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giving a shit

tonyPastor and sociologist Tony Campolo is known to begin his speeches with the following statement:

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said ‘shit’ than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

Holy cow.

That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

All the tragedy that’s going on in the world, it’s awful.  But we don’t really care.  Out of sight, out of mind.  It doesn’t affect us.

What’s worse is that when we do care, it hardly ever seems to be about the right things.

What do I mean?

I admit that our society pays a lot of attention to evil – just open a paper or turn on the news, that’s easy enough to see.  But it’s important to notice that we rarely hear about the kind of evil we can do anything about.  We rarely hear about the evil we can beat in a fight.  Instead, we are soaked in the inevitability of bleak violence and dread and hopelessness and it gets old fast.

But it’s what we want.

Our public consciousness is constantly itching for novel failure.  We find ourselves increasingly eager and rabid to hear about the latest pain and irredeemable tragedy of hollywood starlets and crumbling inner-city streets.

Again, just turn on the news.

Pain and aberrant bloodlust abound on the airwaves and in our hearts with no echo, no mention, of any possible escape.

We get what we want.

and although we are regularly exposed to acts of injustice through conversation and media, we often forget the silver-lining, the “bright side,” the solution.  We lose sight of the things we can change and the people we can save.

What’s really scary is that as we continue to obsess over frivolous suffering, we can eventually even begin to delight ourselves in the failures of our public figures.

There’s actually a German word for this idea: schadenfreude.

Taking pleasure in the pain of others.

Our morbid fascination with the loss and pain of our fellow souls, cloaked as it may be by superficial concern (“bless her soul, what a whore…”), is ubiquitous in the public sphere.

We get to the point where we find ourselves giddily clamoring over the latest celebrity scandal, reveling in their woe while not once thinking of extending our fallen comrades any sort of compassion.  Lindsay Lohan.  Britney Spears.  Kim Kardashian.  Richard Nixon.

We desire for others to fail in spectacular, crushing ways.

There’s a great episode of South Park where this dynamic sort of hyperbolically plays out in a humorous way.  The townspeople become so obsessed with the superficial, stupid pain of the celebrity world that they frenzy into a sort of bloodlust at the mention of a new starlet’s name.

We’ve become voyeurs of abysmal taste.

What’s more is that this phenomenon extends beyond our distaste for the venerated heiress and the sleazy congressman.  What’s worse is that this antipathy bleeds out and hurts innocent people by taking up our precious time and attention.

In other words, the whole time I’ve been writing this obscurity, real kids have been starving.

Let’s not waste more time, then.


We care, but often in the wrong way and about the wrong things.

This idea is sounded in Yann Martel’s now-famous Life of Pi

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, “Business as usual.” But they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

Caring about the right things is hard.  It’s unnatural at times.

Though hard, it begins when we put down the swords of vitriol and indignation that we unsheathe when someone insults our religion or politics, when we seek to truly engage with their perspective.

Harder still, we see that this process must begin with one final act of bloodshed, with the slaying of the idol of obsessing over the wrong thing.

Caring about the right thing only happens when we pay less attention to the talentless whore (bless her soul) and start spending time learning the names and faces of the forgotten.

So maybe you want to start caring.  Or you want to want to.

Start by soaking yourself in human experience and suffering.  Read a book, watch a documentary, begin to research some of the terrible things that go on in this world, the very things you are going to put a stop to someday.

Buy and eat and wear things that provide hope and second chances.

This is the evil we can find a solution to.

And caring about the right things means reflecting deeply on our own lives.

This process often leads to a painful introspection as we are forced to consider whether our lives show an honest commitment to justice.

Do we insist on purchasing fair-trade clothing, electronics, and chocolate?  Or do we spout justice while not caring about how what we purchase affects those across the globe?

Maybe we speak of justice while clothing ourselves in human suffering, while drinking a product that has stripped a child of God of their dignity, while using pornography, while wearing shoes that tread on people’s dreams.

Do we speak of justice while striking our words down by the testimonies of our own lives?

Words are no good if our lives blatantly contradict them.

The justice Tony is talking about above starts when we begin to, in the words of Shane Claiborne, “live simply, so that others may simply live.”

Please pray for our movement here on this campus, for those across the world in physical and spiritual chains today, and for God to continue to soften our own hearts and to teach us more about who He is.

Let’s give a shit about the right things together.

I think we’ll find that Jesus is waiting for us on the other side.

– aRR

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for giving a shit.

    February 24, 2013

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