This week’s devotional is brought to us by my new brother, Jason Palmer, the Dean of Spiritual Life and Chaplain at UMHB.
My submarine was hovering just beneath the waves at periscope depth. More than a week had passed since we had last brought in air from the outside. When conditions were set, I raised the induction mast and ordered “Commence Ventilating.” As soon as the outside air began to enter the boat, sailors started complaining about the humid, fishy, dank smell. The odor was overwhelming. That’s when we remembered the putrid scent we could barely stand was fresh air.
Somehow, we’d become so used to life in a sealed cylinder full of our own stench that we’d normalized the abnormal. How does that even happen? How do well-intentioned, experienced practitioners become so desensitized to the malaise in their midst that they begin to accept it as normal?
Nehemiah found a similar situation when he arrived in Jerusalem. Chapter 2 reveals that Jewish priests, nobles, and officials were already present in Jerusalem when he arrived. But, the city’s spiritual and civic authorities had failed to prioritize the rebuilding of core infrastructure — God’s house and the city’s defenses. They had grown to accept their disgraceful condition as normal. After confirming the situation through personal reconnaissance, Nehemiah conducted a key leader engagement with the priests, nobles, and officials of Jerusalem.
So I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned. Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.” Nehemiah 2:17
Nehemiah’s example suggests the value of just naming the problem everyone can see but have chosen to overlook. When you look around your workplace, your home, or your community, what foul condition have you come to accept as normal?
Of course, any critic can point out obvious failings. Real change requires going beyond a general acknowledgement of trouble and identifying specific steps forward. If general concern was enough to effect change, you wouldn’t be staring at structural ruin and burnt gates.
The last step in effecting change requires committing the time and other resources to fix the problem. Rebuilding takes a hopeful vision, fortitude, and your life. If you see aspects of your current enterprises in disrepair, let Christ’s story of hope and redemption fuel a call in you and those around you to rebuild. Come, let’s rebuild.