Thursday, February 12, 2009

Simple Steps Toward Doing Justice...

From a recent trip to the beach.

We've been out of town, so I've been away from the computer for several days. This could easily be a pattern for as long as I'm on the coast (I don't know), but I'll just post when I'm around and when I have time and inclination.

I'm currently reading a book I've read many times over the years, Living More With Less, a Mennonite book published in the 1970's (link to this book is in the sidebar list of my current reading). I have a strong desire to live a simple, compassionate life, and this is a book that inspires me in that direction. Some ideas in the book seem a bit dated (but surprisingly, considering the age of the book, not much), some of it will never work for me, and some of the ideas seem too extreme for now, but much of it is helpful or at least thought-provoking and challenging. Sometimes I get complacent and lazy about "doing justice"-- caring well for the world and its people-- so a bit of this kind of challenge is good for me (I seem to need it again and again).

Five themes in the book are:

Do Justice.
Learn from the World Community.
Nurture People.
Cherish the Natural Order.
Noncomform Freely.

This morning, I spent some time thinking about this first point, Do Justice. I don't have anything deep to share here. In fact, I purposely want to keep my thoughts (as I read and think through this), simple, focused, and practical because I aim to live what I learn.

Excerpts from this morning's reading:

"'Do justice' must become the first standard for living by which Christians make choices. Our knowledge of others' needs and our guilt must resolve itself into a lasting attentiveness.

"To make 'do justice' a standard is to live by both reason and compassion.

"All of us should walk more, save hot water, use less aluminum foil. These are small ideas, small acts. But they offer a realistic place to start.

"Certainly your influence is small. But whether you conserve or waste, it is real. Many people using or not using affects things in a big way. Gathering up the fragments of our waste-- recycling, conserving, sharing-- is a logical and authentic beginning. Such actions are the first-fruits of the harvest of justice. They are the promise of more to come."

I like the idea of starting in simple steps rather than feeling like I need to take care of the entire world-- singlehandedly!-- all at once. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the enormity of the world's problems, but it helps to think that I can take small steps, beginning right where I am.

I need to start right in my own kitchen, yard, neighborhood, and community, possibly focusing on acts as simple as using less foil or plastic (which I have been doing for quite some time). Composting. Organic gardening. Buying and eating as locally as I can. Driving less and walking more. Consuming less. Sharing with others. Finding ways to work together and help each other. Finding new uses for things. Whittling down the amount of garbage in my can as far as I can. Making or buying non-toxic cleaners. Using less power.

There are no rights and wrongs here. No one-plan-fits-all. This is simply a matter of walking according to my conscience, in a way that is consistent with what I believe to be true, needed, and important. And this is not meant to take away the things that make me happy or to sacrifice quality. In fact, appreciation for what I have increases greatly as I begin to narrow things down and simplify my life.

There is great pleasure and joy in creating enough space in our lives and among our possessions to more deeply appreciate the beauty of each individual thing. We then have time to manage and care well for our possessions and even the world, as well as time to give real attention to our relationships and the human needs that are all around us.

There are so many things we can do-- "small ideas, small acts"-- and I like how even these small acts matter. As we do them, we make a real, difference, however small. If many people do them, the difference increases exponentially. And these are just the "first-fuits," the promise of more to come, because, as we do these things, our awareness, attentiveness, compassion, and desire to do even more increases.

So, today, once again, I'm focusing on simple beginnings. What is needed close at hand, in my own daily life? I've been making lists in my little notebook of these beginnings. Most of them seem too simple and insignificant to mention, but I've listed them anyway because they demand my attention. The following sample list merely reflects what is currently needed in my life right now; it is not a list of things I think everyone needs to do.

I'm focusing on things like eliminating between meal snacking; simplifying my wardrobe; simplifying my eating; reducing grocery costs without sacrificing nutrition and enjoyment; drinking less coffee; doing things by hand; using the back sides of all papers in my notebooks; not using the printer; buying cheaper cod liver oil; driving less; making less garbage; being more vigilant about using cloth shopping bags; not buying cappucinos every day I'm out of town (I'm out of town often lately!); being more vigilant about recycling everything I can; etc.

Simple, ordinary things for sure, but they are a start. And I don't intend to stop there.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" ~Micah 6:8