Quiet laborers


Maybe more than a few of us make the mistake sometimes of assuming that the narrow sliver of people with whom we interact are representative of a larger body. The classic example is an acquaintance---a white, conservative, middle-aged, heterosexual, upper middle-class Republican whose friends were primarily of the same demographic sub-group---who declared almost with suspicion that he didn't know anyone who actually voted for Bill Clinton, as if this fact was itself evidence that the 1992 election might have been rigged.

I was reminded of this tendency toward selection bias in myself as I revisited Michigan with my wife this week. We had spent a few years there while I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan, and our remembrances of the state were shaped primarily by our experiences in Ann Arbor (where the university is situated) and Detroit (where my wife taught in the public schools).

We did not have many fond memories of the state. My memory of the university was of well-educated intellectuals slaving and snarling over the smallest of ideas. My wife's memory of Detroit was of petty bureaucrats and too many uncaring parents. There were bright spots to be sure---a good-hearted professor and a small gang of comrades here, a loyal friend and some dedicated parents there---but by and large we were glad to leave this state behind.

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This time, however, we found ourselves at a dinner with numerous dedicated Christians. I say "dedicated" because as I learned about their lives, I saw how they live their faith: caring for the helpless, advocating for the life and dignity of the disabled, offering alternatives to terrible public schools. Many of them seemed to live out their lives in proportions precisely the opposite of those people I remembered at the University of Michigan. Whereas the intellectuals I had known voiced loud opinions and did little to advance anyone but themselves, these Christians I had the privilege of meeting were dedicating themselves to others and only talking about it insofar as you could pry it out of them in conversation.

That certainly wasn't me a dozen years ago, and probably not today. I still run more toward the direction of talking rather than doing. It was humbling and edifying to be around these Christians, and to be reminded of how easy it is to forget that God's people---in imitation of the Lord Himself---are at work. My wife and I came away with a much fonder memory of Michigan and a reminder that there are good people everywhere, even where---perhaps especially where---they don't call attention to themselves.


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