Words, words, words – printed, written, typed, spoken, broadcasted – fill every crack and crease of life. Like water that engulfs, words soak the fabric of our existence. On the back of the cereal box, the morning paper, the radio, billboards, signs, books, smartphones, and screens – words fill our lives. And into this sea of words, we add our own, compounding the din of commentary, opinions, descriptions, invitations, etc. Rather than creating clarity, many times we just add to the noise. Though we are free to speak and write, our free communication does not always promote understanding, nor does it produce solutions. In our freedom to say, print, and text whatever we wish, we speak, write, and text too many words. Quite possibly we need fewer words and more silence. Read more…
Much of my story has been shaped by the circumstances of birth. Factors that form my story – health, religion, schooling, language, and environment – are due in large measure to where I was born and to whom I was born. Freedom, prosperity, diet, education, parents, and religious environment are contingencies that I did not choose but came to me. Yes, I made decisions along the way and these have determined the direction of life. And yet, the boundaries of my story have been set by birth. It is as if I was placed in a moving car, and my task has been to keep it out of the ditch and on the road.
On the other side of the globe, a male child is born into completely different possibilities and constraints, and thus, Mehmet lives into a story of another kind. Kinship, scarcity of food, agrarian labor, a polygamous household, and mosque are contingencies he did not choose but came to him. The decisions he makes are framed in a unique way by these factors and thus produce a particular storyline. It is as if he was placed in a raging river, and his task is to navigate the rocks and trees hidden beneath its current.
Given the well-defined contingencies of our births and the contexts in which we grew up, should Mehmet and I expect there to be coherence or shared purpose in our stories? Read more…
Our past is sedimented in our present, and we are doomed to misidentify ourselves, as long as we can’t do justice to where we come from. -Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, p. 29.
We want to live now – with reference to little else but the now and with reason based solely in the now. We ask – “Why spend time studying thinkers, movements, or events of the past? That’s just dead, dry history. Isn’t life about me, my life and what is in front of me?”
And yet, can we really escape the past? Everything we see, touch, and experience is full of the past. No matter how we might wish to dismiss or ignore it, the past is with us, defining our present. Charles Taylor is right – if we fail to “do justice to where we come from,” we will misread our present and thus “misidentify ourselves.” Read more…
As big news stories grind endlessly on, common, small people perform unusual and courageous acts of love and grace. The news cycle continually draws our attention to the big events, such as the vice president debate, the awarding of the Nobel prizes, the post-season baseball playoffs, and litigation between Apple and Samsung, while right before our eyes men and women offer grace, love in unusual and courageous ways, and live faithfully and sacrificially toward others. Because we are taught to admire and even desire large, celebrated, noticed lives, we consume and vicariously live through the news of politicians, athletes and celebrities. And yet, true significance and meaning are played out unnoticed in obscure corners of our cities, classrooms down the hall, at breakfast tables, and in quiet, courageous words. Elections, technological developments, international disputes, and even baseball are important, but let us not miss what might be the most significant, immediate, and really real news close at hand. Let us not miss the people who challenge us to live toward love, faithfulness, and grace.
Warning: character, integrity and love do not equal living large, being famous, or doing whatever – aspiring to these may harm your life.
We need to be warned and we must warn others that living a life that longs for character, settles only for integrity and truly loves is not always grand or pretty. In fact, such aspirations are extremely hard and usually messy. Often, in this age of twitter, facebook, and blogs, we can be fooled into thinking that if we tweet or post something, it actually is. And thus, I am a person of character, have integrity and care for others just because I type such sentiments. Not so. Life is real and thus to be really lived – with real people, in the midst of their real problems, caring for their real junk, and speaking really hard stuff to them. To really live may mean our online persona suffers serious harm, our status is not so grand, and our updates are not so frequent. Be warned, Mike – aspiring to character, integrity and love may mean that you type less and live more, or even stop typing altogether and start really living.