The impulse to save, to fix things, to make a better world is a good impulse. We must be aware, however, that it can turn abstract, distant, and dark. A utopian vision of how a perfect world would be ordered and sustained cannot be our grounding. For one thing, the disappointments and failures to see progress toward such a vision will leave us burned out and bitter.
For another thing, future visions can lead us into the trap of thinking the end justifies the means. Our hearts can harden against the people we see as enemies of progress, and we can begin to be cruel to get them out of the way. “You’ve gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet,” we can find ourselves saying. After all, as James Luther Adams pointedly reminded us, the Nazis, too, thought they were purging the world to make way for their vision of a glorious and better future.
It's natural to ask, "what is this supposed to lead to? What is the ultimate endpoint goal?" It works best to keep concrete goals in the short-term, while, at the same time being mindful of possible adverse effects of our actions "yea unto the seventh generation."
For example, LoraKim and I are vegetarians. People who aren't vegetarians, we have found, don't really want to talk about it, and people who are vegetarians assume that we vegetarians are all on the same page. Every once in a while, though, the question does get raised: what is the ultimate goal? If the whole world became vegetarian, what would become of domesticated cows, pigs, and chickens? Do we want the domesticated breeds to become extinct? Do we want a remnant surviving in petting zoos -- or set free in the wild to go feral and make it if they can? What's the ultimate vision here?
I try to resist the urge to explore answers to these questions. Not within my lifetime or my children's or grandchildren's lifetimes are these questions going to need an answer. The generation that does face that question will be better equipped than we can be to form a good answer. Our task is to bring love and compassion to the present reality. Our question is, "What is the next step?" -- not, "What is the last step?" Right now, factory farms -- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) -- are a clear and present evil. They are extreme ongoing suffering on a massive scale. I say that as a person who does not regard a cow's suffering as equal to an ape's suffering. Fine. Divide by two. Divide by three, if you like. CAFOs are still extreme ongoing suffering on a massive scale. Factory farms are evil, if anything is. I want to confront that evil as best I can -- or at least minimize my participation in it. That's the immediate calling. The details of a far-distant future that my grandchildren will never see would only get in the way of what love calls me to right now.
It's not our job to imagine what liberal religion will be like in 200 years. We cannot do that any more than the Unitarians and Universalists 200 years ago could have imagined Unitarian Universalism today. But it is our job to discover together what the transforming power of love can make of us in our lifetime.
No, we cannot dictate to the transforming power of love the details of what we want ourselves and our world transformed into. We can only open ourselves to the calling to love right here, right now, and let love decide how to transform us. The transforming power of love opens us to discover in each others’ faces and stories – in each others’ words and each others’ hearts -- who we are.
Then we’ll know what we’re here for.
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6th and last part of "Transformning Power"
Previous: Part 5: "Only Love Is Big Enough to Hold All the Pain of This World"
Beginning: Part 1: "Our Unitarian Universalist Story: James Luther Adams"