Sometimes, when saturated with national and global news, we tend to focus on that larger picture and neglect our main responsibility on the microlevel of our personal relationships and local community. Voting and demonstrating about the larger issues are good and important community responsibilities, but most of our effectiveness is in the place where we live. We can be confident that our quality of contribution there will influence the larger picture especially as it harmonizes with contributions of others exponentially over time.
But few seem to discover, accept, or appreciate their status as a minute particle important to God’s reality, the reality that is far beyond the national level. On God’s level social and political hierarchy is non-existent.
Christmas is a celebration of an obscure, seemingly insignificant peasant couple giving birth to a fragile baby in an animal enclosure of a minor country owned by a global empire. Only many centuries later would a major part of the world celebrate it as a holy day. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus may not have been fully aware of their place at the culmination of centuries and the beginning of profound changes. But they moved ahead in what they were given to live.
Most do not like the fact that progress is minute, incremental, and slow. But we can see that the cumulative constancy of small particles over time moves the greater Body along. It is viral and exponential. However, those who do sense the value of being a minute particle of the whole usually operate in the love ethic.
The Love Ethic
Not just an emotional response, the love ethic is an orientation to life. I occasionally recognize it in myself when I labor long and hard on works of art and writing even though I know they may be viewed and read only by a few. Hoping to contribute to the common good, I experience joy when someone receives what I offer, and grief when the contribution is rejected or ignored. But I can always return to a kind of wonder that if I make or write something presenting truths I have discovered, someone somewhere, now or in the future, will be helped in their own awakening. This love ethic is the energy and life that makes me a functioning part of the larger Body.
Talk to any effective leader in the public arena, or even the small group, and they will tell you about the patient, marathon attitude required to negotiate progress increment by increment. They will speak of something like faith in the face of repeated failure. You can think of your own examples, but some of my current examples are John Lewis, Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams, people who serve more than they receive, who “go beyond the call of duty”, who postpone their own comfort and benefits. This includes anyone who lays down their life for others, a love Jesus said was the greatest.
Where to Find This Kind
Most of those who live by the love ethic are unknown except by a few — hence the designation as “minute particles in the whole.”
The parent who daily fixes dinner for the family.
The person who keeps recyclables separated.
The driver who allows the other car into their lane.
The person who spontaneously gives a dollar to a beggar on the street.
Those who wear the mask even though it is uncomfortable, and some say its effect on the pandemic is minimal.
Being a sympathetic listener.
Giving words of comfort to someone who cannot benefit you.
Choosing optimism to orient your efforts countering trouble even when others think you are unrealistic.
The person who calms another’s fears.
The small business which maintains generosity despite small profits because of its mission to help people.
The artist who strives for the highest quality even when the mediocre “will do,” or chooses a project more for the important message than the commercial potential.
The person who takes the time, effort, and risk to demonstrate in the streets for a good cause.
The writer who creates a poem, novel, play, screenplay, or blog post not because they expect to get rich and famous, but because some truth inspires them to tell whoever will pause to consider it and be helped in their journey ahead.
You probably recognize things about yourself in this little bit of an infinite list.
Persevering in the Good
The love ethic is why some people keep productive and active even when they could afford to just play and indulge themselves, or who just deserve to retire. It is what made Jesus walk from village to village telling stories, healing, and teaching even when he was fatigued and threatened with arrest, torture, and assassination.
Contributing to the unstoppable ground swell of goodness and life is usually done in minute deeds. It is like the mustard seed which Jesus pointed out, though seemingly insignificant, is irrepressible. Once it has started in the garden it cannot be easily eradicated, becomes a refuge to the birds of the air and drops its seed to raise up more goodness (Matthew 13:31).
We are the seeds continuing the exponential growth of the new creation which Isaiah prophesied would cover the earth “as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).