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Trifling and Desensitization

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Trifling and Desensitization

Tom Elenbaas

In his Spiritual Journals, in Gracias!, (in Bolivia and Peru) November 19, 1981 Henry Nouwen took a bike ride from the monastery to town where he encountered more of the world in one daily sitting than he was used to, and says this:

I walked through the bookstores stacked with magazines about violence, sex, and gossip; and as I saw the endless advertisements for unnecessary items imported mostly from Germany and the United States, I had the feeling of being surrounded by powers much greater than myself. I felt the seductive powers of sin all around me and got a glimpse of the truth that ll the horrendous evils which plague our world - hunger, the nuclear arms race, torture, exploitation, rape, child abuse, and all forms of oppression - have their small and sometimes unnoticed beginnings in the human heart. The [devil] is very patient in the way he goes about his destructive work. I felt the darkness all around me.

CS Lewis once said that “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts..." [Screwtape Letters]  Reading this, I couldn't help but think about what the desensitization that living in and amidst this culture has done to our spirits. I've been searching for a monastery to visit for a week next fall, and have once again been taken by the monastic life - its simplicity, its focus on work, prayer, Word, and love, and its search for purity. Though I'm no fan of retreating from the world in dualist distinction, I think we've lost our sense of uniqueness as sojourners living differently in a strange land. My wife challenges me regularly on the television shows I watch - whether they are good for my heart and soul (you know, TV drama's about getting the bad guys.) Is it possible that our trifling with evil in small portions chips away at the heart of our soul? Sounds like a rhetorical question to me. When I think clearly about it, I can find no justification for trifling with evil, and yet how often don't we ingest daily doses in small portions? 

I was sharing a story with the college group last week about my sense of shock when I first visited our local mall 7 years ago and saw a 12ft Victoria's Secret model in lingerie on one of the most prominent walls of the mall right across from the children's carousel and the food court. My last post on idols may have left some of you saying, "What idols?" Isn't such an icon of humanity posted in prime real estate a testament to the idolatry of sex in our culture and the dehumanization of what it means to be a woman (or a man)? I hope seeing such a thing would be confrontational to your sensibilities, and yet aren't automobiles, tech gadgets, professional sports, food and romance novels (or movies) also the stuff of idolatry? And why is it that so many of us (myself included) are so desensitized to the debilitating and dehumanizing effects of trifling with evil? Have we so cozied up with our brokenness that we've found a comfortable place to live?

Nouwen ends his journal entry that day with the following comments that are, to me, extremely helpful:

...where the [devil] is, God is not far away; and where God shows his presence, the [devil] does not remain absent very long. There is always a choice to be made between the power of life and the power of death. I myself have to make that choice. Nobody else, not even God, will make that choice for me. [Spiritual Journals, Gracias!, p. 184, emphasis mine]

The journey to holiness is daily bread and the daily will to one thing - the pursuit of life in and through Jesus.


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