Please read this review. Do not discard it simply because you are unfamiliar with the book or with the message it might have. If you're reading this sentence, then please read this review. A life literally depends on it. Thank you.
The words "life changing" are pretty much cliched now, their meaning no longer to be taken at face value. Perhaps that's endemic of our American tendencies to abuse hyperbole? But when I think back on Richard Stearns' oh-so-relevant book The Hole in Our Gospel, those two overused words immediately rise to the top.
"If Jesus was willing to die for this troubled planet, maybe I need to care about it too." (Pg. 2)
Richard Stearns is the president of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization with the goals of "working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God." I've had a relationship with World Vision for five years now through the child sponsorship program. (I liked how 86% of donations went directly to the mission.) Stearns has served at this post for fourteen years now. Prior to that he lived a life of luxury, working as the CEO for luxury kitchen company Lenox, making six-figures and achieving the "American Dream," overcoming his relatively poor childhood and finding success through hard work and perseverance.
The Hole in Our Gospel is part autobiographical, part field guide to get involved and help change the world. Stearns writes candidly of his struggle to uproot and take on the new position at World Vision. He admitted several times that he had no interest in doing anything like that, that he was comfortable with his life and was satisfied. But what really shines is Stearns' passion to motivate others--people like you and me--to get involved in the world, to plug in and help those who are so desperately in need of assistance. His appeal is from a Christ-like attitude, but I suspect that even non-believers support Stearns opinions.
"If we are to be part of this coming kingdom, God expects our lives--our churches and faith communities too--to be characterized by these authentic signs of our own transformations: compassion, mercy, justice, and love--demonstrated tangibly." (Pg. 57)
There is so much that I could talk about from this book that I don't know where to begin. On one hand I fear that I would cheapen the experience of reading the book, as Stearns takes twenty-six chapters to expound the various issues raised. My single weblog post would be nothing. On the other hand I so want to share this book with you. I made so many highlights and underlines that my book looks rather abused, and picking out what to share was not the easiest task. Additionally, removing a quote from its context loses some meaning.
The Hole in Our Gospel was published in 2009. As such, the statistics are slightly out of date, but still very close to true, I'd wager. I'm thankful Stearns includes a comprehensive index for footnotes, giving sources to the statistics he shares. Many times I would flip to the back to see where the data came from. Unfortunately, most of the statistics are punches to the gut. Just think, 3.6 billion people, 55% of the world's population, live on less than $2 per day. Americans, approximately 4.5% of the world's people, live on $105 per day. I'm blinded to how much I actually have, how much I actually waste. It's sickening.
- "More than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today and tomorrow and the day after that." (Pg. 107)
- "It is estimated that a child dies every five seconds from hunger-related causes." (Pg. 135)
- "A child dies every fifteen seconds of a waterborne disease." (Pg. 138)
- "93% of the world's people don't own a car" (Pg. 216)
I don't know about you, but reading stuff like that is truly devastating. Stearns presents a lot of this information in a chapter titled "One Hundred Crashing Jetliners." In short, if one hundred jetliners crashed today, killing 26,500 people, imagine the chaos that would ensue. People would be in pure pandemonium, afraid to fly and fervent in fixing the problem. Stearns then asks the question why 26,500 kids can (and do) die every day and receive little to no media coverage, no public outrage, no government interference. His conclusion,
"If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we simply have less empathy for people of other cultures living in faraway countries than we do for Americans." (Pg. 107)
That hurts. A few pages later, at the end of the chapter, I wrote in my margin "is my sadness enough to drive me to do something about this?" I'm wrestling with that thought right now. How can I live with myself knowing how much I'm doing to combat this kind of thing?
"Here is the bottom line: if we are aware of the suffering of our distant neighbors--and we are--if we have access to these neighbors, either personally or through aid organizations and charities--and we do--and if we have the ability to make a difference through programs and technologies that work--which is also the case--then we should no more turn our backs on these neighbors of ours than the priest and the Levite should have walked by the bleeding man." (Pg. 104)
The beauty and uplifting news of The Hole in Our Gospel is that there is hope, that the problems of the world are not insurmountable. It's easy to see the massive problem that exists, and thinking of it as one large mountain makes the task impossible. Stearns argument, though, is that the world changes through each individual. We're not called to change the world, but to love our neighbors. Jesus invested in people to institute His church and the Kingdom; we, his followers, should do likewise. With this mindset, changing a person in order to change the world, things become more manageable.
"Christ is an all-or-nothing proposition, and one way or another, every one of us has already made a choice about Him. We have either committed our lives to Him whole-heartedly, or we have not." (Pg. 83)
"This has always been a problem with God's people; we tend to drift away from God's bold vision, replacing it with a safer, tamer version of our own." (Pg. 183)
Richard Stearns book is powerful. The Hole in Our Gospel sheds light on global issues of suffering that I was not even aware existed. I once was oblivious, but now I'm enlightened. Now there is something burning within me that's longing to do something, longing to take a stand against the status quo and the American Dream, to rise from my stupor and my good life and actually make a difference. I began mapping out my next step, thinking of ways to spread awareness and also do a little good. (You can see the current plan here if you're interested.) I won't change the world, no, but to the ones I do help, I will change their's. And you can too.
"If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito." -African proverb (Pg. 250)