The is a sense that we all feel frustrated with the world as it is and get angry enough to say, “Why does this happen?” or “Why doesn’t someone do something about this?” We live in this world and want to make it a good place to live and yet often do not feel at home here. Home can be a very compelling image for the longing many people have for a better life. One popular song among Christians over time has been “I’ll Fly Away”. Personally, I do not like the music or the message and have to swallow hard when I hear it. Why? The escape theme has been ubiquitous in Evangelical Christian culture and has led us to either disengage with culture or fight it. When Albert Brumley penned those words in 1929 he was expressing a sentiment that came out of identifying with people who were oppressed or frustrated by the evils of this world. To say as another spiritual says, “This world is not my home” is quite compelling those who feel the world is screwed up.
But is this really the attitude we are to take toward this world? I say no. Jesus did say much about the values of this world. His kingdom is not of this world. His followers are not of this world. But we are to remain a vital part of it. Jedediah Purdy writes, “We doubt the possibility of being at home in the world, yet we desire that home above all else.” Which reminds me of what Christians say: “We are in the world, but not of it.” I would say that in reality our lived experience is different. Without reflection we can find ourselves living another motto: “We are of the world, but not in it.” We are of the world: Where the values of consumerism and success defined by materialism drives us. We are not in it: where we disengage from being part of the solutions to life.
Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone present a way of dealing with the hard things in life, things we want to see changed, things that need changing, in their book Active Hope. Active hope is a process where we don’t wait to feel hopeful but take action, sometimes even when we feel hopeless. We may not feel optimistic but we choose to work toward the change we want to see. A big part of feeling at home in the world is to discover our place in it. (Parks p.51) Instead of cynicism or withdrawal they call on us to bravely go forth and work toward the home we want the world to be.
They redefine selfishness as the primary human motivation. To begin to see and widen our sense of whom our family is and to care in expanding ways will offset the individualistic and consumer mentalities that pervade our world. The process is presented as a spiral. It begins with gratitude, then honoring our pain, seeing with new eyes and then going forth. One of their most compelling parts of the process they call us to is to “honor our pain”. We do not turn away from the pain we feel in the world, even if it threatens to upset us. The pain actually can empower us to initiate solutions rather than retreat in despair. (63-64) Then we see the world with new eyes. One exercise that this book encourages people to do is to envision life in this world differently, “To see the world with fresh eyes” in a reflective practice. Here is mine.
When I imagine the world we will leave to our children, it looks like…
- A place where they can find work that expresses their abilities, they can raise children in an environment where they can physically and spiritual thrive.
- A place where learning and working and spiritual/moral growth is not separated from the rest of life.
- A place where suspicion will cease as we learn to respect, listen and include others in our lives- even those we differ with.
We are connected to this world. It reveals possibilities and resources we otherwise did not notice. Johnstone and Macy state, “When people are able to tell the truth about what they know, see, and feel is happening to their world, a transformation occurs. (70)
Active Hope is not a Christian book, primary because of its Deistic view of God. But it is Christian in its call to embody hope in a dark world. The basic call to love the world as God does compels us to work for a world as God would envision it and include others even in the middle of the darkness. Like Robert Fulghum encouraged people to remember what they learned in kindergarten, “when you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, stick together.” We do not fly away retreating from the world, but instead keep grounded in a world that is our home now.
Jedediah Purdy. For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today. New York: Knopf, 1999, p. 25. Quoted by Sharon Daloz Parks.. Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, p.34