Skip to content

Motivation and the Kingdom

2008 September 16
by Julie Clawson

So for the past month or so I’ve been thinking about the motivation behind one’s pursuit of a cause. Do we do things because they are the right thing to do or because we desire to succeed at reaching a goal? Must a goal be obtainable if we decide to pursue it?

Let me explain the context of my thoughts. Before we moved, I went to go see The Dark Knight with a group of friends. On the way home we were discussing the movie and I brought up Peter Rollin’s blog post on Batman as the ultimate capitalist superhero. In this post Rollins writes –

Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis. The street crime is the explosion of violence that results from greedy, large industries obsessed with the increase of abstract capital at the expense of all else.

As part of the discussion a friend suggested that if someone like Bruce Wayne (with infinite resources and a desire for justice) couldn’t manage to succeed at living justly within the economic system, who could? For her this discouraged her pursuit of such a lifestyle. If one could not obtain the goal of living completely justly within an economic system then why bother at all.  She needed a goal to strive towards that could ultimately be obtained.

I countered that while I believe that it is impossible to live completely justly within our current economic system, I know that I can work to help create a system that is just little by little. Instead of being an individual pursuing a certain goal, I see myself as just part of a larger movement. I have been called to live a certain way – to seek first the Kingdom of God in all things – and I will follow that command. I merely fulfill my duty to the best of my ability.

This distinction is one I hear repeated often. I’ve heard over and over again the accusation that small lifestyle changes (like using cfl light-bulbs or buying fair trade) really have very little effect in the grand scheme of things. Those actions won’t solve all the problems, so why bother? Or if I show support for a religious gathering or political movement I am accused of placing my hope and salvation in their hands. Apparently if I support anything it is because I think they have the power to change everything with the wave of a magic wand. It’s all or nothing in this view. Either the goal is out there, obtainable to all, or it’s not worth getting involved at all.

Maybe I’m just too postmodern, but I prefer to just be part of the process. I know that revolutions take time. I can’t name a date in the future and say that by that date all economic systems will be just. I can’t even say that someday such a goal will be reached. Certain things like justice aren’t goals to be checked off a to do list and forgotten as we move on to the next item. They are constant pursuits – elusive and everchanging. Seekers and followers must adapt and change as circumstances change. To engage at all we must be willing to merely be part of a process – players in a larger game motivated not by the idea of winning the game but by enjoyment of (or commitment to) the game itself.

But the question remains – is the average modern person capable of eschewing goals? Or are we too entrenched in skinneristic systems and outcome oriented structures to abandon goals and live in the ambiguity of process? Is seeking the Kingdom enough or do we insist on grasping hold of it?


11 Responses leave one →
  1. bill holston permalink
    September 17, 2008

    Good question. I look at it I suppose simplistically, ‘I can do what I can do.’ I can buy fair trade coffee (which I do). I can help a single refugee from Burma. I can’t change the junta in Burma. I can write a editorial for our local paper, I can use the voice I have.

    Was Jeremiah’s goal achievable? He spoke to the nation of Israel, that was headed for exile. Still he was obedient to G-d’s call on his life.

    I think

  2. Kristen permalink
    September 17, 2008

    I often hear such matters described in terms of obedience. I cannot solve everything but I can and should buy fair trade or replace my light bulbs out of obedience to God.

    (I’m not trying to say that Fair Trade Certified has divine sanction — but we certainly are commanded to love our neighbor and the fair trade movement has convinced me that it is one way to concretely love my neighbor.)

    Well, that’s one thing when we’re talking about paying an extra dollar a pound for coffee or changing out my light bulbs. That’s easy stuff (which isn’t to say it isn’t good and valuable as far as it goes!). I don’t think I’m strong enough to keep enduring with hard stuff out of sheer obedience. I think I need to see some results. Not necessarily the entire overthrow of evil and establishment of God’s reign on earth, but I gotta see SOMETHING. I need that to keep going.

    I agree that “well I can’t do everything so why bother doing anything” is no way to respond — but I will also recognize that to explicitly articulate that “Well I know there are tremendous needs out there, and my significant effort leads to a small drop in the bucket of the overall need” is really hard. It is where we need to be, I’m convinced, but it’s a REALLY hard place to be.

  3. September 17, 2008

    Your question reminds me of an argument my husband and I have from time to time. He claims that big changes are easier, whereas I like the idea of pursuing manageable baby steps in a thoughtful and consistent way. I’m after changing my lifestyle, not dropping a quick 10 pounds before next weekend. There’s probably room for both approaches, but throwing up our hands at the size of the problem helps no one.

  4. September 17, 2008

    I lean towards yes.

    The person who came to mind when I read your post was Rosa Parks. Rosa didn’t know that she would have a pivotal role in ending segregation when she sat down on the bus… she was simply tired, in every way, and sat down.

    And the people who began to strike and protest after… they didn’t know that they would have a pivotal role in ending segregation. They simply stood for a sister in the name of justice.

    But none of their actions would have been possible if so many of their predecessors hadn’t made the small changes they were able make, if some hadn’t martyred themselves in the name of justice, if some hadn’t become refugees and moved north.

    It took all kinds of changes, by all kinds of people.

  5. September 20, 2008

    I don’t think we need a “to do” list as much as we need a “to be” list. I think we need to worry less about what we get done and more about how we are being shaped. It’s still about working towards goals, but different kinds of goals. I think that ultimately our “being” will influence the world around us more than our “doing.”

  6. September 21, 2008

    I am so torn when it comes to things like a just economic revolution. Some of my closest friends and relatives are absolutely convinced it is coming. I’m not so sure. And really, I’m a stay-at-home dad, so I’m not so sure if I have anything to do with such big ideas.

    But, I think the best I can hope for is to make my own economy in my own little part of the world more just. And it’s not just about buying fair trade coffee and sugar. It is shopping local, but it is also not shopping as much. It is buying fresh, sustainable produce, but it is also about growing my own. It is about reaching out to the community, but it is also about sitting on my front stop, engaging with neighbors and sharing what we don’t need with them (and vice versa).

    I get frustrated some times when people (not you) talk about huge, transformative changes but don’t even know that the person who lives next to them needs this or that.

  7. September 21, 2008

    it always has to be a balance between the big and the small. neither can be ignored if change is to ever happen.

  8. September 24, 2008

    I have also been thinking along the same kind of lines. Our practice has always been to make changes, assess (at least once a year) where we are, and to make more changes. Sometimes the changes have been forced onto us and are temporary (like living without a washing machine).

    But I think our walk towards sustainability supposed to be challenging. If we’re not challenged and uncomfortable, it probably isn’t having any effect (and obviously some small changes can be extremely uncomfortable!).

    Looking at the bigger picture, I am tempted to see how much needs to be changed and to give up. When I compare my life to the challenges of the gospel, I fall far short. When I consider the pain and suffering and environmental damage I am causing, it is hard not to have a kind of suicidal mentality – that the 3 billion people in poverty would probably be far better off if I didn’t exist. I want to make the big changes, but I cannot. So I remain frustrated that my best efforts are small (and yes, they’re something, but in the scheme of things are little more than rearranging deckchairs on the titanic) and pray for strength to keep going.

  9. August 2, 2014

    The best part is you do not have to deny your sweet tooth
    using these quick weight loss diets. And likewise, simply eating Muscle Builder Foods And doing Bodybuilding Workouts won’t add inches to your chest, arms, and shoulders, if you aren’t regularly pumping iron. For
    this reason, HCG dieters report a feeling and appearance of great health and marvel at the loss of
    negative health risks they had as an overweight individual.

  10. August 2, 2014

    Thus we became noobs on the water when we purchased our
    1957 Sea King with a 1964 Johnson motor. Wherever
    you go, different rules may apply, and some of
    them will be regional only. If you are a foreigner unlikely to return if allowed to leave, you will not be able to post a bond.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Justice and Compassion

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS