Sometimes, in the face of trying to preach the gospel to all nations or save the earth from the global warming or eliminate world poverty or foster peace in the Middle East, I feel a little small and inadequate. (Understatement of the year!) Ever feel that way yourself?
Most of us want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, but the very bigness of it sometimes makes having a meaningful contribution a little challenging. Heck, I feel this way at my own church a lot, being just one person among a congregation of more than 3,500.
The answer, of course, is to break it down, creating small attainable goals that join with everyone else’s small attainable goals to effect real change. Occasionally a visionary comes along who has a big enough influence and a large enough wallet who can make a difference on a global scale (like Bono or Bill and Melinda Gates), but even then, their contribution is only as good as the millions of people they motivate to take action. And most of us fall into the “millions of people” category.
When we break it down, we realize that the best thing we can do for global warming is ride our bikes sometimes instead of driving the car (eliminating America’s addiction to fossil fuel happens one commute at a time). To save the world, we have to meet our neighbors (you don’t even need a plane ticket). And if there is ever going to be peace in the Middle East, it’s going to happen only when you forgive your best friend from college.
Here’s how Wendell Berry says it:
“One cannot live in the world; that is, one cannot become, in the easy, generalizing sense with which the phrase is commonly used, a ‘world citizen.’ There can be no such thing as a ‘global village.’ No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.
“But to encapsulate these partial relationships is to entrap and condemn them in their partiality; it is to endanger them and to make them dangersous. They are enlivened and given the possiblity of renewal by the double sense of particularity and generality: one lives . . . at home and in the world. It is impossible, for instance, to conceive that a man could . . . love his own place in the world and yet deal destructively with other places.”