Everyday, in large and small ways, each of us are making decisions – real decisions with real consequences. No matter how hard we might try to rationalize choices, blame others, see ourselves as victim, or fain ignorance, we make these decisions ourselves and our choices impact the lives of people around us in either cruel or kind ways.
My greatest sin is not that I make wrong decisions (of which there are many). Rather, I truly fail when I choose to think that I exist as an island, for Mike alone. This isolated or alienated self is akin to what Charles Taylor (A Secular Age, 2007) characterizes as the “buffered self.” Living in a disenchanted world and with the failures of individuals and societal entities (family, church, organizations) around us, we find it all too easy to withdraw into a world ordered solely by our desires or self-perceived realities. Taylor names this as our tendency toward “a sense of invulnerability” and “self-possession.” As buffered selves, we seek to escape the world that might challenge our sense of well-being, security, or self-consciousness.
The fears, anxieties, even terrors that belong to the porous self are behind it. This sense of self-possession, of a secure inner mental realm, is all the stronger, if in addition to disenchanting the world, we have also taken the anthropocentric turn, and no longer even draw on the power of God. (300-301)
When I buffer self, I am no longer open to the world around – family, friends, associations – and ultimately shut myself off from the world beyond – Father, Son and Spirit. And yet, for me, such buffering is an allusion, a lie, a self-deception, for the world of family, friends and associations still exists and God is still God.
Reality is this: I am a father; I have brothers; I have a son and daughters; and I relate to friends and colleagues. I am not a monad but part of people, places, community, family, creation. Even though I am free to decide what I will do and say, and how I will act and respond, I am not so powerful as to dissolve or alter these realities. I exist within the context of a sacred responsibility and trust toward my daughters and son, wife, parents – and God. I may choose to buffer but not to negate these sacred and eternal obligations.
When I act as a responsible and ‘porous self’ with and toward my community and the Creator, I am a better husband, father, and brother. I am a better man than my own choosing might make me. Without this community, I am an empty and hollow man. With this community, I know love, hope, and salvation.
As a free individual with the God-given capacity to make decisions, I choose to lean into my community, to admit when I am wrong, to give and receive forgiveness – to give of myself. At the same time, I am choosing love and hope for myself.