The recent (and repeated) blast of Arctic air here in the mid-west reminded me of the benefit of the band’s name. But it was some recent conversations that reminded me of the content of Three-Dog Night’s “Hair!” anthem. You recall the scene in which a young mother and her child are left to fend for themselves as her crusading, activist husband is leaving once again to save the world. It was recently suggested that my “inwardness and seeming lack of outward seems…un-neighborly.”
It seems altogether typical in modern western religion to force the definition of “neighborliness” into various yet terribly narrow expressions of exact justice. “Good works” is more often than not be translated into pragmatic, cause-oriented efforts or highfalutin theories about anything from the have’s versus the have not’s to the contemporary holocaust of the unborn. I have come more and more to the conclusion that American religionists are secretly disgusted with the concepts of both ordinary life and proximate justice.
To them it is anathema that “neighborliness” begins and ends with more ordinary things like minding one’s own business, working quietly to support and nurture a family and participating in the dilapidated and world-worn machinery of mundane public service. American religionists of various stripes and persuasions are almost entirely fixated on the extra-ordinary problems of the world and their attendant solutions, which they imagine will garner loud applause and noble shivers down the spine. They seem unsatisfied with the stuff of a long and relentless PTO meeting that leaves all the participants feeling fairly uninspired about what was unaccomplished by 10:23 PM. Rather, they want to repair all the ills that every other time and place has failed to finally assuage. It seems a blind spot that most of the believing life is really about mindfully maintaining what is set before them instead of being beset, to relatively greater or lesser degrees, with how to fix it, fix it, and fix it.
I would contend that the typical American religionist is very long on sentimental ideal but quite short on ordinary piety. Ironically, in his proneness to “care about strangers, to care about evil and social injustice” he actually ends up risking the neglect of those who are actually close, known and entrusted to him. Much as it might irritate, the truth is that each of us really only affects our more immediate environment, and even then only imperfectly. Even those who are afar off must be brought near and made ours first before having any lasting consequence upon them.
Or do they really believe, even as they tell us just how duplicitous and vain the broader American culture is, that we may have it all? Maybe they can save the world of strangers and also fully attend those who have been given to their immediate care? Do they really believe they are not in fact called to choose between that which the sarx longs for and what Spirit demands? For my part, as much as I’d like to think that not only do I know just what the family down the street needs and that I can provide it, I have one of my own and never seem to have things so well squared away that they can afford my absence.
Like I said in response to the comment originally, I find it wholly repellent the notion that just because one doesn’t care the way another does or expects does not mean that one doesn’t care. And it just might be that a superior advocacy could actually be more ordinary, organic, local and familiar than extraordinary, panoramic, distinct and remarkable. I realize such a notion may be far from exciting. But when one considers the fact that the solution to humanity’s problem was played out in relative obscurity that also may be the very point.