Sean Penn. Good Idea Over Common Sense.

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During the dark days of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania I made a trip from Hungary to Romania only to learn that the airline had lost ALL the passenger’s checked bags. Standing in line to fill out the requisite forms one Hungarian joked about the incompetence saying “well you know communism is the triumph of an idea over common sense!” (He then handed me his card and he was the foreign minister of Hungary!)

I thought of that story when I read about Sean Penn’s efforts to save drowning people in New Orleans.

In a story that would be hilarious were it not set in such tragedy, Penn launched his raft and was unable to start the outboard engine, an indignity exceeded by a subsequent discovery that he had failed to close an inflation hole and the raft was rapidly sinking.

This is the story some conservatives will tell with glee believing it is illustrative of idealist attempts to solve problems doomed by their own hubris and impracticality. There is an important lesson for idealists and it relates to the point I made about the message of “The Constant Gardener.” WE should get involved, but our involvement should match our abilities and distinct competencies.

Having said that, I want to report the rest of the story. Penn did get the boat working and did save some lives, pulling them out of the polluted, murky waters yesterday. Setting aside his intemperate remarks about “criminal negligence” on the part of the Federal government, I respect Penn’s willingness to step outside his comfort zone and to use his resources to make a difference.

As his critics accuse him of exploiting the situation and grandstanding, I will be reminded of D.L Moody’s response to someone who criticized his method of evangelism. He asked the naysayer, “What method are you using?” When they offered no alternative to his methods Moody replied, “I prefer what I AM doing to what you are NOT doing.”

Why aren’t there more inflatable rafts buzzing about the flooded city of New Orleans? And what are we to make of observers who say they have witnessed abuse and callous behavior from some of the so-called rescuers? (A British couple reports seeing “police” in a raft ask some stranded girls to lift their tops “and show us what you’ve got” before they would rescue them.)

Communism may be the triumph of an idea over common sense, but democracy is based on an idea too; that a good, competent and gifted citizenry will serve one another for the common good and will be served well by those they elect to represent them.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in September 6, 2005 by | No Comments »

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