If you’ve been following my blog for a while or know me in person, you know that I follow a strict vegetarian (almost vegan) diet and eat almost no processed sugar either. I’ve been doing it for about five years, and though I was stricter in the beginning, back when I didn’t have a husband or stepsons and had much more control over when and what I ate, I still mostly eat according to my convictions about what is and isn’t good for me. I research, I read labels, and I adapt when I feel something should be added or removed from my diet. I occasionally have a piece of meat or cake on holidays, and often when I eat out, I feel sure ingredients slip into my diet that I wouldn’t use at home. But mostly, I eat the way I feel I should.
Now, ask me about recycling and composting and the use of chemicals in our household cleaners. I also have strong convictions about all of these things: I want to live gently on the earth and care for the planet well. But too often we resort to paper plates, we throw vegetable peels in the trash can, and I bought a giant bottle of Draino because our upstairs tub has a chronic clogging problem.
It’s tough to live out our convictions. But as part of this series I’ve been doing about asking questions and getting involved, I’m finally to the last question Marilyn McEntyre encouraged us to ask ourselves in her essay, “What Are We Willing to Know?” in the August issue of Comment : What am I willing to act on? Because really, that’s what all of these posts have been leading up to. It’s one thing to ask questions and accumulate information and decide who to trust and who to argue with, but it’s another thing to actually do something with all that information. It does my family, community, and country absolutely no good if I become aware of their problems and even come up with solutions but never act on them.
But the greater risk is the damage I do to my soul when, through knowledge and understanding, I make myself accountable for what I know and yet do nothing. As James says in chapter 4, verse 17: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
Granted, I don’t see black and white on this issue, because often, we know the good we should do but we can’t afford it, or we are powerless to achieve it, or we simply don’t have the time. Buying organic products is expensive. Using paper products really keeps me from having a breakdown some days. And I haven’t figured out how to clear a drain without using lethal chemicals. I have to live within my means: both financially and logistically. Of course I also wish I could afford rehab for all the addicts in our town. I want to feed all the kids who go hungry each night. And I desperately want the Latino members of our community to feel like they have an equal voice, too, about issues affecting us all. Even though I want to, I can’t fix all of these large-scale, systemic issues. Not by myself.
Maybe the secret lies in how I’ve made my vegetarian diet work for so long. I don’t get too hung up when there’s nothing for me to eat at a work luncheon or a family holiday. I certainly don’t want to offend people, and there’s no need to go hungry, especially when I can make the choices I want about most of my meals. So, I make exceptions, but ones that I can live with by making the best choice possible.
The same can be true in all of these issues I care deeply about. The good I ought to do — the good I am willing to do — doesn’t require me to be a superhero. It just requires me to make the best decisions I can, to do what’s best for as many people as possible.
What about you? What are you willing to act on?