Friday, June 12, 2009

Good, Better, Best: Choosing in a Grey World

In today's final post on right and wrong (final at least for this series), I want to go back to the original scenario I described. A prosecuting attorney in a courtroom tries to convince the court that the defendent knew right from wrong. Just a few hours with this subject over the past week brings up several thoughts.

In the majority of people's lives, daily choices are less about distinguishing right from wrong as they are about determining a good choice from a better choice. Or choosing what has less negative "ripples" at the time. To which charitable organization should you donate money or volunteer your time? In your schedule should you plan to visit your aging mother or attend your son's softball practice? Should you finish that report for your boss or help a colleague with a problem he's trying to solve for his boss? Should you give yourself an hour break to work on your hobby or get to fixing that squeeking door? I suppose my point is that, for most people, it's all good.

I've spoken of Sister José Hobday before. She explained that in judging how "good" we are in our lives, we should set the bar at FTMP--For the Most Part. Our goal is not perfect good (only God is perfect), but we can thrive, bring God's Kingdom closer and show Jesus' Way with FTMP. That's quite a relief to know that FTMP is good enough--for the world and for God.

However, in those daily decisions and shooting for FTMP, I believe we need to take a serious look back over the paths we've chosen and critically observe where we are on the Right/Wrong, Good/Evil continuum. I remember some wisdom from TV--either "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" or "Joan of Arcadia"(both were excellent spiritual sources) --that most of the time evil isn't just switched on, like a light. You make a decision one day, a pretty good one; you make another decision the next day, another pretty good one; you choose again, a little less good. Finally after many small choices over time, all in themselves seemingly coming down on the "good" side, you find yourself in the middle of a corporate money scandal or cheating on your spouse or hooked on prescription drugs.

That brings me to my last thought for the post. That right and wrong don't seem to be absolutes. We talk as if they were. We humans can even communicate with those abstract concepts and if we checked, we'd mostly agree on the definition. But we live in a world of grey. In practice, right and wrong are judgment calls. Every choice. Every day. Some of the choices are made automatically, and they bring good into the world. For all the others, there is a need for mindfulness, discernment, reflection, prayer, finding trustworthy authorities and listening to their wisdom.

May you use every human and divine resource at your disposal to make choices with positive ripples that show us the Way of Jesus.



  1. You know, there are two themes that continually come up when I enter into discussions concerning right and wrong. The first is the ideal if "perfection" which implies and "absolute truth' and the second is the ideal that "right" is defined by avoiding, excluding or given up the wrong. I have come to the conclusion that for myself neither of these directions are productive. To be honest, in my knowledge, Jesus never made any declaration or told any parable through which prefect was the center theme. Every the idea that God was prefect never came up in the christian faiths until christianity was influenced by greek mythology. Perfection in itself is an end. . . but for me, my religion is evolutionary, continually evolving. Even God continues to evolve. My goal is not to live in a fashion to hopefully be granted an ultimate reward at the end of my life but to live in such a fashion that I have an active roll in the creation of the kingdom here on earth. I have found the ideal of perfection to be a problem since this is exactly the point that many religions hold onto to make a defense that we are right and you are wrong. (We know the end-all so just do what we say). This is putting God into a box to me. In a sense this is placing us above God because we are declaring that we have God all figured out therefore we know more than God.
    The second, thought, defining right be identifying the wrong was best addressed in the movie Chocolat. when the priest said, " Listen, here's what I think, we can't go around measuring our goodness be what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include." In other words, I believe it is what we do not what we avoid that best defines our goodness. Isn't this really what Jesus did?. . . Good luck figuring this one out.

  2. Well said, Lynda, well said. We do tend to over-think, over-define, over-analyze. Following the example of Jesus means just that. Look at what he did. Do the same. I am reminded of the Native American tale of a young brave who dreams of two dogs fighting--an evil black dog and a good white dog. He asks the elder, "How do I defeat evil?". The elder replies, "Feed the White Dog." Good to keep in mind.