Scripture - James 3:13-18
When I first read this passage, the word that stuck out to me the most was disorder. Disorder. It’s probably because I have been feeling like my life has been in disorder for the past couple of weeks. I am graduating next month, so, as you can imagine, my life has been filled with thoughts about the future. In addition to thinking things like, “What will I do after Penn? What will my career be?” And “ Who will I become?,” I have been working two jobs to save up for the summer, while trying to stay on top of work for my five classes, while preparing for my dance show that is coming up for my dance troupe, African Rhythms, while fulfilling my board duties at the CA, while trying to stay on top of my friendships and familial relationships, while trying to find time to care for myself and sleep. Fewwww. Just getting all of that out was a lot. Sounds like a lot of disorder right?
And yet, at a place like Penn, what I just described is unfortunately very normal. Almost everyone here is overcommitted; you will see most of us trying to do it all and be it all and know it all because we feel like we have to; because we are told, either directly or indirectly, that doing this is what makes us valuable by our institution, by our society, and by each other; We must be the best in class, we must have the best internships and jobs, we must be involved in the most clubs and extracurriculars, and we must be the most popular; the more we have to write on our resume, the more we have done and accomplished, and the more people we know, the more likely we will be successful and the more likely an employer will choose us.
But in the process of trying to fulfill what is expected of us, we inevitably lose sight of ourselves and others; we forget to take care of ourselves; we don’t sleep, we don’t eat right and we don’t do things just because we enjoy them; we lose sight of how to pick up on how others are feeling and we stop hanging out with them and sharing quality time with them, and they with us; we become so consumed with what we have to do that we forget about the others around us and they forget about us; we stop checking in with our friends and family, they stop checking in with us, and pretty soon, we all start feeling alone, really alone. We start leading pretty bad, disconnected lives, instead of the good lives that James talks about.
In this passage, James tells us that when we, either individually or as a whole, choose to follow these earthly ways, or what he calls the “ways of selfish ambition”, disorder, suffering, and chaos ensues. He even goes as far as to say that selfish ambition is demonic and evil mainly because of the tragic repercussions this way of life has for a lot of people: anxiety, depression (something I am all too familiar with), exhaustion and the list goes on and on. He tells us that selfish ambition makes us unstable, like “a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” I know that this happens to me when I succumb to this culture. I feel disconnected from everything and I tend to get very existential. I question the meaning of life, I wonder why life has to be so hard, and I doubt God. Let me just emphasize that: I doubt God A LOT. I start to question if life really does conquer death, if this world can be restored, and if good can actually prevail. A culture of selfish ambition really is demoralizing and alienating, and everything seems pretty dim.
But James tells us that when we, individually and especially as a society, choose to follow the ways of God, something remarkable happens. Disorder disappears and is replaced by peace, love, mercy, compassion, and righteousness. When we follow God’s ways, we are filled with His wisdom, and so we are liberated from the pressures of the world and from the belief that we have to be perfect in every academic, co-curricular, and social endeavor in order to be valuable. God’s wisdom tells us that we are valuable independent of what we do, because we are God’s children; God’s wisdom tells us that all of us matter, that all of us must be taken care of, and it propels us towards the right action, towards selfless action; it propels us to focus first on our communities, on each other, and to do whatever it takes to restore our world and to make sure that everyone feels safe, whole and loved. In God’s world, righteousness and justice reign, and doubt disappears, because we can visibly see God’s world through our actions.
So how can we follow God’s ways? Where can we find this wisdom? Well, I personally think that God’s ways and wisdom can be accessed in faith communities like the Christian Association, which are countercultural, and which exist to remind students that they are never alone and that they don’t have to pursue a life of selfish ambition to be valuable. On our own, it can sometimes be very hard to break free from the messages that surround us, but in community, we are fueled with strength and Truth, the Truth with a capital T, which rings louder because we have people that love us to keep us grounded and balanced. In my case, I found the CA because I sought it out, and I never looked back. But not everyone finds what they are looking for; and so that is why at places like the CA, we seek to live out God’s call to care for and love each other, to reach out to those in need, relying on his wisdom to guide us in that process and slowly but surely, restore the world around us.