If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18 (NRSV)
My natural bent is to be practical. While I enjoy theory and find real satisfaction in planning, designing, and imagining, ultimately I try to find ways to get something done.
My undergraduate education was in engineering and I have an engineer's practical outlook, always looking to fix a broken piece of furniture, toy or appliance, rather than scrapping it, often finding a unique way to replace an "irreplacable" broken part. The warning label "No user serviceable parts" holds no meaning for me. It may be true that something can't be repaired, but I'm always inclined to give it a try.
Probably because of my natural inclination to practicality, I find those scriptures that emphasize "doing" particularly compelling. James' letter, most obviously, speaks to my practical side:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? James 2:15-16 (NRSV)
James does not set "doing" against faith, rather James views doing as evidence of faith. He does not make the mistake of encouraging a "works righteousness," but affirms, as do Jesus, Paul and others in scripture, the necessity of doing. Consider Jesus' words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27:
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.And everyone who
hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-and great was its fall!"
A few verses earlier (Matthew 7:21) Jesus is even more direct saying, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Jesus warns us that hearing and knowing are not enough. We must also act.
Which brings us to the idea of praxis. According to dictionary.com praxis is defined as:
1. practice, as distinguished from theory; application or use, as of knowledge or skills.
2. convention, habit, or custom.
The first defintion sums up the general idea of doing as opposed to simply knowing. The second definition is interesting in that it puts doing in the context of habit or custom. That seems to be a good emphasis. It is not only doing that is important, but doing as a normal custom, how we normally act. It implies that we normally and consistently seek to do that which needs to be done in our lives as individuals, in our relationships with others, in our service to God.
Embracing the idea of the importance of praxis, of doing, can lead us to take small actions even when we don't see how to solve big problems. It can help us recognize that while we may be only one person, there is something we can do. Paul's encouragement from Romans 12:18 quoted above captures this idea: If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Here Paul is encouraging each of us to do what we can to live at peace with others. Perhaps we cannot actually bring about peace in a given situation, or solve some larger problem, but we can do whatever it is in our power to do.
Not only does doing what we can do contribute to a solution of a problem, even if the contribution is small, but if many contribute their small parts, the impact can be great.
Consider for example a problem as practical as energy consumption or even high gasoline prices. Most of us would like gas prices to be lower. Not only do high gas prices make it more costly to run our vehicles, but high prices also add to the cost of other goods which are transported by trucks. Rather than blame the oil companies or call on the government to do something to lower gas prices we could start by seeing what we can do to lower the cost to ourselves.
Most, if not all of us, can do something to impact the cost of gas for ourselves and possibly for others as well. While we may not be able to directly affect the price for a gallon of gas, we can reduce the total cost to ourselves by reducing the number of gallons we use.
On average, individuals in the US drive 12000 miles/year or about 1000 miles/month. If each of us decided to reduce our driving by about 25 miles/week we would be lowering our miles by 10%. Even if gas prices remain unchanged, by lowering our use by 10% our total cost will be lowered by 10%. This is something that is totally in our control to do. (See Top 10 Ways to Reduce Your Gasoline Consumption, <http://www.dailyfueleconomytip.com/driving-habits/the-top-10-ways-to-reduce-your-gasoline-consumption/> )
We don't need the president to do something, or the oil companies to do something, or speculators to do something. We can do something. Our action will have an immediate effect on our own costs and may, especially if enough others do the same, have an impact on prices in general. A significant element in the price of gas is the demand for gas. If we contribute to reducing the demand, the price should go down. Whether it does or not, the cost for us will go down because we are using less!
The same is true for other energy use. By lowering the thermostat 1 degree F in the winter or raising it 1 degree F in the summer we can save energy. Lowering the thermostat 1 degree when heating uses 1% less energy <http://www.ehow.com/how_4532197_save-energy-setting-thermostat.html>. Similarly for hot water heaters - reducing the setting 10 degrees F lowers energy use 3-5% <http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=13090>.
Other ways to reduce electricity use include switching to compact flourescent light bulbs which use about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, using just one "ENERGY STAR [bulb], we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars." <http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductGroup&pgw_code=LB>. This is something each of us can do.
TV's, VCR's, DVD and CD players, computers and other electronic devices typically use "standby power." These devices are not really "off" when you turn them off. By unplugging them when not in use or using a plug strip to turn them off you can save about 5-10% electrical usage. <http://standby.lbl.gov/faq.html#much>.
These are just some examples. The bottom line is that in the area of energy use there are many ways that each of us can reduce our use and the associated cost. We do not have to feel powerless (no pun intended). If each one of us exercises responsible choices, doing something to help solve a big problem, we can experience the benefit personally and contribute to the solution generally.
By taking action, we reduce our negative impact on others, on the environment, and the cost to ourselves. We also exhibit good stewardship of the resources that God has provided. Thus, "so far as it depends on [us],"we are "living peaceably with all."