Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Can We Live Lives that Are Consistent with our Ideals?

At my quilting group this week-end, we had an interesting conversation that revolved around this basic question: can we live lives that are consistent with our values? Two of us said yes, and two of us said no.

I was shocked at the idea that two of my friends view it as an impossible thing to live a life consistent with our values. They see it as completely normal that our ideals would be impossible to achieve--this, despite the fact that one of them flies into fits of apoplexy whenever she sees a hint of hypocrisy in the world.

Yet they don't see the inability to live consistently with one's values as hypocrisy. I find that odd.

Now, I'm certainly not claiming that I always live in concert with my values. But I'm always trying. There are times when other factors intervene. For example, due to declining student enrollment, we've had to cancel lots of classes and so, we've had to let some adjuncts go. In an ideal world, I'd find other work for them. Unfortunately, I'm not given that latitude. In an ideal world, I'd have given them more warning--as it was, I could only let them know a month ahead of time. In an ideal world, I'd have been paying them more money. But I'm not in charge of the budget.

Still, I fight for higher pay raises for them, because that is consistent with my values. As soon as I know bad news that will impact our faculty, I tell everyone so that everyone can plan accordingly. I don't hide and hope that no one finds out.

As I've spent time thinking, I realize that most of the people I've known are living lives that are consistent with their values, at least to my powers of observation. That may explain why it's so hard for me to find people I want to spend much time with--often, those values which steer their lives are troubling to me.

As a teenager, I assumed that everyone was hypocritical, and I reserved my largest portion of scorn for churchgoers. I'll never forget the time that I, a smug 19 year old, talked to an inner city pastor about the hypocrisy of suburban churches, and he told me in no uncertain terms that the money that suburban churches gave his church allowed them to do their various ministries to the poor and outcast.

And one summer, when I was home from college, one of the pastors of my parents' church announced that one of our African immigrant members was desperate for money to get his family out of his increasingly dangerous country. It was a tiny amount of money, all things considered, just the price of some airline tickets.

Of course I assumed that no one would donate. I was impressed when my father whipped out his checkbook. I was even more impressed that almost 30 people made a similar donation. At least that's how I remember it. I may have the numbers wrong. It was twenty years ago, after all.

I think that's one of the primary benefits of going to church. We are reminded of what we are called to be. We are surrounded by people who share a similar vision. We are given the opportunities to demonstrate that we do live according to certain values.

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