Regular readings of my former blog will know well my obsession with the distinction between being and doing. A central insight I gained while in South Africa is that who I am will always matter far more than what I can do. That was immensely helpful when I was struggling with the language and culture barriers in Itipini.
Indeed, I find I have internalized this message so much that I have almost a visceral reaction when I hear the word “do” and its cognates – deed, did, done, work, task, etc. I am immediately suspicious when people talk about “doing the work of the Lord.”
But it’s true that I am firmly back in the land of the doing. People at Yale measure themselves by what they have done, can do, or will do. “Did you do all that reading last night?” is a common first question when you see someone in the morning.
I am struggling with how to respond. Obviously, I want and need to do all that stuff as well. I am here to read and do all the learning. But I don’t want to lose hold of that insight I gained in South Africa.
Additionally, I want to be able to share what I’ve learned about being and doing with my classmates here, especially since I think it has a good deal to say to those who are planning on entering the ministry. But how do you bring it up? “Ummm… excuse me, but I think you’re focused a bit too much on doing.”
One way I have tried is to bring the topic up in conversation and in questions. At a session last week on securing funding for overseas mission trips, I asked, “How much do you have to do while you’re overseas to earn the money?” I acknowledged these organizations probably wouldn’t want to fund tourists but I also said how I thought the most effective mission work could be done simply by choosing to share an existence – being – with someone else. I got a reasonably good answer to the question.
Afterwords, someone came up to me and said, in what he thought was a jocular and jovial way, “Oh, I see, you just want to see how little work you can get away with and have a vacation somewhere nice.”
I guess there’s a long way still to go.
4 thoughts on “Back in the land of the doing”
Good job, Jesse! Our culture defines us by what we DO. I know that the healthiest folks I know are people who wrestle with the being/doing question regularly. There is (and will always be) a pile of stuff on my desk, and, like the poor, it will always be with me. My most creative/spiritual/pastoral moments are when I turn away from the piles and sit with the people, situations and ideas that I find along the way.
Of course, that still doesn’t help much when my vestry wants to know what I do all day, or what I’m going to do about stewardship this fall.
Keep asking the good questions!
Out of curiosity, did the person who came up to you know that you’d spent 2 years of your life as a missionary in South Africa?
Great post, Jesse.
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