“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Theresa
Marilyn at Communicating Across Boundaries linked to this article entitled "You Can't Buy Your Way to Social Justice", which I read with interest. I read some of the author's posts at Djibouti Jones, which I really enjoyed. Which I say to highlight that I really like the author and her brave life in Djibouti, so this is not a criticism of her.
What I found interesting is the debate in the comments, and the overarching question of what represents the "right" thing to do for the world as a Christian. What is "enough" to make us a good Christian? It's like we got this massive loan and though we can't ever pay it back we should probably try.
I felt like this article, and so many others at Christianity Today, place a very heavy burden on people- one that is unnecessarily heavy given our own smallness. The question in the article seems to be whether it is more important to give one's life to people in a far-off land, or figure out how to consume fairly and justly. I sometimes stray towards legalism, and I think my writing betrays that, but at bottom I believe that God's burden is light. We don't have to know how to fix the world, and when we do think we know we're probably wrong. God's burden is a doctor's prescription meant for our own health, our Boston pastor often said, not a boss's order to somehow get a better employee. The prescription is enough to make us useful and whole as part of a bigger story of redemption. For those with less of a faith-based perspective, I wonder if what I'm trying to describe is similar to the smallness we all feel the first time we worked for an NGO or tried to do something meaningful to change the world.
This is not to say it doesn't matter whether I notice strangers in need or buy fair trade. Both matter (and perhaps neither matter very much unless they get some supernatural turbocharging!). But the prescription God has for one person - to leave them healthy and make them whole - is not the same as for another. And the prescription at one stage of life is not the same as at another.
I want to move towards a deeper life of faith- whether that simply means being kinder, or praying for people, or noticing strangers, or selling everything and giving our money to those who need it. But I am for the most part called to small things and small days- where big things might unexpectedly happen, and they sometimes do. I very seldom expect the adventure or change in mindset when it comes, so I would be wrong to tell you your adventure when I don't even know my own.
To tentatively take the "light burden" metaphor a little further, I wonder if we can happily bear more and try more as we get stronger muscles. When I was pregnant, at the end I felt like my babies were just huge and they needed to get out. They were a pretty heavy burden. Then they came out and seemed so tiny, and as they grew in the baby carrier I largely had them on me the first year or so. During that year their growth was so gradual that I didn't feel terribly burdened. I had gotten much stronger without really noticing.
That is to say that changing the world might be spirit-filled, gentle, adventuresome and at times a bit scary, with no human action so momentous that it can transform the world to Eden on its own. In this context, we need each other and we need all the years we're given here on earth. Which is really good news.
Real awesome post.
This is something I've been thinking a fair amount lately.
In the spirit of your post, I was thinking how it might be healthier for us to apply a kind of centered set approach this aspect of faith and justice. Although, you didn't mention "centered Set", I couldn't help think of it.
In the bounded set approach, we become grim legalists who require adherence to a way of living. As you state, this is unnecessarily heavy.
In the centered set approach, we take small incremental steps, we do our best, and maybe we fail, and maybe we're inadequate, but we'll try to do better each day. We point ourselves, to living for and following Jesus. In a sense, our task is never done. We can never say (until we're in heaven or Jesus returns) that we are done. We live slowly, incrementally. What matters more than our physical progress is our orientation.
Thanks Darren, I think the centered set perspective really adds something to the discussion. Very good.
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