Some time ago my uncle had a house in Gary, Indiana that needed major rehabbing. Though he tapped me — a lazy teenager — to help with these renovations, I still believe my uncle is a decent man. There is nothing on Earth lazier than I was at 13 years old: if it didn’t happen in a classroom or on the baseball field, for my taste it was totally superfluous (read: Why God are you making me scrape tile from this floor?). In a million lifetimes I will never forget yelling at that forsaken device mislabeled a “tile scraper,” cursing its maker for being so inept.
The day I built enough courage to quit I went to my uncle in tears, hands outstretched towards him to return his infernal scraper. “This thing is no good,” I had calmed myself enough to say, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” My uncle got up from whatever important thing he was doing, walked to the bathroom, placed the scraper on the floor, and swiftly removed the remaining shards of tile. Seriously. He then turned to me, handed over the scraper and said, “There’s nothing wrong with this tool. Just have to use it the right way.”
That statement, my friends, is what you call a “homerun” (in case you were wondering). My uncle was spot-on: there was nothing wrong with the tool but I was using it wrong. Results come when we use tools in the right way. The tool itself possesses no inherent goodness (or malevolence). It is like a gun that can start a race…or start a war.
One tool in particular has, since its inception, sparked more moral debate than perhaps any other invention in human history: THE INTERNET. One day I was arguing with a friend about whether The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour was an actual album or a compilation of b-sides: the internet settled this life-changing debate for us. I can rate doctors and hotels, and find cheap airline tickets: awesome and awesome. But to highlight the ambiguity: I can participate in the denigration of women by watching hours of pornography, and I can copy-and-paste an entire paper for class. Studies have shown that intellectual plagiarism is at an all-time high, while the private life — once held sacred and inalienable — has all but disappeared. The Internet didn’t do a thing: WE DID THIS.
The Internet has never been a stronger or more reliable tool than perhaps over the past couple of weeks, when it was the center of a revolution story in Egypt. The people, tired of their leader, had written revolution songs and made appeals via…the Internet. The movement became so strong that the government SHUT DOWN the Internet, but the people got it back. Then they documented their mostly-passive protest via…the Internet. Most of us were kept current of Egypt’s happenings via…the Internet. Through the web Egyptians were able to create a network of supporters so strong that, seriously everyone knew that Mubarak was going to resign. The struggle of a city on the other side of the world became a local reality, and morphed into an international philosophical debate on democracy…through the Internet. The Internet was how we were able to keep in contact with members of University Church who are living in Egypt RIGHT NOW!
I am impressed but more importantly convinced that every tool has the potential to become a gift. This is why I look at humanity and cannot dare to judge a single life. Indeed, it is why we ought to take a serious look at developing our gifts. For our knowledge and experience is a tool…what if each of us used our tools to their fullest capacity?
Part of my work as a pastor is to help our community be attuned to our spiritual gifts and how we can make better use of them. For throughout history God has taken “tools” thought of for one purpose, then endowed them with the Holy Spirit to do totally new works through them! Take David the shepherd or Jesus the carpenter for instance: I bet David was a pretty good shepherd, but he had more to offer. The farmer cultivates crops while they are yet underground in a belief that the seed has more to offer. In the same way I believe each of us has more to offer, and I’m hoping we will take the time to cultivate dreams and gifts for the life of our community. Now is the time to prepare (that is what we’ll be doing at the church-wide retreat, March 18-20), and while it is still cold we can ask: “What more can I be used for?” “How have I been misused over the years?”
There are some rusty tools that need re-sharpening, and some new tools we haven’t discovered yet! Exciting times we live in! See you soon.
Your “tool” (in the good way),