Some years ago, a speaker at my seminary told us bluntly: “What God is doing is none of your business.”
I was appalled. And my reaction reveals that (yes, I admit) I do have some control issues.
Sometimes we religious folks are tempted to think we know who God does and doesn’t love, what God is up to and what God thinks about every situation. It’s an idolatrous temptation that Anne Lamott warns us against:
You can safely assume you have created god in your own image when your god hates all the same people you do.
Of all people, religious people ought to acknowledge divine mystery. We should have learned by now that God never has and never will fit into any of our boxes. What God is doing really is none of our business.
I admit I also tend to think other people’s business ought to be my business. I think I should know something about what everyone else is doing and I am quick to have pretty strong opinions about other people’s lives.
Purple hair. Tattoos that creep up necks and studs pierced through tongues. Saggy pants that expose what used to be underwear, not outerwear. Shorts that are so short I can see bouncy cheeks. “Don’t tread on me” bumper stickers and confederate flags. Preachers and politicians pontificating with a deep Southern drawl.
I said it.
See what I mean?
I admit I can be pretty judgmental.
But these people don’t deserve my judgment. Most of them don’t really have anything to do with me. I’m not related to them. I’m not responsible for them. They function in another entire sphere that only barely bumps into mine. So why on earth do I think I need to judge their clothes or their hair or whatever?
Some wise teachers are trying to help me learn to notice without judging. To stay awake, be alert and aware; to observe the people and situations around me without feeling any responsibility to assess value. To see clearly.
I am trying to learn – since I can’t change what other people wear or what kinds of bumper stickers they choose to put on their pickup trucks – I don’t even need to waste my time having an opinion about them. It’s not about me. It’s none of my business.
But then, on the other hand, there are plenty of things going on in the world that must become my business, for example, attitudes and actions that, when anointed with power, can cause immense damage, not only to me but to my fellow human beings.
Opulence, arrogance and hubris.
Oppression, injustice and hatred.
Negligence, carelessness and greed.
I want to learn to see these things clearly and rightly. To look evil full in the face without fear, to keep my center and stand my ground. And then, whenever I am able, do something.
“Seeing” has another aspect: looking at my fellow human beings and recognizing our shared humanity. Acknowledging their suffering and honoring their pain. I want to learn to look at every other person and to see their innate value. I want to be able to look misery full in the face without despair or hopelessness, to find my compassion and to love with courage. And then whenever I am able, do something.
But choosing what is mine to do can be tricky. It’s not always easy to discern my way forward within this society rife with madness; within a world that is filled with chaos.
What IS my business? How do I discern?
When my children were coming of age, some of the mother wisdom I offered them included this little formula:
What do you love to do?
What do you do well?
What needs doing in the world that is within your reach?
Somewhere in the intersection of these questions lies an answer to: What is MY business?
The current political realities in America can feel overwhelming these days. There are so many various problems that challenge us on so many fronts that it can be hard to figure out where any of us needs to spend our time and energy.
But the current grassroots efforts that have sprung up across our nation give me hope. More and more people ARE figuring out how and where to become more involved. More and more people are making it THEIR business to step up and speak out.
With so much going on in our country, with so many needs around the world, I want to remember that judging someone else’s appearance is a complete waste of energy. (Not to mention: none of my business.) But critiquing the work our politicians are doing, assessing the effects of corporate actions, evaluating the quality of candidates and then making judgments with our votes should be the business of every citizen.
So I’m going to continue to work on my unhelpful, unhealthy judgmental tendencies. Some of those folks with purple hair and saggy pants may well become my allies in this multi-fronted resistance.
I’m going to continue to work on the idolatrous temptation to think I can control what God is doing in the world. But I will always believe the God of my understanding is somehow working for justice and goodness in the world. As many wise prophets before have taught us:
The arc of the universe is long
but it bends towards justice.
But exactly what that mysterious divine work is and where it might show up next? God only knows. It’s none of my business.
So I’m also going to continue to do my part. What I love to do. What I’m good at. What needs to be done that is available and accessible to me.
One of my heroes, Helen Keller, used to quote her friend, Edward Everett Hale.
I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do something that I can do.
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. You also follow her on Twitter @cvcoyle.