Thursday, July 03, 2008

Question FOUR

So here we are, the question at which so many religious traditions--or, at least, so many religious professionals--usually begin the conversation: Whose am I?

The traditional theistic response, of course, is that we belong to God. As the 100th Psalm puts it, "It is God who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are God's people and the sheep of God's pasture." (NRSV, adapted) So that provides a tidy answer for those who believe in God, no help at all to those who don't, and yet only addresses one possible layer to which that question could point.

John Donne aside, are you an island entire unto yourself? In other words, do you belong to yourself, or do you belong (at least in some sense) to your family, or your community, or to the human family, or to the planet?

Driving in to work I listened to a bit of conservative talk radio and the host was saying that he was tired of being told that he should have a smaller house and fewer cars and give more of his time and his treasure to help others who have been less fortunate. He, no doubt, would say that he--and all of his stuff--belongs to himself. And, too, that these "less fortunate folk" belong to themselves and should take care of themselves and stop asking for handouts.

On the other hand there are folks in the environmental movement, for instance, who say that we belong to one another and to all living things on the planet and so even if I could afford a gas-guzzling SUV my behavior is not entirely up to me because I do not belong to myself alone. Or progressive economic justice folks who say that because we belong to one another we are obliged to help one another. (Ghandi once said that he tried to weigh his actions by their impact on the poorest person he could imagine.)

Answering this question, then--whose am I?--can help us navigate our way through the myriad of confusing options and opinions we'll meet on a daily, hourly, and moment-by-moment basis. Worth pondering.

In Gassho,

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