Mike was one of the first people I met at my new job earlier this summer. He’s an interesting guy with a photographic memory.
“Don’t waste time writing it down, just keep it right up here,” he always tells me, while pointing to his temple. It doesn’t work as well for me as it does for him.
Recently, he asked me if I had ever bought from Amazon. I admitted that I did, and he replied he never would because he wanted to support local independent retailers rather sending his money off to a multi-billion dollar corporation.
“Don’t you care about the little guys?” he asked.
I wanted to tell him that I grew up in the ‘90s, when we built an entire culture around not caring about anything, but I, like most others my age, have grown since then. I realize now that apathy is not nearly as cool as I once thought it was. After that, the usual excuses cycled through my head.
“It’s a big world, what can I do to change things?”
“I don’t think Amazon would even notice if I stopped buying from them.”
But then I began to wonder about something else. How often do I just consign myself to doing nothing, because I am unable to do everything? In other words, how often do I miss the good I can do because I’m so frustrated over the evil I can do nothing about?
Now, I don’t think Amazon or Walmart, or corporations or capitalism are necessarily evil, but if I did have that conviction, would I have the passion and courage to put it into practice? Do I have the courage and passion to put into practice the convictions I currently have? Or am I hiding behind the things I have no control over? Am I working to bring unity and reconciliation to the community in which I live, being a peacemaker as Jesus called it? Am I working to give a face and a voice to the poor and those on the margins of society, doing unto the least of these? Or have I decided it’s not worth my time, because the world is just too big and the machine just to powerful?
Mike also rides a bicycle to and from work most days. I don’t know if he does it for the exercise or for the environment – maybe a little bit of both. But either way, it strikes me as odd that he rides a bike to and from a job in which he is going to spend six to eight hours sitting in a driver’s seat burning through half a tank of fossil fuel.
There is wisdom here as well. Mike’s route is going to be driven by somebody. Someone is going to have to sit there not exercising all day. Someone will burn up that half tank of gas. Mike has no control over these things, but the extra, the drive to and from work, he can do something about that.
The Apostle James wrote, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” There is no provision in here for good deeds that don’t seem like they’ll make a difference. There is no exclusion when it comes to addressing issues that are just far too large for us to fix on our own. James says, if you know something is good, do it. If you know you can help creation in some way, then help in that way. Do what you’re able to do and stop worrying so much about what you’re not able to do. In the words of John O’Callaghan, “Control what you can, and confront what you can’t.”
I know I am often guilty in this area. I worry far too much about the things I can’t control. Too often, I abdicate the good I can do because I’m too focused on the good I can do nothing about. But James says, “Don’t worry about that. Don’t be afraid that you might not be big enough to change the world, because you probably are big enough to change at least one person’s life. Even if you can’t do that, you can at least brighten up their day.”
And this is where the light bulb comes on. Our lives are made up of days, and our world is made up of individual lives. When I see it this way, I really do have the power to change the world, just maybe not in ways that are as noticeable as I’d like.
And that’s the key. Jesus never promised that I’d make history. He never promised I’d fix all the world’s problems, but he did promise he would when he returned. Until he does, I need to try not to worry so much about the things I can’t control and learn to start doing the good I know I can do.
The Rev. Jason Koon is an ordained minister who lives in Morganton.