In perfect page from my often strange and eclectic life, I traveled tonight from a conversation with a Franciscan Monk (who smiled through his beard to explain his vows as “‘no bling-bling,’ ‘no sweet thing,’ and ‘my boss is the King’”) to a rehearsal of a great band (where I learned that– even at practice!– guitar players still grimace, singers still gesture, bass players still goose-neck, and drummers are still the eye of the storm).
But the more significant overtone was about community versus individuality.
In the case of the band, in the stereotypical struggles as individual musicians try to negotiate their way toward a suitable live mix of a rich and complicated composition that was much easier to fine-tune in the studio. So each person is working hard to have their sound– and their opinion– heard. Even after just dropping in on the group, one leaves with a deep respect for their art, and of the work it takes to make it.
In the case of my new monk friend, it was a much more nuanced (yet high-stakes) challenge. As a person who has taken a vow of obedience, he’s completely ready to do whatever his brothers tell him to do. But his brothers are kind people, and so they’re asking him what he wants to do. And he’s answering them, honestly: he’d really, really rather not go to (even more) school. Except he has this sneaking suspicion that they want him to get an MBA. So he’s struggling with his own ideas of (and responsibility for) what he thinks God has made him for, over against what is best for his community. I got the sense that he’d gladly go to school, if they’d only compel him to do so (because then he’d be off the hook for his own sense of discernment about the life with which he’s been entrusted). But until they do, his responsibility for the stewardship of his life is something which he cannot ignore.
All of which got me thinking about the double-edged sword of choice. In recent history, a lack of mobility and educational opportunities meant that people generally followed in the footsteps of their ancestors, likely not feeling ‘trapped’, because they weren’t burdened with all of the possibilities in the wider world. But once we bit the apple of freedom, the apple seemed to bite us back, and we’re forever wondering ‘what should I do’, and looking for family and community to help us toward an answer to that question. Which isn’t easy for them, either.