What is Good Enough?
by Lynn Ungar
How do you atone for your sins? I know the question has different connotations to folks who come from a Christian background than it does for me, given my Jewish heritage. I think of atonement in terms of the Days of Turning, the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when Jews are expected to make things right in their relationships, to apologize and make amends, so that they are prepared to make amends with God on the Day of Atonement itself. Atonement, to me, means fixing what I have broken, taking responsibility for my choices and trying to make things right with people I’ve hurt.
But here’s the thing. Aside from losing patience with my teenager, I think most of the damage that I do in the world is far less personal than my image of atonement would suggest. For the most part, my relationships with my family, friends and neighbors are fine. But what of the damage that I do to the environment? What about all the non-reyclable, non-biodegradable Styrofoam containers I’ve purchased along with that oh so tasty and convenient take-out food? What about the carbon emissions from my long driving vacation this summer, or last weekend’s plane flight to enjoy a long weekend out of town? What about the water I wasted when I forgot to turn off the sprinklers in the back yard, the factory-farmed pork that’s in my refrigerator as we speak?
How do I atone for choices that are not evil, but none the less carry genuine costs for the world? Can I dismiss my choices as “good enough” or “no worse than the neighbors” and go about my merry way, or do I need to atone for my small acts of greed and negligence, make choices that give more weight to the needs of the other denizen’s of this planet and less to my own pleasures or preferences?
I can’t claim to know the answers. It is impossible to live without cost to the planet and unrealistic to think that I would give up all pleasures because of unknown potential costs to unknown beings.
But I can at least bother to ask the questions, to weigh my choices, to consider alternatives, to try to give something back. I will certainly never live a life of perfect virtue, but this season of atonement invites me to be a little more aware of what and how I choose.
Lynn Ungar is minister for lifespan learning for the Church of the Larger Fellowship. She lives in California with her wife, teenage daughter, two cats and two dogs, one of whom is a regular blogger for this site.
What do you think?
How do I give back? I have been given so much in my life. I have so much to give, and I want to do it in a meaningful way. I love the idea of atonement for ones sins, but I have yet to find a way to atone that would bring meaning to my life, and the lives of others.