Monday, March 3, 2008

The Interaction of Values and Religion

I'm well aware that atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. But so have acts of great love and self-sacrifice. Any student of values should reflect upon the intersection of values and religion. Rather than theorize, I'll give a real life example.

I have way too much to accomplish in any given day. Today was no exception. After getting the children off to school, I needed to work on a presentation, then hit the bank and Circuit City to trade in a meg of ram for one that would actually work in my computer. I had exactly 45 minutes to accomplish the bank run and Circuit City before I'd need to be back home to get up my 102-year-old granny.

But on the way out of the neighborhood, I noticed a stalled pick-up truck in the exit lane with its hood up. Two Mexicans and an African-American - all construction workers - sat beside it. I mention their race and employment because to some people, that would be significant to the story. They might stop for someone they knew, or someone in a Ferrari, or a highly esteemed member of the community, or a "hot chick." But a few construction workers?

I didn't immediately stop, reciting convenient excuses such as
  • "They didn't wave me down, so they've probably already called a friend or a wrecker."
  • "Somebody else can stop who's not in such a hurry."
  • "If they're still there when I return, maybe I can work them in later today."
  • "Maybe it's a set-up to rob me."
But within 30 seconds, I knew that I had to return. A recent sermon by our pastor related Jesus' parable of "The Good Samaritan," where the priest and Levite passed by the poor fellow who'd been robbed and beaten. I'm sure they recited good reasons similar to mine: "I'm already late for an important meeting. Maybe it's a set-up. Somebody else with more time and expertise will surely stop." But finally, a Samaritan took pity on the fellow, put him on his donkey, rented a room for him and paid for his care.

The parallel hit too close to home. I turned around, got jumper cables from my house, jumped off their truck, and followed them to a safe place where they could get better help. I declined their offer for money.

Professionally, my day has been a loss. So I helped the three stranded workers, got granny up, took dad to a doctor's visit, and picked up a sick kid from school. I'm further behind on my writing, my Web work, etc., etc. My "to do" list grew instead of shrunk.

But my religion impacts not just my "to do" list, but also how I feel about a day and how I define success. From my religious perspective, the day was a huge success. According to my religion, when I serve "the least of these," those who may have nothing to give in return, I've actually served God. If I fail to provide for my own (sick children, granny and dad), I'm spiritually bankrupt.

If my life is all about loving God and loving people, then today goes down as a huge success. That's how religion can impact my practical, day to day choices.