Saturday, September 17, 2011


Henry Ford once euphemistically said of his Model T Ford that “you can have any color you want, so long as it’s black”. Choice is something we - in middle and upper class North America anyway - take for granted. We make choices everyday: what to wear, what to eat, how to travel, where to shop, what to buy, who to connect with, who to vote for, where to vacation, where to volunteer, charities to support, what job or career to pursue, and so on and so on.

There are other choices too – choices on a deeper level – about who to be, who or what to worship, who to marry, who to trust, how to live and how to die. An unwanted, unplanned, unexpected pregnancy prompts a choice. A serious illness requires that choices be made about treatment and care and in some cases, end of life decisions. We make choices all the time – big or little, easy or difficult, good or bad. As we look back, we can see how these individual choices have become intertwined - creating, as Carole King says, a "tapestry"...

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.

Sometimes we make decisions and will rationalize the choice we make by saying that we had “no choice”. I suspect that it’s rarely (if ever) true that we literally have no other choice, but it may certainly seem that way. And it seems obvious to me that no one sets out to make bad choices… we don’t wake up in the morning and say to ourselves, “I think I’ll see how many bad choices I can make today.” No. We make bad choices because somehow, at the time, it seems like the only or the best option we have. Sure, someone else in another pair of shoes, might know that our choice will lead us into trouble, but we don't see it the same way ourselves. Nor can we.

We talk a lot in this country about having the freedom to choose. We don’t like it when government or church or “big brother” tells us what to do, what to think, what to say, what to believe. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms has enshrined the principle of choice in our legal systems and embedded it deeply in our cultural mindset. But how REAL is our ability to choose?

Are we so preoccupied with making superficial decisions about the daily minutia of our pampered lives that we don't even notice that the more substantial decisions are made for us? One of the parenting tactics that is recommended these days for parents who have been conditioned to think that children must be empowered to "choose", is to offer the child a "choice" - would you like to read a book or play with your blocks? We don't include in the list of options, activities that might be dangerous or inappropriate. It's win, win - or at least that's the theory. The child gets to pick and the parent has the immense satisfaction of seeing the child willingly engaged in an approved activity. It seems like a good idea when it comes to keeping our kids safe and reasonably content. But it's a principle that is played out at all kinds of levels.

Election time. You may vote for candidate A, B, C or D. Or you may exercise your right NOT to vote, or to spoil your ballet. It's up to you. You can live where you want, study what you want, work where you want - so long as you can make it all work together so that your life falls within the lines of social acceptability. By and large we get to choose, but we don't necessarily have any say in determining the available options. But, you might argue, of course it's not possible for us to all be completely free to do as we wish, without regard for the consequences of our choices on other people. We have a system - a democratic system - that takes all this into account. In order for social order to be maintained, we have to accept limitations, We have to entrust someone - those who are smarter, stronger, wealthier than we are - to establish the parameters of our choices. We suppose that they are looking out for us, or at least that they are preserving the "common good". And so we leave the BIG thinking to them.

And if you don't like the way things are, well you can organize a protest, write a letter to the editor, set up a Facebook group, engage in some form of civil disobedience. In this country at least, no one can make you like the options you have so long as your protest doesn't pose a danger to anyone or threaten the stability of the system. You're perfectly free to rant and rave so long as you don't push too hard or too far. And, if you're especially persistent, you may actually make a difference in a law or public policy. But don't hold your breath. The system is pretty tight. It can't and it won't tolerate too much rebellion.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I guess my point - at least what I thought I wanted to say when I began this post over a week ago - is that we need to be patient if we are to live according to kingdom ethics in a world where such ethics truly are counter cultural. If we really want to follow in Christ's footsteps we can expect resistance. But it's ok. At the end of the day, what counts - the ONLY thing that counts - is whether or not we did our very best - our UTMOST - to live out our faith in every area and aspect of our lives. It's the big choice that we affirm or deny with every little choice we make, day in and day out.

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