My Own Chasm of Conscience

 …In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ Luke 16:23-26 (for proper 21C)

I went to a party recently and all the drinks were served in plastic cups. I was shocked – people still use plastic cups? (I don’t get out much, I admit). I live with nuns for whom the use of plastic presents a severe moral dilemma. We’re never unaware of plastic – from milk bottle caps to jugs of vinegar to medicine packets. We go to great pains to buy milk from a local farmer willing to put our milk in buckets so that we can then put the milk in glass bottles. But some plastic purchases we can’t avoid. Why do we avoid plastic? We know that giant swirls of broken down plastic poison the world’s oceans and the creatures within it. When we’re finished with a plastic product where does it go after we throw it away? Here at the farm we throw away plastic and we grieve. We ask our guests to take out any plastic they bring in with them so we don’t have to carry their consciences as well as our own.

Dives and Lazarus, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestar's Bible Historiale, 1372

I feel privileged to live with people for whom the purchase, the care of, the disposal of material goods is so carefully discerned. I know I would not be so careful if I lived by myself or with a busy family on the run. But the awareness of our American profligate lifestyle is painful. It helps to live with others with similar ideals willing to face the implications of Western luxury, to brave changes however modest, and undertake activism and education as we are able. It helps a bit with my guilt to know we try even incrementally to change our own lives together.

The clothes I’m wearing right now? Who made them, and where, and under what conditions?  Today, I’m not sure.

And my wonderful computer and cell phone – have I made reparation for the direct link to war in Central Africa for the coltan (columbite-tantalite) necessary to create my communication toys? And what of that evil weapon of this war in particular- mass rapes of women. What can I do? At least I can begin with awareness and prayer and support of those helping at the women’s hospitals in Congo and keep in touch through activists and medical personnel serving them. It isn’t much, though. Another cause of grief. But here I am using my computer as I post this blog.

Okay, I’m sparing the reader my lists of other guilts I carry just by virtue of enjoying this culture of waste and consumption. (Especially about American food). Of course I’m a consumer down to my bourgeois bones. The chasm between Dives and Lazarus is in me.

Why do I go out of my way to know these things when I could have a clear conscience by not knowing? (So easy in our culture!) Why would I rather know and feel guilty and miserable than not know and accept what is easy and at hand? Besides living along-side a religious community dedicated to social justice, I suppose it has to do with being alive. I want to be alive. I want to continually wake to Reality. If I strive to discern truth, I can gather my guilt and pain into my prayer and present at least this pathetic little offering from my heart to the bosom of Abraham.

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One Response to “My Own Chasm of Conscience”

  1. John Hoover Says:

    In his long poem “Brother to Dragons,” Robert Penn Warren wrote, “The recognition of complicity is the beginning of innocence…” And as I remember, Dr. King reminded us that our complicity begins with our first cup of coffee…

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