There is an unwritten rule, one that I am only now beginning to understand. We are not expected to live by our convictions, only to believe in them. Society allows, even expects, a certain degree of hypocrisy. As long as you believe in diversity, you can surround yourself with neighbors who look exactly like you. As long as you believe that Jesus ate at the same table as prostitutes and outcasts, you don’t need to actually bring any into your respectable, middle-class church.
I’m sure these ladies would be totally cool with you bringing your new street-worker friend to church
People tell us that we need to follow this rule, that part of fitting into society means having the flexibility to believe the right things without actually doing the right thing. And here is where I am conflicted.
On the one hand, I don’t like this kind of hypocrisy, and I never will. We need people who are willing to risk everything to shake up a status quo that so often desperately needs to be shaken. We need them to fight the injustice and cruelty that becomes so entrenched that we don’t even think about it. We are told to avoid black and white thinking, but sometimes, things really are black and white.
On the other hand, I realize that if you are an outcast, it is unlikely that anyone will listen to you. And worse still, you may lose friends and make things more difficult for your spouse and children.
I struggle with this in my own life. We live in a boom town. Not only did the recession never touch us, people here are flush with cash (well, rising house values anyway) and spend it like they’ve won the lottery. New cars, new clothes, new everything. Young couples flip old houses while families with young children live in brand spanking new ones with magazine spread interiors. As the standard of living rises, so do the expectations. If your stuff isn’t as new and shiny as everyone else’s is, it’s going to stand out. Your rented house filled with 20-year-old furniture will cost you status points and even friends.
It’s not that I’m against nice things; beauty is as important as utility. But both my faith and my own personal convictions make me deeply opposed to materialism and conspicuous consumption. The question, then, how much respectability am I willing to lose to by sticking to my convictions? Do I buy new or used? Do I forgo buying at all and give the money to charity? On the one hand, I want my children to fit in and have nice things; I want friends. On the other hand, it is deeply important to me to minimize waste and serve those in need, and I have a hard time not doing what is right. How much should I try to fit in, and how firmly should I stick to my convictions? Can I do both without sacrificing too much of either? These are difficult questions that I don’t have easy answers for.
creative commons photo courtesy of epiclectic on flickr