It’s hard to underestimate the power of a person with a real live vision; one who’s been touched by a serious need and visualizes a direct connection between the needy and the potential resources to meet that need. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not the person who is powerful. It’s the message that possesses him (or her).
This week, a major newsmagazine explored the striking evidence emerging in neuroscience. There are clues in the activity of the human brain that may well be a predictor of moral character. Scientists view the brain as a vast unexplored territory. New high tech tools enable us to see the human organ in action; in ways never before possible. The research focuses on the factors that cause some to choose the noble good and others ignoble evil. On one end of the moral spectrum, we have Mother Theresa. On the other – Adolph Hitler. It’s all right there on the color coded chart.
While scientists look for some way to predict and prevent immorality by analyzing brain scans, the rest of us, in the mean time, rely on more traditional methods. Certainly there are environmental factors. Hunger and poverty breed anti-social behavior. Brutal tyranny may maintain some semblance of civil order. But it ultimately backfires when revolution breaks out. Oppressive governments like stern religious hierarchies enjoy some measure of tranquility and relative affluence. But it is short lived. As soon as the oppressed figure out a way to communicate and mobilize, insurgency erupts. It happens in nations. In neighborhoods. In families.
But there is another way. It may not be as quantifiable or predictable as a pure scientist might demand. It does not involve chemistry or operant conditioning or mind altering substances. It’s a matter of the heart. It happens when vision is transferred from one open heart to another.
And that may be one of the most powerful agents of change of them all.
When Matthew made his first visit to the Dalit people of India, his heart broke over the conditions of an entire people group who lived in squalor for generation after generation. He remembered his comparative religion class where he learned about the Hindu caste system. Right out of the textbook, it was a particularly sanitized version. He studied and learned the five levels of hierarchy (see NOTE) seemingly harmless social structure and had them memorized for the mid-semester exam. He thought about the plight of anyone labeled “outcaste,” or “untouchable.” It made him think of the flannel-graph Sunday School stories when Jesus broke the mold and touched the untouchables. It was a lesson he took with him.
He also learned that in this modern global era, the current Indian constitution bans the ancient principal of “untouchability.”
But three years ago he found himself in community with those Dalits – that is, “untouchables.” The sights and smells of the real place, the open sewers and bad water and the isolation and the children (they laughed and played just like back home and wanted to be noticed and held). It all put a crushing weight on his shoulders. He and his travel team shared a message of hope – and teamed up with a group of folks who have the audacity to believe that the terrible oppression of the caste system will one day be eliminated altogether. With God’s help.
They claim William Wilberforce as their hero; the Brit who by his belief in amazing grace pioneered a movement in the United Kingdom that banished the slave trade forever from the marketplace.
So just this month after a recent visit to his friends called Dalits, Pastor Matthew shared his vision with his people. It was a moment of true nobility as he stood tall; in the tradition of the great reformers. Emotion welled up from somewhere deep inside. He spoke in clear tones. On behalf of an oppressed people. In the name of the greatest liberator of all – Jesus Christ. Let freedom ring. Let’s do something to change the world. Together. For good. Forever. Tears filled his eyes.
And the money rolled in. And the people stood tall alongside with him. And a new journey begins.
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It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. Maybe you think we can’t go over there until we fix what’s wrong over here. If that’s your view – then folks over there are in for a long wait.
I wonder what scientists would have found had they scanned Matthew’s brain at that one moment of clarion inspiration. What would the color coded imprint suggest? I suspect nobility.
Science will always be fascinated by its capacity to find new ways to map cause and effect. And that’s a good thing. I think, however, I’m much more interested in how leaders can tap into a God-given vision of real world issues – and then play a vital role in designing and implementing grand solutions.
I think I witnessed one example of just that this week.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, November 2007