A Memo on the Arc of the Universe
by Brian McLaren
To: The next generation of tikkunistas
From: A middle-aged fellow tikkunista
Subject: Unsolicited advice
Date: January 2011
If we're committed to tikkun olam -- the healing and greening of God's beautiful world -- we must think short-term and long-term. And we must engage in short-term activity with the long-range mission in mind. Long-range, our work will never end (this side of whatever eschaton there may be), because when we solve one problem today, new ones will arise tomorrow, sometimes involving the unintended consequences of our best solutions to yesterday's problems!
That means that long-range, we need to do three things. First, we have to have the big story in mind -- the big "arc of the universe" as Dr. King called it: not a harsh and dominating metanarrative, but a liberating story of God's Spirit active in our world. That big story constitutes a sense of calling; we know what we're called to do because we have a sense of the big story. For Abraham, that meant being called out of the comfort of empire into a journey of faith, and it meant being blessed so as to become a blessing to everyone else.
Second, we need to see how means can't be separated from ends. We can't use violent means to achieve peaceful ends; we can't use discordant means to achieve harmonious ends; we can't use dishonest means to achieve honest ends. As Father Richard Rohr says, "How we go determines where we arrive." In our haste to achieve short-term gains, we can pump toxins into the social system that will poison our successes so they aren't successes at all.
Third, we need to take care of our own souls -- individually and communally. In the push and rush of opportunities and crises, we can work too hard and overcommit. If we're not careful, we'll damage ourselves, thus limiting our long-term impact. I'm struggling with this right now, and I've struggled with it for thirty years ... self-care and soul care and close-circle-of-friends care are not distractions from our work for tikkun olam or the kingdom of God, but rather are integral to it. It's the people who are most committed to the big calling who are most in danger of burning out in its pursuit, which is why sabbath and recreation and feasts and fun are so important. If we have faith that everything doesn't in the end depend on us alone, we'll be around longer -- with a better spirit -- so as to do more good in the long run.
Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is one of America's most significant progressive Evangelical voices. His many books include Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope; A New Kind of Christianity; and Naked Spirituality (March 2011).His articles in Tikkun include "Go Deeper," January/February 2009; "Chosen For What?," May/June 2008; and "Suicidal vs. Life-Giving Religious Narratives," September/October 2010.
Source Citation: McLaren, Brian. 2011. A Memo on the Arc of the Universe. Tikkun 26(1): 57