Have you ever met someone doing the most amazing things? Someone actively making the world a better place to live? Someone who far surpasses what is expected for a mere human, and does things that would make the pope smile?
I remember meeting a man like this. I was a part of a group that travelled to see how different communities engaged in 'mission' (effectively how they made the world a better place to live).
We had travelled along way to hear this man talk and we were sitting in a circle listening to story after story about the amazing deeds this man had done—his great sacrifices, and the lengths he had gone to for the sake of the world. We were with him for the better part of a day, and as the day drew to a close he left us with the offer 'does anyone want to join?'
You would think after the amazing story of what was going on in his life we would all jump at the offer! We were a bunch of passionate, young adults who were looking for contexts to get involved, and give ourselves to. But as we drove onto our next destination not one person even came close to joining—we all were left with a sour taste in our mouth.
An ineffective sales pitch
Meeting this man was like meeting a vegan. Now, I'm not lumping all vegans into the same category—but we all know those judgmental looks, pious lectures, snarky comments, and the exasperation-filled explanations of how many vegans there are in the world and how we need to be more accommodating.
As you manage to escape the conversation you vow never—no matter how good for the environment, how much it makes the world a better place, or even how much you believe it—never to become one of them.
The problem with these pushy zealots is that I actually do believe them. Not only do I believe them, I want them to win. I want what they want; I want a better world too! But I think they are missing something.
For these people, their big 'yes' in life is 'how we can restore the planet' or 'how we can alleviate suffering', in other words: 'how we can find a taste of heaven here and now'. These are all amazing and honourable things, but I think something is missing.
I wonder what would happen if they changed the context a bit. What if they made love the context?
We've been told that 'even if we can speak the tongues of angels and of men, but without love we are nothing more than a loud noise'. I love the imagery of this and I think we all have something to learn.
What if, instead of criticizing those who eat meat or discussing the environmental evils of meat eating, vegans talked about those who are helped through veganism, the difference in peoples' lives? What if people who are vegans were actually better people for it?
I wonder what the activist could have inspired within my group if he had told us of all the people he loved, and couldn't help but help due to his great love for them?
What if both the activist and vegan inspired us through the love they have to join them, not to guilt into following them, but inspired the love that is within us to come forward and follow them.
More than rules
Christians are often raised within a strange subculture of duty. We must follow the rules because God ordered us to. We must go to church, give money, help the poor, and follow the rules—all out of duty.
We are brought up by parents who tell us to follow all the rules because that is what 'good Christians' must do. The problem is no one wants to follow the rules for the sake of following the rules. As modernists we read a deontological (duty ethic) into the Bible, whereas I think this misses the point.
If we go back, way back to the Ten Commandments, the place we would most expect to find a duty ethic, instead of finding duty, what we actually find is virtue. Within the first two commandments (which Jesus says are the greatest) we find something surprising. Instead of orders to obey, they are commands to love. How freeing is that? How inspiring is that? How much do you want to be on the team whose only orders are to love?
I am attempting to make my big 'yes' love. I am attempting to live a life where love is the context. To live a life where my decisions, my ethics, my life direction is all characterised within the context of love.
I have discovered that I like myself more, now that I am attempting to follow the God who is love instead of the god who gives duties. God is looking less and less like a cosmic dictator, but a loving father who urges us to follow our hearts instead of rules.
So I challenge the vegans and the activists, what if love was the context? What if you characterised your philosophy as loving God, and loving people? I know that I would be more likely to join you.
Tim Shallard a co-director of Mosaic Workshop a shared creative space in central Auckland. He also works in a café, studies theology at Carey Baptist College, runs a poetry collective. His passions include coffee, community, and living the dream.
Tim Shallard's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-shallard.html