Last week two things happened: I turned twenty-six, and I watched from Nepal as a group of my mates in Australia went to court after staging a ‘prayer vigil’ in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s office for the 1138 children currently being held in detention by Australia’s immigration authorities.
As I saw the images of my friends being arrested and taken away by police, I was struck by one thing –Would I be willing to do the same?
Up until this point I would say that I’ve lived a pretty ‘good life’. By that, what I really mean to say is that I’ve done some ‘good’ things. I’ve spoken up on important causes, helped raise funds for needy projects and encouraged others to do the same. Things that often earn me the smiles and compliments of others. Things that I can let myself feel pretty satisfied about.
But in seeing these mates of mine literally standing in defiance of the law for something they so strongly believed in… well I decided that being ‘good’ is no longer good enough.
I don’t want to live a ‘good life’ where… if I’m honest, my actions and motives are often subtly more about satisfying my own needs – for purpose and meaning in a crazy and confusing world – than they are for truly living a life defined by a ‘stop-at-no-cost’ commitment to pursuing justice. The kind that is needed on behalf of those actually experiencing the devastating burden of its absence each and every day in their own lives.
Related: Holy Week is a Good Time to Get Arrested with Jesus
I don’t want to live a ‘good life’ where… the help I offer to others is ever so neatly staged and controlled in such a way as to not risk too greatly my own personal desires for comfort, pleasure or safety. (This includes that of my own familys’, which is a tough and even contentious call – especially if you add kids to the equation – but one that we need to be willing to talk about more openly as a society. My gut feeling is that we’re doing more harm than good by ‘bubble wrapping’ our kids and raising them in an environment surrounded by consumerism anyway… though I’m keen to hear some actual parents thoughts on that!?)
So to make sure I don’t just live a ‘good life’, I’m making myself these 3 promises. Maybe you’d like to do the same?
PROMISE NO. 1 – To live life out of a place of deeper conviction
Back to the image of my mates being carried out of a politician’s office by police and the question I asked myself, “Would I be willing to do the same?” I want to know the answer to that question before I have to ask it again. If I say that the current system of how we treat asylum seekers in Australia is something that deeply distresses me, then I should have an answer as to how far I am willing to go to do something about it. (As a practical action I am personally committing myself to learning more about non-violent civil disobedience and the positive role it can play. If you’re in Australia you can even attend a training run by Pace e Bene Australia and the #LoveMakesAWay crew.)
I’ve noticed a concerning trend amongst people my age (and yes this is a generalisation that doesn’t include everyone, nor is it restricted to those ‘my age’). We’re often all too willing to offer up our opinions on the big issues of public life (whether it’s to do with asylum seekers, homelessness, education, marriage rights or global poverty) whilst we are seated around a nicely appointed table, with a good bottle of red and in the company of those we know and feel comfortable with. We might even sign a petition or attend a rally. But when it comes to having actual ‘skin in the game’ – in the form of some kind of personal investment in the issue, often at a cost to ourselves – well that’s a different story.
I don’t say that to be critical (God knows I’ve given many impassioned lectures and offered opinions about issues I really know little about!) but to call us deeper into the process of working out what it is we believe, defining our core convictions and having the personal investment required to make meaningful contributions. The next promise is about earning the ‘permission’ for those contributions to be heard.
Do you know what you believe, why you believe it and what it is that you would be willing to do about it?
PROMISE NO. 2 – To live life out of a place of deeper community and relationships
At the moment I feel like I do a ‘good’ job (there’s that word again!) of recording and sharing the stories of those around me – often incredible stories of hope, transformation or despair – but I’m no longer happy with merely being a ‘reporter’, I want to be a participant. A friend. An advocate. A fellow-traveller. Or whatever it is the situation calls for.
But because I want to do this in humility and with the respect that I am often entering into situations where the social and cultural contexts are not what I am most familiar with, this also means I need to have the integrity and commitment to doing everything I can to ‘earn the permission’ to play a role in this community. (Another practical action I’m committing to is ‘re-entering’ language school for another intensive period of time to really improve my spoken Nepali. This is a hard task for me as I hate to feel ‘incompetent’ and slow at something, and that is what I certainly what I feel when it comes to speaking this language!)
What does this look like when it comes to the issues you’re interested in and the ways that they play out in the community you live in? Another question might be whether you’re even aware of the issues in your community? (It’s not always easy to ‘know your calling’ and this previous post of mine might help you with that.)
Mother Teresa once said,
“Today it is fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately it is not fashionable to talk with them.”
And My Father-in-law – a local Church minister who works with the disadvantaged and disenfranchised members of our local community back home in Australia – put it this way,
“Those in need must be in our homes not just at the end of our handshakes.”
Do you live out your life and convictions in relationship with those most affected by the issues you care about? Or are your opinions merely that – ideas and thoughts offered up separate from a community that will hold you accountable but also drive you to your greatest contributions yet?
PROMISE NO. 3 – To live out this life with you, together
What on earth does that mean? Am I about to show up wherever you’re reading this and grab a coffee with you? No. Although that would be cool!
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I bother to put pen to paper to write out my experiences and the stories of those that I encounter for those of you who read this blog. And the answer is pretty simple.
I believe that the best stories, told well can ‘call out’ of us our greatest contributions to the lives of others and for this world.
I don’t just write to be heard or for the sake of making a name for myself. I write with the hope that you would actually do something real as a result of reading what I have to share.
Also by Matt: Why I Need the Poor (Maybe Even More than they Need Me)
After a post I recently wrote about ‘Building a relationship that changes the world’, a friend of ours wrote back to me saying that they’d been inspired about my wife and I’s commitment to practicing hospitality in our home, and after discussing this with her husband, they are now buying a bigger dining table to seat more bottoms. For me, that is gold!
So will you join me in this little experiment? To live deeper lives and not just ‘good lives’? To live with greater conviction and in even closer community with those around you than you ever have before? And will you share your stories here and with others so that together we can grow, learn and encourage one another?
It’s a joy to live this life. It’s an even greater joy to share it with you. Don’t wait a day longer to commit yourself to living a far greater story than you might if you only pursue the ‘good life’.
Photo Credit: Kate Ausburn.