On the heels of my previous post about the Three A’s, I’d like to talk about possible ways to counter their affect in your life.
In addition to discussing the three A’s in his book, Borg actually touches on an idea for how one goes about countering this effect; namely through having a church.
Note: My perspective on discussing religion on this site. While this article is based on a book about religion, the concept discussed here applies to everyone.
What do we mean by “church”?
For the purposes of this article, a church is a collection of people you see regularly and who agree with you about core values in life.
For some that’s a literal church on Sunday, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t even have to be religious. It just needs to involve people who share your values and whom you see regularly. Your family, your partner, coworkers, friends, classmates, fellow volunteers, whoever the people are with whom you can talk about what matters in life. People who agree that other things are more important than being rich, famous, and hot.
Here’s Borg again:
Being part of a church…creates opportunities for the collective practice of compassion and justice. These include caring for people within the church, outreach programs for people beyond the doors of the church, and advocacy of justice. […]
We need to be part of a community…that affirms a vision of life very different from modern culture. A church…is a community of resocialization.The Heart of Christianity, by Marcus Borg – Emphasis added
The word resocialization is key here, because we need to counteract the socialization we’re getting everywhere else. When even a trip to the grocery store includes a massive bank of reminders of the three A’s, it’s insufficient to just know that other things are more important; you have to find deeper ways to remind yourself of what matters. Because of this, it becomes paramount to find people who share your values and spend time with them talking about things that matter.
Of course, you may already have such people in your life. You probably have friends and family who agree on what’s important, and that’s great! How often do you see them though? How often do you talk about what matters and discuss what it means to live these values in the world?
And if you don’t have such discussions, or don’t have them often enough, can you see in yourself where the three A’s are becoming too important in your life? Do you find your choices being influenced by the three A’s? Have your career decisions been impacted? Dating? Anything else? Do your purchasing choices focus on satisfying your actual needs or are they oriented to getting or appearing to have the three A’s?
Most of us, if we’re being honest, see the perpetual creep of these factors in our lives. They sneak in around the corners and edges. While they can be major influences, sometimes they’re just a pressure that pushes all the uncertain or “on the fence” moments one way; makes all the rounding errors go in one direction. These differences add up though.
To counteract this, you need to make a conscious effort to create a counter-wind in your life. You need to actively talk to people about what matters more, and how you can live those other things. You need to have a church.
Why do I need other people for this?
Can’t you do this alone you ask? If you read the right books and avoid bad messaging, isn’t that enough?
No. Whether we like it or not, we are social creatures. Even if it’s just in subconscious ways we absorb values from the people around us. If the only values we absorb are the three A’s we get lost in them.
A community of people is essential to counteract this, which is why every religion has some equivalent. From synagogues to churches to mosques; even Buddhism, which many associate with solitary meditation, declares the sangha (spiritual community) one of the three essentials of the teaching.
How to find your church
Unfortunately there is no easy one-size-fits-all answer for finding this in the modern world. It is a challenge of our time to reinvent or find new versions of this that fit our era, and this process is still underway.
Of course, religious people can simply find a church they like and go regularly; done.
For others, I’ve seen Unitarian Universalist churches, meditation groups, and yoga groups sometimes serve such purposes. In my own life volunteering groups have also played this role effectively at times.
One solution I’ve used is to have a list of friends with whom I regularly talk about values. In person, phone, or email, I touch base several times a week with friends who share some of my core views about the world. These regular discussions about what’s more important in life remind us all of what matters, and show me that I’m not alone in that view.
Is this enough? For me it has depended on my life moment. Sometimes discussions with my “church” members work fine. Other times I need to find a bigger or more regular community to emphasize this. Either version helps me see when I’m making a decision based on one of the three A’s. Seeing this thus helps me avoid focusing my life on appearance, achievement, and affluence. I can instead live based on values that truly matter to me.