By Stan Le Quire of Eastern University and Jay Renfro, member of Nashville A Rocha
Jay and Stan are two guys who dream about changing the world. Together, they are reading Paul Farmer’s To Repair the World. Paul has a great reputation as someone who changes the world. This week, Jay and Stan are talking about the sixth of Farmer’s speeches, “If You Take the Red Pill: Reflections on the Future of Medicine”.
JAY TO STAN: Paul Farmer draws wonderfully from the classic decision in The Matrix of deciding between the blue pill and the red pill. The former allows us to forget everything and continue as usual; the red pill forever changes the way we live. When is a time you took the red pill and never looked back?
STAN RESPONDS: A wonderful, intense question, Jay. (I think I may have told you this story). There was a time in my life when I was searching for a new path to serve God. At the time, I was employed as a pastor, but I knew that God wanted me to do something else with my life. I was deeply burdened that Christians were losing a crucial opportunity to speak into the environmental movement. At one point in this career-change journey, I remember being alone in a forest and speaking out to creation and to the many species under threat of extinction and saying, “You just hold on. We are going to do something for you!” At the time, I had no idea of the specifics, but I knew somehow Christians would intervene dramatically to benefit creation.
Within a short while, I found myself as the director of the Evangelical Environmental Network. Our task was to wake up evangelicals to the biblical riches for responding to the environmental issues of our time. By 1996, a new U.S. Congress was in place with a platform called the “Contract with America.” Part of this contract was to repeal the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The Evangelical Environmental Network took a delegation of evangelical leaders to Washington, DC where we lobbied in Congress and held a news conference, which compared the ESA to Noah’s ark and stated that the ESA is our own, contemporary way of saving God’s endangered creation. This campaign was more successful than we could have ever dreamed. We forced the congressional leadership to consider the diversity of evangelicals and that we did not unquestioningly support them on all issues. Here’s a quote from Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club: “Evangelicals’ presence [in Washington DC] is widely credited with having helped prevent rollbacks of the [endangered species] law.” I remember feeling that my promised commitment of several years earlier was fulfilled. Christians had intervened dramatically for creation, or as Farmer puts it, we took the red pill and changed our reality.
STAN TO JAY: On page 83, Farmer says that we all do things that “transport [us] out of the desert of the real… You know that most boundaries are ones we create ourselves. They’re boundaries we erect in order to lessen our pain, not the pain of others.” (Farmer’s emphasis). What is a boundary that our society creates for self-protection from facing the reality of what we have done to creation? Or, if you are game, what is a boundary that you create for yourself that ensures your own protection?
JAY RESPONDS: We like to downplay the seemingly mundane. We think in order to make a real difference we have to live in some heroically radical way. But you can actually save the rainforest without living in a treehouse and you can advocate for ethical farming without taking on a paleo diet (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with either lifestyles, especially the first one). That’s definitely an artificial boundary that gets in the way of some good things happening on this Earth. To cross the boundary requires that you stop believing that only some grandiose movement is going to save the day. Look at the recent spike in foods bearing labels like “green,” “organic,” “freerange,” “GMO-free,” etc. That didn’t happen because of some government-mandated movement. That happened because enough people started recommending food be done in a different way. So, we aren’t superheroes, we aren’t the leaders of the next big revolution, but we are individuals who can make very big choices about what we buy into. And this matters.