands being tied.

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