Saturday, February 04, 2006

Paralysis of Analysis

(Okay, so I'm just going to start off by saying that this post is dedicated to Nick, Mike, Amy, Omar, and Ramsey, as well as anyone else from the Time For Peace fellowship. We have shared some deep, paralyzing discussions together, so you'll know what I'm talking about with this.)

When I first saw this cartoon, I thought it was hilarious (thanks, Nick, for the link). Then I thought, wow, that's a little too revealing of my own intellectual and spiritual dysfunctions.

It's that question: "Do you really need that." That question haunts me, stalks me, and, often, renders me useless to society. Yes, I, as someone who is all too aware of the effects my actions/choices/ideas/thoughts/words/etc. have on this world, suffer from what Dr. King called the "paralysis of analysis." In other words, in an effort to minimize the amount of resources and energy I expend through daily living (i.e., in order to live in a way that meets my basic needs, yet makes it possible for everyone else in the world to meet their needs), I, often, am caught in situations where my choices leave me in a Catch-22. I try to live into what I feel is the Christian imperative to "be the change I wish to see in the world," yet I do this, sometimes, at the risk of my own well-being.

In short, I am paralyzed by my own conscience in a world that, all too often, seems entrapped by immoral and unjust forces.

Here's an example: It's cold in my room. I would feel more comfortable if I turned on the space heater, but I know that doing so will use a lot of energy, which, in turn, will add to the CO2 emissions (via the coal-burning electric companies), which, in turn, will contribute to global warming. It's sounds like a stupid quarrel, I know... but, deep down inside, the quarrel makes perfect sense (theologically, spiritually, intellectually, etc.). Furthermore, I think that the personal and social call of justice necessitates such inner struggles, which leads me to conclude that part of "being the change" is, occasionally, being paralyzed by one's own analysis.

However, that line of thinking does nothing to alleviate the occasional reaction of "This sucks!" Analysis does suck. Living just on a need-level does suck. It sucks trying to track down fair trade, sweatshop-free clothing while it seems like everyone else just goes to Wal-Mart to get their shirts and shoes.

Or, rather, it can suck, if one gets trapped into thinking that ethical living is an end in itself.

I must admit that there are times when I reduce my life (and, consequently, my faith) to a series of ethical choices; and, in such times, I find myself getting depressed, saddened, and, ultimately, paralyzed.

Yet, in these times, I have always been redeemed by the grace of God and have, consequently, been able to turn away from my service to morality and toward my service to God and God's promise of the coming kin-dom and the establishment of the Beloved Community. In other words, I remember that my striving to "be the change" is my direct response to the grace and to the very real freedom I have received through God (in Christ).

Again, morality is a response, not a goal.

That said, I would like to argue that being paralyzed by our analysis is not something we can (or should) avoid. In fact, it is a necessary part of grace-filled living. However, I believe that, when we live in a state of true freedom (i.e., when we realize that our lives do not have to be dictated and/or controlled by the Powers That Be), we are able to cope with the paralysis of analysis, move past it, and, ultimately, "keep on keepin' on."

True freedom is being able to say that I do not depend on Wal-Mart for my survival. True freedom is being able to say that I do not need to use fossil fuels in order to feel fulfilled. True freedom is being able to say that I do not (in the case of the cartoon above) need to play billiards in order to be happy. True freedom is not being afraid, as Jesus said, of those who can "kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul" (Matt. 10:28). True freedom is believing there is a better way, and living into that belief.

Without true freedom, morality becomes an end in itself, and the paralysis that results from that morality just plain "sucks."

With true freedom, morality becomes a natural response, and the "paralysis of analysis" serves as a reminder that "the gate is narrow and the way is hard" (Matt. 7:14), but that, ultimately, the path leads to life.

Riding the Rails

I just moved to Chicago, where I will be spending the next three and a half months participating in the S.C.U.P.E. (Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education) program. This is part of my Masters of Divinity program, and I'm looking forward to working with the amazing professors of S.C.U.P.E. and taking their amazing classes. My first class, which starts this Friday, is "Urban Principalities and the Spirit of the City," and it is being taught by a minister from Detroit who did numerous civil disobedience actions with Fr. Daniel Berrigan, including an action where they clipped an opening in a fence at an air force base, walked down the runway while reciting an Easter liturgy, and attempted to disassemble missiles at the site. (This was during the Vietnam War.)

Anyway, I'm here in Chicago now, looking forward to starting the program. I've been here exactly a week, and, between my sporadic work schedule (I'm interning at an American Baptist Church), I've made several attempts at exploring the city. These attempts, at first, involved me walking a few miles both west and east from where I'm living. That got boring pretty quickly (though there are public libraries within two miles in both directions, providing a contingent destination plan in case my senseless wandering becomes overly dissonant with my continual strive to be oriented toward a purpose for my life).

I have now resorted to hopping on the "L" (short for "elevated train," for those of you not familiar with Chicago lingo) and riding it for the sake of... well, riding it. I am probably the biggest public transportation geek in the world -- not only do I bask in the environmental glory of mass transit, but I also find public transportation (and, particularly, the "L") a great way to view and get immersed in the culture and dynamics of the city.

Where else can you take a tour of the city for $2? Where else can you go to be in the same place with people of all shapes, sizes, colors, classes (except, for the most part, upper class folks), beliefs, ages, etc.? I guess I have never thought about it before, but public transportation (and, specifically, train and subway systems) is really the most diverse environment that most people will ever experience. Hey, wait a second... that's pretty remarkable to think about. There's a lot of potential there...

Granted, I've found that the rails aren't always that diverse. Most of the college kids, yuppies, punks, and hippies come on near the campuses and get off around the gentrified-but-hip neighborhoods. Most of the middle class European American folks get on at the suburban and/or gentrified neighborhood stops and get off around downtown. Once the "L" hits the southside (around 47th) and the westside, almost everyone on the train is African American. And the Latina/o American, Mexican American, and Asian American folks, I've found, tend to get on and off on the northside (but closer to downtown), though the boundaries aren't always that clear.

Okay, so this post, like my neighborhood exploration, has no clear destination or objective. That said, it is thematically justifiable for me to just stop writing right here. But, because I like suspense, I will stop writing right ---------