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Theodor Geisel will forever be remembered for the contributions that he made to children’s literature. Writing more than 60 books for children over a 60-year career, it might be said that Geisel thought more like a child during his adult life, than he did during his childhood. His simple stories, with their deliberate rhyming patterns and colorful illustrations, continue to captivate child after child, year after year. But the most ironic thing about Theodor Geisel — known to all as Dr. Seuss — is the fact that he never had any children of his own. The world’s most renowned author and artist of children’s stories, whose books seem to magically appear in homes once children are present, never had the joy of reading his books to his own children or grandchildren. Dr. Seuss wrote his books for others, not for himself.
In today’s politically charged, politically correct, media-saturated environment of us vs. them, it is rare to hear of individuals doing something just because it is the right thing to do. When we do hear of such behavior, we wonder to ourselves what the “real” motivation is. This skepticism has filtered down to even the mundane, day-to-day things of life, so much so that we become suspicious when a neighbor mows our grass or takes our trash out for us. We have become a nation of individuals, where each man is an island unto himself, taking every act of kindness by someone else as an affront to his own capabilities. If I was to tell you that Dr. Seuss began writing children’s books in earnest because he was concerned about decreasing literacy among children, you would probably roll your eyes and say to yourself, “Yeah, right. He did it for the money.” We have become so self-centered, that we cannot even fathom why people would do things that don’t offer direct benefits to them. Dr. Seuss did need to provide for himself and his family, that much is true, but he could just as easily have paid the bills with political cartoons. In fact, writing children’s books did not come easily to him, so there is nothing disingenuous in saying that he was motivated by more than a paycheck.
The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 19:25-37) is a textbook example of doing what is needed rather than what is beneficial. The church is called to this task on a daily basis, and the fact that society is so cynical about those who would do good deeds is confirmation of the fact that the church is not doing what is has been called to do. We have become much like the citizens of Rome in the days before its destruction by Alaric the Visigoth in 410 AD.
Alaric, the Gothic king, threw open the flap and stepped outside. The imperial envoys approached his tent, now pitched within the shadows of Rome’s walls. One of the envoys cleared his throat, assumed a dignified stance, and spoke on behalf of the senate. “We are now prepared to make peace; but we are not afraid to fight. If we cannot come to fair and honorable terms, then by all means sound your trumpets; for we are many and in great anguish.” Upon hearing this well-delivered oration, the barbarian bellowed out a great laugh. He knew the inhabitants on the other side were slowly starving to death because of his stranglehold on the city.
“The thicker the hay, the easier it is mowed,” pronounced Alaric. Alaric then listed his demands: all the city’s gold, all the silver, all the precious furniture, and all the slaves with German blood in their veins.
“If such, O king, are your demands,” sputtered the other envoy, what do you intend to leave us?”
“Your lives,” said Alaric.
Like Rome, we have gotten to the point where we take our lives for granted. We fail to see that even our very lives are a gift from God. We focus more on the gold, silver, and precious furniture, doing everything we can to keep what we already have while seeking to acquire more. Our only goal is “personal peace and affluence,” just as Francis Schaeffer said it would be.
The majority of the Silent Majority were those who had only two bankrupt values — personal peace and affluence. Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity — a life made up of things and more things — a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.
It took alarming rates of childhood illiteracy to cause Theodor Geisel to take up his pen and begin writing books for children that would encourage them to read. Dr. Suess would probably never have existed as an author if the literacy rates after World War 2 had not been a concern. The personal peace and affluence bubble of the late 20th century has officially popped. America is learning the hard lesson that man cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).
But where is the church? Where is the only God-ordained organization that is commanded to give cold cups of water, hot meals, and clothing to those in need (Matt. 25:34-40)? The church has also taken to pursuing personal peace and affluence and, like the rest of the country, is too busy working to maintain a way of life than it is working to enrich and save lives. We have it backwards. We have become so focused on ourselves that we cannot even begin to see the need around us.
So what do we do about it? Like Theodor Geisel, we need to stop. We need to stop and take a breath. And as we breath, we need to look. Look around you; ministry opportunities are all around. The church was never called to an inactive ministry, but one of action. Very seldom does Hollywood have much to offer in the way of helpful advice, but then again, actor Jim Caviezel is not your typical Hollywood insider. In a review of The Stoning of Soraya M.—a new movie set to release tomorrow—in the July 4 issue of WORLD magazine, we read this:
For his part, Caviezel says that as a Christian, he believes he has a special impetus to get involved in movies like Soraya because believers have been given a mandate to speak out against injustice regardless of who it might offend. "In the West we say, ‘Oh, it’s Shariah law and who are we to impose our religious values on them?’ I think that’s an evil deception. Those people are human beings, they have the imprint of God in them, so what does that tell us we should do? What does the Good Samaritan story tell us we should do? Chant some politically correct line so as not to upset anybody? I don’t think that’s the model Christ gives us."
Caviezel’s words cut right to the heart. He is correct to call it our “mandate” because that’s exactly what it is. Caviezel is an actor; that is his gift, his calling. Like Theodor Geisel, he has chosen to use his calling as a way to extend his talents far beyond simply putting food on the table. Doing the work of the church does not mean selling everything you have and taking a vow of poverty. The work of the church begins in the pulpit, where the Word of God should be taught and explained, and then continues into the streets, where the taught Word gets applied to everyday life. Pastors will not save us, just as politicians won’t save us. Pastors and politicians are regular men and just like we do, they struggle with sin themselves. South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is the most recent example of this, but he surely won’t be the last.
When the church begins to realize that God is in control, the Alarics of the world become far less threatening. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). The church has one Head — Jesus Christ — and we are to follow Him and do what he commands. We are to fear God, not men. Again, Caviezel hits the point dead center: “Here in the United States, men have no rights if a woman wants to abort their child. And too many in the church are afraid of having stones thrown at them if they speak out against that.” And, I would quickly add, any other injustice that you see going around you. The government wields the sword to bring justice to pass, but the church should be actively promoting justice and calling attention to injustice wherever it is found. And if that means doing something that is difficult — as writing children’s books was for Theodor Geisel — or even something that doesn’t directly benefit you — Geisel had no children of his own — then so be it. We are called by a higher authority to a life of service, not one of personal peace and affluence.
Article posted June 25, 2009