Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A common revolution?

Lately I’ve been reading things recommended by friends who are Tea Party enthusiasts and other friends who are more on the Green Party end. Sometimes I am dismayed or exasperated by the vehemence with which each side excoriates the other. Sometimes I’m able to let go of that and notice the similarities between them. Both say that our political and economic system is deeply flawed, that ordinary people aren’t well served by it and feel powerless to change it. Both sides call people to revolution, to a radical change initiated at the grassroots level. There are some real and important disagreements between sides, and I don’t mean to minimize these. Taxation, financial and environmental regulation, immigration, war and other issues of public policy, are hugely important. But they are only part of the picture. Real reform or revolution will also require us to live differently each day; to be a different kind of people. I think that most of us, liberal and conservative, don’t yet live as though we were citizens of the society we envision; the free and just society, the beloved community, the Kingdom of God. I think many of us might be able to agree on some important qualities of such citizens, and to work together to help each other gain these qualities. If we did this wholeheartedly and patiently, we might become more grounded, more powerful, more humble, and less willing to caricature or dismiss one another.

Here are a few practices with which I think we might begin. I’d like to hear how they sound to you, and what you would add, subtract or change.

Gain competence. Do more for ourselves and our neighbors.
I and some of my liberal friends deplore the excessive power of corporations. Tighter government regulations might help. But so long as we depend on a complex, far-flung and incomprehensible global market to provide all our basic needs, we will be powerless. Learning to grow food, build and repair housing, fix machinery, make music, tell stories, listen to and counsel one another is the root of real independence.
Some of my conservative friends deplore the impersonal and disempowering nature of government assistance to people in need. I share some of these concerns. I think institutional help is better then no help, and some needs may need to be met on the public level; but people and faith communities could do a lot more to take care of each other. What if we took responsibility for knowing the people in our neighborhoods and churches well enough so that we could provide each other with practical assistance? What if we took time to find out where there are communities with fewer resources that might need our help?

Consume less. Waste less.
This practice is essential to the practice above. If we are going to take responsibility for supplying our own needs, we’ll need to know the difference between needs and wants. If we are going to have enough to share, we’ll need to stop hoarding more than we need. If we expect this finite planet to produce enough resources to provide for everyone, we’ll have to stop taking more than our share.

Break free of addictions.
We can’t do any of this work well if we believe that we’re dependent on drugs, or electronic entertainment, or the good opinion and praise of the people around us, or...

Slow down.
When we do things in haste, out of fear and the desperate urge to Do Something, what I do usually doesn’t help and may actually make things worse. I just proved this to myself again yesterday morning, when I woke up to find that the predicted light frost had instead been a hard freeze; I rushed outside to sprinkle my plants with water before the sun hit their leaves, though it was still below freezing. Some of the plants I didn’t sprinkle look unhappy; most of the plants I sprinkled are dead. It’s easy to see how this works on the physical level. I think when we rush in to help people before taking time to really understand their needs, gifts and stories we may do just as much damage, though it’s harder to quantify.

Listen to the Others.
Whoever the Others may be for us, and however frustrating we find them, they’re part of the Kingdom too, and we have to learn to live with them. I’m easily tempted to dismiss or disparage groups of people (rich folks, meaning those significantly richer than me; wearers of makeup; supporters of harsh anti-immigration policies...), but usually when I get to know people who arte part of these groups I find that they have something to teach me. And there’s not much chance of my teaching them anything while I’m inwardly belittling them.

Listen to God. Obey what we hear.

This is the root. If I actually did this faithfully and well I probably wouldn’t need a long list of other principles. When I do this I am taken out of my fears, obsessions, greeds, self-contradictions, and set in the way that I should go. When I do this I know myself to be one with all the people whom I admire and love and resent and despair of, and also one with the One who bears, sustains and transforms our pettiness and grief. When we do this we are already in the Kingdom.

14 comments:

Paula Roberts said...

Wow don't you speak to my condition. I am having all of these challenges as you list them: gain competence, slow down, listen to others, consume less/waste less, break free of addictions, listen to God. I've adopted practices to address many of these. Slowing down is a real challenge for me, for example. To that end I've resolved to do small practices like making my bed in the morning, folding the bird cage covers when I take them off instead of balling them up and shoving them on a shelf.

Thank you.

Nate LaClaire said...

Thank you, Joanna, for an awesome and insightful post! It's interesting that your list and many of your comments echo the things that I was contemplating over Detox Week. I think there's definitely something to that.

Micah Bales said...

This is a helpful post. Thank you for it!

Micah

Joanna Hoyt said...

Thanks all for the encouragement; and thanks, Paula, for telling some of your specific small practices. I'm also trying to stick to some very small-scale practices--putting tools away promptly; setting aside more regular daily times to stop and pray; not leaping in to justify myself when criticized...

It's easy to build large movements around the large-scale issues people disagree on. How might we build communities to support each other and hold each other accountable in these small daily practices?

Paula Roberts said...

I am not sure we should try to hold other people accountable. I think these struggles are personal and if we try to do this for everyone else I think we step into "creed" territory. I can only imagine if someone came to me earlier than now, with these ideas that speak to me today I would not be open to them and I would resist anyone trying to tell me what to do to make things better. We all must "wear it as long as [we] can". I think we can congregate into communities of like minded people, but I would not be comfortable going beyond that.

faithe55 said...
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Joanna Hoyt said...
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Joanna Hoyt said...

Paula, I didn't mean that we should require other people to share our values. What I long for, and sometimes find and am blessed by, is a community that will hold me accountable to the principles and leadings that I aspire to but often fail to live by.

Paula Roberts said...

Ah, I see. I understand now. There is definitely a comfort being in a like minded community. I am obsessively scouring the internet for blogs on plainness, articles on simplicity, etc. So there is definitely a need in me to be in communion with those in the movement. But there is something else. The World is also important. We can influence by example, other people for whom these concepts have not yet occurred. I don't mean to say to get these people to our current way of thinking, just that we can make sure they know the option is there. Let me give you a really practical example. A sister-friend of mine was recently terminated from the same company that laid me off almost a year ago. She recently confessed to me that she enjoyed very much being at home, gardening, and taking care of her partner. She said this with all kinds of guilt on her conscience that (a) she was now a slacker, and (b) such confession somehow betrays the feminist movement. My contribution to the conversation was that feminism guaranteed her the right to do exactly what she was doing - choosing. That there was no prescribed rules saying she where she must work or what she must love. And I also admonished her to embrace the things that were making her happy without the recriminations and guilt. I don't intent to make her come around to my way of thinking. I think that's arrogant. Who knows how long I'll be lead this way? And who knows whether my leading is her leading?

She's becoming a bit Quaker-curious though LOL.

Joanna Hoyt said...

Hurrah for you, and for your sister-friend! I had some difficulty with feminist friends telling me I had to go to college and aim for a high-powered job so as not to let the Cause down, and I didn't answer nearly as succinctly or accurately.
And yes, I think an alternative example, and a space and schedule that allow people to step back from their preoccupations, are more likely to be helpful than arguments. Though I am still naturally inclined to argue, my work welcoming guests here at the farm has nudged me in the direction of listening and waiting.

Anonymous said...

What a delightful blog. It's peaceful here. I feel somehow cleansed reading it ladies (and gents). Thank you. Have you heard of Saint Theresa? She believed in doing little jobs well. Although I am not Catholic, I think she is a good example for me. I think she found pleasure in doing her little jobs well and that added meaning to her life. I will read up on her. Really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Bibi

Joanna Hoyt said...

Bibi, it's good to see you over here! Not quite sure which St. Theresa you mean, but I'm guessing it's the Little Flower (of Lisieux)? I read her book a few years ago and felt the kind of irritation that usually signals something I know to be true and am not practicing. I think I should read it again.

Anonymous said...

Yes the that's the one. Little Flower. Looked her up on Wiki but no mention of her little job philosophy. I'm annoyed at myself for not taking more pleasure in the little jobs. They make up much more of my life than the big things. If you don't mind. I'll follow in your shadow for a ways along the trail. Thank you for the welcome to your site. I can breathe here, be still and quiet thoughts come, Bibi

Anonymous said...

Dear Joana,
When you are criticized, try this, smile and thank the person. Mean it. Thank you for telling me, pointing that out, making me aware of whatever it was that drew the comment. When I do that and first surrender my need to justify, I can step back and see I needed a nudge in a better direction. No negative, no yaking on and on but. but, but... Maybe acceptance is part of discernment. A positive receptor is better and it gives me more to help me through my day. Bibi