Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton. Koeppel serves on the diocesan Stewardship Resources team and the diocesan Creation Care Initiative and is a frequent contributor on the topics of creation care, stewardship, and racial justice and reconciliation.
When was the last time you felt in control of your life? Did the moment last? There are lots of external events and demands which drive what we do at any moment. At home: a child, a grandchild, a sibling, a spouse, a parent or grandparent may need you on a moment’s notice, and you rise to the occasion, because you love them. Bills demand to be paid on time: electricity, water/sewer, rent (for some of us), property taxes (for some of us), insurance, car payments (for most of us). If you are of working age, your manager or supervisor may set your agenda for the day, or you have to respond to phone calls or emails as they come in. Along the way, if you are responsible for upkeep of your home, garden or yard—more activities yet that demand your time on their schedule, not yours. Have we mentioned your volunteer activities yet? And let’s not get started on the ultimate, premier time waster of all: your electronic “companion”—in theory, you have control over it, but have you noticed how hard it is not to get sucked down one social media rabbit hole or another? Is there any time in your day when you truly have the liberty to decide what you’re going to do? If we’re honest, unless you’re in that precious time of youth when time’s aplenty and responsibilities limited, or fresh into retirement and haven’t found your calling yet to occupy your time, you’re likely lucky if you have any spare time at all to reflect, to center yourself, to pray.
So many of our daily decisions, small and large, furthermore, are based on prior practice or routine—that saves us from having to think through everything we do in case we may need to change what and how we do it. Most pernicious, though, I think, is all of us having to base decisions on incomplete or even outright incorrect information served to us by persons or organizations which hope that our decisions benefit them. Those are the false prophets of our days—interested in their own wealth, status, power, not in yours, or anyone else’s. And it’s nothing new.
As we’re working through the changes to create a more just society, to limit global heating, it is imperative that we regain control over at least some of our own actions. There is no way I can think of to create the space and breathing room we need to tackle these challenges other than intentionally creating it for yourself. Set your electronic companions to “Leave me in peace!” (aka “Do not disturb!” or similar) mode. Turn off the TV. Tell your loved ones that you need a moment of peace, so you can love them all the more afterwards. Go for a hike or canoe paddle in His creation. If you can engage in guided centering prayer, do so, or if you are new to it, ask a friend or spiritual mentor whether they can introduce you and support you in it. If you have a daily quiet time, maybe in the morning, as you prepare breakfast, or in the evening, before you say your bedtime prayers, give yourself a chance to relax, free of the day’s bombardment of never ending demands, and focus on the bigger challenges we can’t let fall by the wayside.
Those are the times when you can (and should) ask who is telling you that you can’t and shouldn’t love your neighbor as you love yourself, because your neighbor is somehow different. I don’t recall any such qualifications being attached to the second part of the Summary of the Law. Creating division has always been a simple way to create tension, dissent, even wars. Anyone who tells you that you must not embrace the diversity with which God has graced His children, but you must fear or loath your fellow human beings because some of them are somehow different from you, does not have your best interest at heart. Why, then, are they telling us this?
Those are the times when you can (and should) ask who is telling you that you don’t deserve to live in dignity, starting with a living wage. The economic message underlying the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) (See: “Never Just a Number”) surely is not lost on anyone not receiving a day’s wages. Anyone who tells you that $7.25/hour is a fair living wage does not have your best interest at heart. Why, then, are they telling us that?
Those are the times when you can (and should) ask who is telling you that converting our daily lives to an all electric, fossil-fuel free future is going to be so hard, painful, and costly, that we can not afford to tackle it. Can we afford NOT to tackle it? Why, then, are they telling us this?
Those are the times when you can seek God’s guidance on what you can do to preserve, protect, restore His creation.
Those are the times when you can seek God’s guidance on what you can do to help your fellow human beings live in economic, social, and judicial security.
Those are the times, when you can seek God’s guidance on what you can do to show that you love your neighbors near and far as much as you love yourself.
Make those times happen, and listen to what you hear, when you hear His voice in the quiet.