The Journey series
This week's Mustard Seed presents some of my thoughts about being woke. Woke originated with African Americans in the 1800s to describe a state of being awake and unable to go back to sleep. Through the 1920s and 30s it became a call to activism against racial inequalities. By late mid-century it expanded to include suspicion of infidelity. With the growth of social media this century it crossed ethnic boundaries and entered general use to describe someone who is perceived as being aware of social issues.
Woke in its earliest sense is a very useful term. It's the state that makes me an early riser even though retired. Once my mind becomes active I'm awake regardless of my comfortable warm blankets.
Woke in it's second sense is testimony for it's own need. African American slang originated as code to evade oppression. One couldn't be punished for saying something their oppressor didn't understand. Yet this use is is more than mere recognition of a particular state. It acknowledges the need to adapt to the present while urging a fight for a more just future.
Woke in the third sense appropriates the first sense more accurately. Once one suspects infidelity it's very hard to stop. Relationships rely on trust and, once broken, trust is hard to regain.
Woke in the current sense is much too loosely defined. It would do well to draw more from the second sense. Once one recognizes a social issue it is hard to forget it, but recognizing it is not enough. We can't proceed as if it doesn't exists and we shouldn't just allow it to continue. It's of little use to say, "it's broken and they should fix it." Are we truly woke if our familiarity with a social issue remains superficial; we are aware that something is an issue, we protest, but we never examine alternatives; we never consider how to get from where we are to where we ought be? Can we be woke about every social issue?
"Your Mustard Seeds are about faith," you might say. "What has this got to do with my faith?" Go back to the start and consider how woke we are about our faith.
Next week: More Woke
Last week I wrote about distraction. This week's Mustard Seed is about prayer.
I often meditate on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I am Peter, sleeping. I know that my friend is God on Earth, yet I can't muster the strength to stay awake with Him for just one hour. I complain later of a thorn in my side. How many thorns were in the crown he wore? I am one of those thorns. He asks little and gives much. Me?
This meditation convicts me most when I find myself distracted during the holiest of prayers. I can't recall a single Mass through which I remained undistracted, awake, for its one hour. Blame is easily shifted; the child fidgeting in the pew; the lady singing off-key; the noise behind me. These tiny things distract me from something far greater.
How much easier still it is to excuse ourselves in daily life. "I have too many thing to do. I need to work and cook and clean." To what purpose? If we are busying ourselves merely to stay alive, healthy, and happy we are missing the point of being. God created us for a purpose. We won't find that purpose by fitting the world in our life. We must fit ourselves into creation. Then, instead of darting from moment to moment, paycheck to paycheck, we'll have a reason to live.
As with most quests, the best place to start is by asking one who knows. God will tell us our purpose — if we ask. We'll find out — if we listen. Pray in silence because His voice is gentle. Listen in all the ways He presents Himself to us through His creation. We must pray every day, not for what we want, but for what God want's of us. Not for what we want, but for what we need. If we don't receive what we believe we need, have faith that God has given us better; He can't do else. Pray for discernment. God will equip us for our purpose.
Working in a remote camp, I learned focusing on the means at hand led me forward while focusing on things beyond reach distract me. I found a solution to many problems in the scrap pile. Browsing through hardware catalogues offered simpler solutions, but they were always weeks, months, or forever away. Distance was a barrier I couldn't broach. Budget was another barrier. I couldn't venture beyond those limits, but there was always a way to keep the camp running. I discovered much more by doing things the way I could than I would have learned by doing the same thing the easy way that wasn't available. So too with life. We have limits, we can't always do as we please. We don't have everything we want, we must make do. What we feel we lack often leads us to something better.
Next week: Woke or Awake.
This week I stare at the wrong side of my deadline, victim of today's topic. With spring approaching, I have gardens to prepare and seedlings to start. Nature's deadlines are strict, if I miss them I'll have no crops to harvest. Knowing I have more activities now than through winter, I still walked many frivolous paths. Instead of Netflix and YouTube falling victim to my added duties, I sacrificed my Mustard Seed.
"Father," the voice through the confessional screen said, "this list is almost the same as my last one. I try, but I don't see I'm any better."
"Pick one sin," Fr Bill suggested. "Focus on that. Of course avoid the others, but focusing on the one will help you see your progress."
A few months later the old farmer proudly approached Fr Bill after Mass. "I took your advise. I was always very distracted so I focused on that and now I no longer am!"
"Distraction's a hard one to master," Fr Bill said. "If you've done that I'll give you a prize."
Lou smiled. "How can I show you? What's my prize?"
"Nothing too difficult," Fr Bill replied. "Just say one Hail Mary without distraction and I'll give you my horse."
"That's it?" Lou's heart raced as he confidently began, "Hail Mary, full of — Do I get the saddle as well?"
When I first heard that joke, I wondered just what type of sin distraction is. I quickly classed it as sloth. Later, as distraction invaded my meditations, I saw my rash analysis was itself slothful. Distraction is a bit like a Swiss army knife with a blade for each of the seven deadly sins. Distraction also stabs at all ten commandments. Each time we stray from the straight and narrow path we are branching off to follow a distraction.
A few week's ago I watched Netflix's documentary, The Social Dilemma. It reveals how social media employs psychologists to make their offerings addictive. Usage is monitored to see which elements command most attention. There are no monthly fees for Google, YouTube, et al, but they are not free. Time is money has taken on a new dimension. While we have been watching our money these companies have been picking our pockets of time. Time we spend with them is time we don't spend elsewhere.
We are accustomed to money as a commodity. We must learn to value time as a commodity. Just as we prioritize financial expenses, we must watch where we spend time. Distraction is to time as impulse buying is to budgets.
Next week: I'll pray.
This week I continue my trend of last-minute writing. This has nothing to do with the very intentional Just in Time manufacturing model Toyota developed to improve efficiency, economy, and responsiveness. It has more to do with procrastination, trepidation, and reactiveness.
In my youth, technology promised to free us from our burdens by wonders laying just beyond the horizon. It was an apt metaphor; that horizon is always beyond us. Technology has relieved us of many chores, some which we might still rather do, but she has also introduced many new necessities. Instead of the life promised in The Jetsons, we have a life where many families struggle. Both parents must work just to make ends meet paycheck to paycheck. Our tasks may not be as physically taxing but they are far more mentally and psychologically onerous.
Instead of being freed to pursue higher goals we are tied ever tighter to subsistence. Instead of just food, shelter, and clothing we have added laptops, cell phones, cars, appliances, etc, etc, etc. Our list of needs has grown to such a length that few will fill it. To what end?
It is telling how vocation has changed in today's society. Instead of priest, religious, or family it now means professional, tradesperson, or labourer. Economy has been elevated from a means to an end. Religion is being reduced to a quaint practice one may engage in private, but it must not interfere with daily life. Families, rather than being served by legislation, are being assailed.
Social norms are surrendered to autonomy, yet we are no longer free to choose our associations; those are now hereditary. Regardless of personal and family history every individual somehow belongs to groups which are either oppressed or oppressor. Patriotism is being replaced by guilt, resentment, or, more often, a combination of both toward these vague entities. We are all victims and we are all victimizers by assigned associations. No personal acts can vindicate us and none can raise us above repression. Evil trumps good; one bad act cancels all gain. In today's woke society; I'm bigoted because I'm Catholic, I'm privileged because I'm white, I'm domineering because I'm male. Christ's redemption is old superstition and there is no redemption for whiteness or maleness.
I say it's time to lasso this beast by the tail. Send economy back to being a means and raise faith and family to primacy. We've had the tail wagging the dog for too long. How we'll do that is beyond me but I'll start with prayer.
Next week: Distraction
This week I find myself again looking at a blank page three hours ahead of my posting deadline. This reaffirms the interconnectedness of things in our lives. I've been preparing a large section of our back yard to grow vegetables instead of chafer beetles. Wedging my project in amongst the vagaries of Coquitlam's weather this time of year and family life any time of year has left this week's Mustard Seed on the back burner. Not everything goes as planned.
My mind is prone to wander as I work at simple, repetitive tasks such as digging. This week's topic, one should be free to do whatever they please as long as it doesn't harm anyone else, provided ample fodder for such musings. Many of my thoughts will remain buried alongside the pipes that will irrigate my new raised beds, lost even to myself. Hopefully, the few I recall are worth recording. I apologize that it's a bit of a ramble.
1) Give credit where credit is due. This theory's proponents at least recognize that our actions ought to be limited by the effect they have on others.
2) Not harming anyone else is an unobtainable threshold. We are, by nature, consumers. We must eat, drink, and breath to survive. We must have clothing and shelter. In any finite system, a gain in one area must be offset by a loss in another. We can't be without depleting resources. Whatever we consume is removed from the common pool, ergo there is a degree of harm done to others. Even acts of charity where we gain no personal benefit (other than transcendent), the good done for the object of our charity must be balanced by depletion distributed some way. Even when personally bearing the entire burden, there is an opportunity cost for those we didn't help.
3) Transactions can come close. The gain provided offsets the harm caused. This is complicated by valuation. Two people, or even the same person at different times, will not value all things equally.
We each have time, talents, and treasure which can be traded, invested, or squandered. Talents multiply time. A professional's time, quite fairly, is worth more than an amateur's or a labourer's. Yet we still ought question our relative valuations. Is a professional athlete, no matter how well he plays a game, worth thousands of farmers producing our food?
Circumstances also affect value. Labour is valued much differently from place to place. There is more benefit in cleaning a tropical slum but a janitor will be paid more to clean the Waldorf Astoria. The scion of a tycoon has far more opportunity to nurture their talents than does the seventh child of a sharecropper. To a large degree, a person's recognized worth is more accident than effort and definitely not intrinsic.
4) A tree standing in the forest has a different worth than the same tree stripped of its limbs and its bark and milled into lumber. To whom is the added value due? What percentage to the logger, the trucker, the sawyer? How much to the land owner and various corporate stockholders? Is any due to the common purse for social benefits? Do we compensate for soil erosion and loss of carbon sink — harms not even recognized a short while ago? Are there other effects we don't yet see?
5) Forests are replantable, but what of minerals? Can we truly measure the worth of non-renewable resources? If so, how ought the value be distributed between prospector, developer, common purse, and future generations?
6) Transactional relationships favour those who have over those who are desperate. A crust of bread is worth far more to a pauper than to a mogul.
We do many things without being able or willing to properly measure the costs. Our cost/benefit analyses are usually more generous to ourselves than to others. It is impossible to know the butterfly effects of our actions. Once done they can't be undone. The praise once heaped on Etienne Lenoir's internal combustion engine is fast turning to scorn in the throes of global warming. How many things we do for the good of mankind will wind up bane? Do, we must, but perhaps less is more.
Next week: Beyond me.