Quiet is the Flow
River De Chute... Easton, ME
I had just gotten married. My wife and I, in our mid-20sw, were in school in Northwest Florida, near the Alabama and Florida border. We were preparing for work in Christian ministry. We needed income. My wife worked on campus part-time. I went looking for a part-time job.
A fellow student notified me of a job opening at a gas station. It was only about 2 miles from campus, where my wife and I lived. The location would be ideal, it seemed, and meant not having to drive into Dothan, AL, some twenty-five miles, to work.
I arrived at the station, and a kind man welcomed me. He began telling me about the work. He was prepared to hire me. I noticed alcohol in the store. I had been raised with the teaching that drinking alcoholic drinks was unethical. So, for me, to sell it would be wrong. I declined the job offer. It would, I believed, be as wrong of me to sell it for someone else to drink it as to drink it myself.
I ended up driving into Dothan for work. Shortly after - only weeks- I was offered a job on campus, one I enjoyed much. Being true to myself and my sense of the divine will worked out well. I had a better job and at an ideal location.
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The above anecdote is not about whether my view on alcohol and selling it was right or wrong. It is about being true in our work, period. And how this takes shape will be based on your worldview. One, for example, might say, "I must follow my heart," while another says, "I must do what pleases my god." We do not have to hold to the same worldview to act responsibly and compassionately as members of the world community.
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Buddhism and Christianity present interesting teachings on our acting faithful in our choice of work. Buddhism teaches, as one aspect of the Eightfold Path, Right Livelihood. If there is right work, there is wrong work. We decide this partly through interbeing. We can ask, "Is this work bringing suffering or blessing to others?" And, for Buddhists, one of the Five Precepts is abstinence from the use of intoxicants. So, wisdom paths will guide regarding right livelihood. We need to seek to understand why this guidance is present. For example, in the Buddhist way, why is the wisdom for abstinence and not selling alcohol? And the reasoning may lead us beyond work as right or wrong to a more compassionate way of living, a life more beneficial to the common good. That I work at an ethical job does not mean it is beneficial to others to the extent my heart guides me.
In the Christian Scriptures, the apostle Paul addresses being true to ourselves in matters of choice. Some early Christians were in conflict among each other over diet.
Don't tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there's nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don't feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
*Romans 14.20ff (NLT)
Here, the writer places above personal conviction needed insight into how our actions might affect others. Due to our interbeing, the work we each do affects the whole. He says, basically, "Think of everyone, not just yourself and what you think is okay for you."
The writer, moreover, points to being true to oneself. By selling alcohol, I would have erred. I said no to the job, but that does not mean it would be untrue for another to say yes. Also, it does not mean I was more holy, more faithful, or superior in some way to whoever accepted the job.
Being true to oneself and the whole are not contradictions. Yet, how to be true to both is not straightforward in a world with so many views on what is allowable and not. Living rightly entails discernment. We seek to discern how to be true to ourselves with being true to others, and for a theist, this includes being true to her god.
Additionally, it is normal for our views on what is right or wrong for us to change over time. Later in life, I might have accepted the job at the store. Yet, at the time I declined it, it was the right choice.
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Thich Nhat Hanh summarizes the aim of the wisdom of right livelihood.
Everything we do contributes to our effort to practice Right Livelihood. It is more than just the way we earn our paycheck. We cannot succeed at having a Right Livelihood one hundred percent, but we can resolve to go in the direction of compassion and reducing suffering. And we can resolve to help create a society in which there is more Right Livelihood and less wrong livelihood.
*The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching.
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*© Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.