Thursday, December 29, 2005

Saving the World? We do it all the time!

A member of another list made a comment about saving the world, a topic painfully familiar to me and no doubt to others. Here is the comment followed by my response to it. I'm putting it on my blog so others may consider it but perhaps more importantly, so I can remind myself when I'm feeling particularly useless and my life efforts of little value that what each of us contributes to saving the world, tikkun olam, is essential.

I used to think I could change the world -- that didn't last long. But being able to save a dog from a death sentence somehow justified my existence. since then, they've done so much more to save me . . .

Of course we can change the world. Everything we do has an impact on it. Generosity toward animals challenges cultural values of materialism (which sees animals as things to be used and discarded) and anthropocentrism (human beings as the focus of the universe). Displaying compassion toward other living things teaches a living lesson about the value of compassion. As the existentialists teach us, we live in an often irrational universe yet we are called to make rational choices which have consequences not only for our own lives but for the entire world. It is an enormous responsibility.

I, too, become discouraged with the direction the world is currently taking, particularly in our corner of it here in the US. I want to be able to fix humanity, to stop our warring, deepen our superficiality, broaden our community, open our eyes to the wonder of an incredibly beautiful universe beginning with the forest in the path of the next freeway construction or with my neighbor whose language and culture I do not share. There are days I grieve over the mediocrity for which we are willing to settle. And there are days when I burn with anger at the hateful and destructive ways we treat each other and our good creation.

One of the ideas the medieval church emphasized was the notion of vocation, calling. The middle ages saw the universe as static, thus the place where one found him/herself was where G-d intended for them to be. Martin Luther expanded that notion to value every place on the social ladder one might fall. If one's calling was to shovel manure in the stables, such work was necessary for a functioning society and thus glorified G_d as much as the monk whose vocation it was to pray in the local abbey. (This was one of poor Martin's more noble moments!)

With the rise of the Enlightenment period and the Romantic response to it, the notion of the individual came sharply into focus. No more were roles assigned to human beings, we were called to find our own paths, to follow our own yearnings, to discern and live into our own callings to become fully human.

No one of us is responsible for the whole world and no one of us is capable of fixing it. But each of us is called to a little corner of that repair, the concept of tikkun olam found in Jewish thought. Each of us is responsible for our part. You rescue animals. Others adopts unwanted children. And the rest of us engage our own vocations when we are being responsible.

All of our callings are essential to the whole. None of us is dispensable.

I am only one, but still one.I can’t do everything, but I can do something.Just because I can’t do everything doesn’t mean I won't do the something I can do
Edward Hale, (1822–1909).
Author, The Man without a Country.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world: indeed it's the only thing that ever has!
Margaret Mead (1901 - 1978)
US anthropologist & popularizer of anthropology


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value simply do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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