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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Necessary Possibilities

For a variety of reasons that would be difficult to explain (since I’m not entirely sure how to explain it even to myself), I have had two concepts/phrases competing for my attention this week.  They are, “what counts as necessary,” and, “as much as possible.”  Weirdly, these thoughts were at war within me until I sat down to write, at which point I realized they might be synonymous.  Perhaps what is necessary is for us to engage in doing things in such a way that they are done as well (or as much) as possible.

Often, I think the word necessary contains connotations that lead toward doing the bare minimum to get by, but if you think long and hard about how we use this word in real life, it is usually attached to radical, uncomfortable situations.  We use it apologetically.  “I’m so sorry, but this is necessary.”  I can over think for weeks at a time about what counts as necessary, to the extent that it would have been better to just risk it in the first place, because it would be less consuming.  But most of the time, the “necessary” is painful in some way.  It is used to describe things we would not otherwise choose.  We are doing this… saying this… being this… because for some reason or another, we have to. 

I have recently been reading James K.A. Smith’s book, “Imagining the Kingdom,” which does not undermine the concept of free will but also presents a realistic understanding of what it is to be inclined toward one choice or another, to be persuaded by the very world we conceptualize as the real world, to act habitually and without deep thought in the vast majority of circumstances.  He articulates things I have agreed with, without knowing it (probably thus proving his point) for a very long time… maybe even my entire life.  Attention is given to the importance of living into regular ritual and routine which forms and transforms us into the people we desire to be, given our understanding of what is good in the world.  I appreciate this considerably (see: liturgist), but I also believe we will still encounter extraordinary circumstances that cause us to take pause, sometimes veering from our culturally ingrained habits as we meticulously consider whether or not we must resist the norm in order to take necessary action.

But again, what is necessary if not “as much as possible”?  And perhaps the question that follows on the heels of this one is: What is possible?  I’m not sure it means merely what can be done.  In fact, I’m pretty sure our desires play into this in more ways than we would often like to admit (sometimes for good, and sometimes… well… not).  For, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and just because you should do something doesn’t mean you will.

I’ve come to realize that the most difficult decisions require us to rank our loves.  They are the decisions that will benefit someone… or something… or some circumstance while taking away from another.  They are the decisions that must be made and that have no win-win outcome.  I should be clear that I don’t think most decisions fall into this category.  I think most of the time we can do things that (at the very least) cause no harm and much of the time we can even find creative solutions in which all parties are (again, at least minimally) satisfied.  But sometimes… rarely… we just can’t.  And when that’s the case, the words “as much as possible” don’t bring any comfort at all to hurting people.  Sometimes, “as much as possible” isn’t enough.  And that sucks.

Smith would argue that what we love defines us.  I think he’s right.  And most of the time, I think that works out pretty well.  But sometimes it hurts.  Still… may we love things (people… places… experiences…) that matter and may we love things that love us back.  I’m not sure that’s solid theology, but I don’t mean that we should only do what’s right or good to those who love us…  of course I don’t mean that!  But may we have enough requited love in our lives that we can make the hard choices and be (at our core) the very most good we are capable of being.


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