lenten journal: life-giving things


    The main thing I wanted to get accomplished before I went to work today was to get my car to the shop. I have been driving with one working headlight for far longer than I should and it was time for an oil change. The garage I use is next to a Dunkin’ Donuts, so I grabbed the latest issue of Harpers so I could read while Jimbo, my mechanic, worked on my car. Jimbo loves my car. I drive a 1997 Lapis Blue Jeep Cherokee Sport that has almost 160,000 miles on it. He thinks Jeeps are the best and he loves doing everything he can to keep mine in top condition. He does a good job; my car runs well.

    Ginger wanted to go work out this morning, so I dropped her off, dropped the Jeep off, and sat myself down with my Turbo-Hot to read. I had time to work through a couple of articles. The first, “Congo’s Daily Blood: Ruminations From A Failed State” by Bryan Mealer, was the reason I picked up the magazine to begin with. I heard him interviewed yesterday on Here and Now (another NPR show) about his time as a journalist in Congo. In the past five years, over four million people have been murdered in the violent free for all that passes for a country. While we get news of car bombs in Baghdad and trouble in Tehran, we don’t hear from the Congo. There is a UN presence there, but not with the ability or the intent to protect the innocent from the genocide. The US government is doing nothing. After the nation is obliterated I suppose someone in the State Department will say it is a terrible thing and then go to lunch.

    How can a whole nation die and no one appear to even notice?

    The second article was, “The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance” by Curtis White. His article is rich and challenging, leaning into Thoreau and Emerson as prophetic voices for our age. White works with the question: “What does it mean to be a human being?” He looks to Thoreau for answers.

    “First, a refusal of the world as it stands. Second, a recommitment to fundamentals. What does it mean for a human being to need a house? Food? Clothing? . . . Third, an understanding that to stand before the question of these fundamentals requires spirit. Thoreau called it awareness . . . As Simone Weil wrote, echoing Thoreau’s sense of awareness: ‘The authentic and pure values — truth, beauty, and goodness — in the activity of a human being are the result of one and the same act, a certain application of the full attention to the object.’ Or, more tersely yet: ‘Absolute unmixed attention is prayer.’ It is perhaps the saddest, most hopeless thing we can say about our culture that it is a culture of distraction.”

    White concludes,

    “We need to work inventively – as Christ did, as Thoreau did – in the spirit of disobedience for the purpose of refusing the social order into which we happen to have been born and putting in its place a culture of life-giving things. In such a society, we not only could claim to be Christians; we’d actually act like Christians.”

    Why is that so damn hard?

    I finished the article and my coffee and walked across the parking lot to get my car. The plan was for Ginger to start walking home from the gym and I would pick her up on the way. Now home is about eight miles away. Jimbo took longer than we thought, so she had covered about six miles before she called me to meet her at Cosmo’s, one of our favorite breakfast places. After breakfast, I drove her home and we both got ready to go to work.

    The news was all about the immigration debate as I drove to Cohasset. The discussion hits close to home. Let me put it this way: if congress actually voted to make entering this country illegally a felony, I will know a lot of felons. I know there are lots of layers to the issue and I also know we lose sight of the “life-giving things” when we name something a right that is no more than circumstance. I could have just as easily been born in Chiapas as in Corpus Christi, Texas. People need homes, food, clothing and we have more resources than any country in the world.

    Why is this so damn hard?

    But it is hard. Being committed to life-giving things means dying for them, or at least losing a lot. That’s what this week in particular is about. It’s easy for me to rage against the global capitalist machine and write about fighting for fair trade and doing something about the Congo, but I’ve not made big changes. I sing the email petitions that come around. I work hard to be informed. I try to pass on information. I dream sometimes about joining Christian Peacemaker Teams, or something like that, but I question if my motive is more about wanting to be a hero than it Is about being a better human being.

    Bryan Mealer finished his article this way:

    “As my plane lifted off and over the river, I looked around at the people who were leaving: the preachers and profiteers, the doom junkies and cowboys, all the people like me. I imagined we could all use the break, put the death and dying out of sight and out of mind. But I knew what we all knew, that somewhere in that plane the dead were still with us, and no matter who we were it was still up to us to sort them all out.”

    The world we live in provides plenty of distractions to allow us to look at something else and take our minds off of the Congo, or Darfur, or our neighbors in pain. I don’t know what to do, but I don’t want to simply be pulled away for the next shiny thing that passes in front of my eyes. I believe that life-giving things are connected in some way. Our awareness – our prayer – is not for nothing. The cost of discipleship begins with attention. Then we go on from there.



    1. Focus. Yes indeed. I love what Robert Fripp said: how you hold the pick is how you live your life.

      Maybe the kitchen tool of choice, in your case. 😉

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