I went out to dinner last night with friends, along a city street jumbled with restaurants. As the host, I chose three places for us to visit and have a course of food at each. What’s more, I chose the items we would eat. Kind of a benign dictator of dinner, actually. Did the crew mutiny, the people rebel? Far from it: everyone said, “No, no, you choose. It’s just nice to have someone else making the decisions.”
For most of us staring into screens reading this blog, our lives are full of decisions from the moment we wake up – including which moment we wake up – to the moment we go to bed – including which moment to go to bed and which book to read as we’re falling asleep. It is privilege beyond belief, almost obscene in its scope, and it is exhausting.
When I was in seminary, a group of us who were studying liberation theology traveled to Chile. Breakfast each day in the humble accommodation (four-star compared to other places we visited) was always bread and cafe con leche, instant coffee made with milk. It cleared a whole segment of my brain of the need for making decisions.
Then we came home to New England in the US; a small city by comparison to Santiago. I went to a big supermarket to replenish my pantry, empty after these weeks away. I found the breakfast food aisle. Cereals of every shape and size stretched as far as I could see. It was like in the movies when an aisle or hallway stretches to infinity like a fun house of mirrors. Miles of cereals, and cereals but one genre of breakfast foods.
I felt sick and left: sick at the unnecessary burden of unnecessary choices (each day in Chile I had what I needed to get through to lunch – necessities covered). Sick at the sense of entitlement emanating from the brightly coloured boxes, as if I had a right to have so much choice in a world that denies millions of people the right to eat at all. Whew. I had to get out of there.
What I like about the passage from Acts for this week is the ritual of decision-making, the giving the decision its due discernment. I also like the physicality of casting lots. To hold in my hand the key to choice A or choice B is to make me aware of its material consequences. Its weight. Having this much choice is a burden and I believe we need to carry it…in order to be careful with it.
I’ve got a pair of red dice from Vegas (long story) that I’m going to carry around with me today as a spiritual discipline of awareness of all the choices I must and can make, of the privilege of discernment in an indiscriminate world. I pray, like the disciples did, that God who knows my heart will be in each decision with me, little to big, from breakfast to the time I lay my head down tonight. God be with you in all you do, and decide, too.
Minister of the Word in Adelaide, South Australia
part of the writing team from Nightcliff Uniting Church, Darwin, Australia for Lent, Easter 2012