Piggy backing on my last post, I was thinking about the word sacrifice, which always means a giving up in some way or the other, and how it has lost the better half of its meaning. The word sacrifice-Latin sacrificium-means an offering to a deity or to something greater than one’s self, rendering the person(s), place or thing involved- sacred. The whole idea of sacrifice has become antithetical to our current American culture of consumerism. It’s made even worse when fear mongering makes citizens actually frenzied with the idea that Grandma will be the first to be killed with the National Health Care bill. OMG, the sacrifice will mean that our children and children’s children face certain bankruptcy. Whether it’s a government official or a family member asking us to make sacrifices, either for a greater good that we won’t see until the future or for a temporary setback that’s here with us right now, we tend to squirm or bargain or unenthusiatically agree to it (knowing it’s the right form of action) and then shortly thereafter, kick and scream, taking to the streets with how unfair it is.
And yet, a truly just society demands some sacrifices. Our commitment to social justice, while deeply felt, can be very difficult to sustain. This is particularly true in a society that has valued and prized individualism since its conception. Unlike other cultures, where the community needs are primary (and this too can be problematic), our understanding of the self in relation to the community tends to focus on the community being there to help forward our own self realization and not the other way around. I do believe, however, that we are currently in a phase of positive but disorienting transformation.
We can no longer avoid the growing sense of interdependence of the world’s population. Reality at its core, whether spiritual or physical, has a relational nature. Nothing can be fully understood or experienced in isolation. When we ignore any kind of shared reference point, or the ability to see beyond the end of the nose on our face, we see the degeneration of public discourse. Talk radio, FOX news, to name a few, have resorted to slander, inaccurate sound bites, and mean spiritedness to buoy up a world view that is not on the side of creation. In the wild current of cackling voices, we lose both content and the possibility of real understanding. While it may not be possible to agree on universal truths, this doesn’t mean there are no meaningful ideas or truths.
As Paul Raiser writes in Faith without Certainty, ” The truth is that we don’t first exist as individuals who then form social groups. The group always comes first. As individuals, our identities are always formed in relation to a particular social context. We are social beings through and through. Can we look at social justice work not simply as choice we make for ourselves or do not, but as a fundamental factor in the formation of our own identities? We think we need to attend to our own well being to be able to help someone else, and this is only partially true. We can also be reminded that our own well being is deeply connected to the well being of others.”
For Christians, this is the season of Lent. It is a time of consciously giving up those things that are superfluous to our lives. It creates space for the sacred. One chooses to sacrifice, because the benefit to the mind and spirit is greater than if one did not. It is not that the giving up of chocolate or alcohol is a chit to get to heaven. Or that daily choosing to do a kind act without anyone knowing of it makes you a better person than your neighbor. Rather it is by sacrifice, that we come closer to understanding and participating with the sacred.
Book of the Day: The Responsible Self by H. Richard Niebuhr
Quote from the Book of the Day: “It has often been remarked that the great decisions which give a society its specific character are functions of emergency situations in which a community has had to meet a challenge. Yet the decision on which the future depends and whence the new law issues is a decision made in response to action upon the society, and this action is guided by interpretation of what is going on.” (Ed. note: Our forebears had to determine what was happening during the Civil War (End of Slavery and the importance of union), how to address the ills of the Depression (The New Deal and the Welfare State), and what was the response to be to the First Two World Wars (a final move away from isolationism), all of these decisions made our country change in ways no one could foresee, and today’s decisions are no different.)