Wonder and Doubt
When it comes to your worldview, you either “start with wonder, or start with doubt.”
A very wise man told me that, just as he told the thousands of freshman that he taught in his worldview/philosophy class every single year. It’s the way that we can either look at a world without an Almighty God or one with Him in it. Doubt or wonder at the existence of God, and God’s presence in our world.
My professor had a very specific purpose to his words, but as I continue to live and they continue to stick with me, I see their implications on everything in my world. It’s the same as viewing a world with God or a world without God. You can’t see either side and it not impact everything around you.
We can start with doubt. We can look at the obstacles in the world and doubt they will be overcome. We can look at the mess and doubt it will ever be cleaned up. We can look at our limited resources, be it money or ability or time, and just give up and give in.
Or we can start with wonder, and when we look at the chaos around us, we see so much more.
I love my city. It’s a crappy place. It’s a place where people sit on porches and discuss what must be done to make things better, but wonder if anything will ever really happen. It’s a place where it’s easy to see improvements in areas where local businesses are thriving and people who care are moving in. But it’s a place where you can drive through areas that still seem to be frozen in time: ghettos where messes and disasters seem more prevalent than wonder. A place where doubt reigns.
In the midst of all of this, deep down Robinson Road in the heart of an urban wilderness, sits a wonderer: Dr. John Perkins. He is a man who once left this mess, wanting to escape what he doubted could ever improve. Many years ago, God grabbed his heart and changed it, and he knew he had to move back home to fight for the rights he and other African-Americans were kept from having. He was jailed and beaten for his beliefs. One occasion, he thought his life would be taken. But through it all, he kept fighting, with a message not just about rights, but a message of love and the gospel. He looked at the world with wonder, seeing so much more behind the obstacles.
Even now, Dr. Perkins, known as “Grandpa” to those he mentors, continues his fight. Today, it looks different than it was in the years of Civil Rights. Now, Grandpa sees that love is the final fight. The Spencer Perkins Center for Reconciliation and Community Development sits on Robinson Road, in the midst of the gangs and mess, and preaches love to a culture that wouldn’t even know what to do in a church service. It’s an area of lost souls in streets left for dead, but Grandpa stands, ready to love all who need it. Others have abandoned this part of the town, doubting it could ever be cleaned from the crime and violence. Grandpa looks at it with wonder, knowing there is so much more that lies ahead.
I could easily look at my broken town and doubt it will ever be different. Or I could look at the world the way Grandpa does.
On Sunday, the Perkins Center hosted the first ever Jackson Jamboree, with live music and activities going all day long. Kids from the neighborhood wandered in to see what the noise was all about, and stuck around because the lights on the basketball court stayed on later than normal. One hundred yards away, residents of the suburbs wandered in to the neighborhood they avoid in order to watch the band Switchfoot. It was a modest turnout to this area of the city that gets overlooked, but a turnout that would clearly not quite be worth the cost.
Anyone would look at the event and doubt it was worth it, and nobody would really blame them. After all, it was easy to see that not as many people showed up as they had wanted, and it was safe to expect that many didn’t show up because it wasn’t in the safest part of town. It’s much harder to look with wonder, like Grandpa does, and see why it was actually a huge success.
Before stepping onstage to address the crowd, Grandpa waited for a group of kids who won a basketball tournament to exit. The frail old man turned to a group of volunteers standing nearby with all of the wonder of a child on Christmas morning and started thinking out loud. “This is what is important,” he said, pointing at the teens on the stage. “This right here. These children. They are the important part of this event. And we do it because in these kids is a spark. A spark of leadership. It will grow. We may lost money this year, but maybe not next year.
“We might not know where the spark ends up, but we know it is there, and we have a chance to ignite that spark.”
Grandpa knows he doesn’t have much time left on this earth, and it would be easy for him to look at all he has attempted and doubt an impact was made. It would easy for him to doubt that his neighborhood would ever be saved. It would be easy to question whether his investment, his very life, was spent wisely. It would be easy, which is exactly why he doesn’t.
He looks at the neighborhood and sees so much more. He looks at this crappy city and gazes in wonder at the spark sitting in each and every resident. He won’t live on this earth long enough to see what ultimately happens to Robinson Road or Jackson, Mississippi. But he knows that when he passes on, he’ll be greeted with the words, “WELL DONE, my good and faithful servant.” And he will look with wonder at all of the mercy he has been shown, and exactly how his investment has paid off.
My dear professor, Dr. Wynn Kenyon, was suddenly called home earlier this year. It was painful to say goodbye to the man who raised so many questions and made so many students think, but it was comforting knowing he didn’t need to ask any more questions. He never had to ask us about wonder anymore. He was living all of the wonder that he dreamed of.
And his words will always echo in my brain: will I do the easy thing and doubt? Will I see the obstacles in front of me and the limited resources and be overwhelmed? Will I fail to see the beautiful orchestration of God’s sovereignty in every aspect of life? Will I give in and give up?
Or will I wonder, and therefore look to ignite a spark?