From Distraction to Discernment

444038a-i1.0.jpgThat is the theme this year for the little experiment called Hope Fellowship that we are a part of here in Waco. It has been especially appropriate for me and my family as we are nearing the end of our time at the farm. We have been going through group discernment with our small group at church as well.

Usually when you think of discernment, it involves deciding what job to take or who to marry or where to go to college. What if discernment wasn’t about treating life decisions as a multiple choice test in which God has chosen only one correct answer? Instead maybe it’s about looking beyond the choices in front of you to the values that would motivate you to make any particular choice.

Now it’s starting to get personal.

I really don’t think God cares very much about where you live, who you marry or what job you have. (Unless you work for a company that produces weapons, exploits other people or the environment.) God cares a lot more about what kind of person you are and how you relate to other people and the planet. Discernment reveals more about what’s behind the choices we might make. It also reveals those things that so easily distract us.

Allowing our cultural values to define the good life for us also distracts us from understanding what’s behind those pressures. For example, the pressure to provide for my family is determined in so many ways by the culture’s definition of what the good life is. Someone once told me that if you want to know what someone really values take a look at their checkbook. What would your spending habits say about you?

Food is a good example of this process of moving from distraction to discernment. Supermarkets are extremely distracting places. All the bright displays glowing under the fluorescent lights. Lots of tiny print on packaging meant to keep you from reading it. Most of assume this is where our food comes. All of our food choices occur within this space or the never ending combinations of “expensive cheap feasts” as Wendell Berry calls fast food.

So, we should try to buy more health consciously within the grocery store. We should try to buy more fresh produce or local products, but always within the boundaries of supermarkets and/or restaurants. As long as my food choices are defined only by supermarkets and restaurants, I will have to get a job to support those choices. I will also have to have health insurance that will cover the physiological effects of those choices.

If we value health and whole food, we will have to step outside these boundaries. This changes what our budget for both food and health care might look like. This begins to reshape how we define the good life. If the good life is more money to have more stuff and buy what you want then you will arrange your life to make that happen. That hasn’t been working out well for many of us.

If instead the good life is a balance between work and family, more time outside, closer connection to our food and the earth, then our lives and budgets will have to be rearranged to match up with these values. So, it’s not so much about deciding which job to take or where to move. All of those decisions we make are in reality only a reflection of the decisions we have already made about what’s important to us.

Moving from distraction to discernment means deconstructing the choices we make in our daily lives and reorienting our lives around the values of God’s reign in our lives and the world.

picture from nature.com

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