“Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” –Buddhist wisdom
I wrote earlier about my understanding of God’s priorities (more for SDA readers). If/when a person comes to believe that God is more interested in peace, justice, righteousness, compassion and love than in esoteric theology or ritualistic religiosity, everything changes. True, we still must carry out the basic tasks of life — chop wood, draw water — but we go about even these things with a new mindfulness.
If justice is a weighty matter to God (Matt. 23:23), then the way I live becomes more important than my hour or two of religious engagement per week. I begin to realize that my daily actions affect others, so I want to live in such a way as to embody peace, justice and mercy. Peter Rollins considers this in his blog post I Believe in Child Labour, Sweatshops and Torture:
Take the example of buying chocolate from a corner shop. If I know, or suspect, that the chocolate is made from coco beans picked by children under the conditions of slavery then, regardless of what I say, I believe in child slavery. For the belief operates at a material level (the level of what I do) rather than at the level of the mind (what I tell myself I believe). And I can’t hide in supposed ignorance either for if I don’t know about how most chocolate is made it is likely that my lack of knowledge is a form of refusal to care. For the very fact that there is Fair Trade chocolate, for example, should be enough for me to ask questions about whether other chocolate is made in an unfair way.
I bought chocolate before “enlightenment,” and I will buy it after, but now I look for the Fair Trade stamp of approval. I look for organic food because I know the workers weren’t subjected to pesticides and herbicides in the fields, and I know it is better for the planet. I go about my daily tasks in ways that look out for other people and for creation itself.
So the way I go about the small things of life changes, but bigger picture things begin to change as well–my expectations of the church in the world, the way I desire my business to operate, my political values, the purpose of education, the use of my free time. Everything begins to change.
Peter Rollins tells a story about a priest who has an unusual gift–the people he prays for lose their faith (“Finding Faith” in The Orthodox Heretic). Eventually the priest realizes that by helping someone lose their faith, they are allowed to open their eyes to themselves and to the world, thus enabling them to live more fully or rightly without religio-blinders.
This new vision eventually leads to regaining a type of faith on the far side of no-faith. That is, if I think going to church and believing “true” theological statements is what God is after, I’ll focus my attention there. I may not have time to help others and I may not be interested in their experiences, but as long as I practice my religion and hold “right” beliefs, all is well. I can keep being religious so I don’t need to be good. But if I lost that faith in religiosity, I would then see that all I have left is a selfish existence. That selfishness needs to change in order to live rightly, and this was hindered by my focus on religious pursuits.
If my “site of resistance” is the church, attendance can be just a valve to let off pressure so I can go about supporting the status quo. Without that release valve, the pressure builds, and I see that the place to release my energy and resistance is where it matters most–in the world where people (and the systems that affect people) dwell. For most of us, we will likely continue with some form of religious expression and continue to hold a concern for theology, but we begin to see these things differently in light of the bigger picture of God and God’s world. They are not ends in themselves; they are not the focus.
For the Christian who begins to believe that love, compassion, peace and justice are paramount, some changes require very little reflection. “Now I will chop wood and draw water for my family and for someone else in my community who needs these things.” This is direct, local and uncomplicated. However, moving to broader questions (e.g., access to the forest or the well, access to education on how to chop and carry, the possession of a home to carry the water to), then answers become more complicated. The quest for “social holiness” is not always simple and obvious. Consequently, I believe that resources and community are important for taking the steps of living out these values. A healthy community provides support, creativity, insight, grace and meaning. I recommend the following resources for personal and small group reflection leading to action:
WEBSITES (organizations + publications)