Being Gentle With My Limited Bandwidth

The biology professor ahead of me is loping down the hall with a coffee mug in hand. I follow him into the administration wing, down a flight of stairs to the coffee maker. Before he reaches it, I make a comment that once again I’m grabbing a Styrofoam cup. “Don’t judge me!” I plead. He laughs. These biology faculty with their pottery mugs and glass water jars. A retired prof used the same battered paper lunch bag for years.

It’s easy for my integrity to feel at question when it comes to ecology or the process behind the clothing I buy or the food I let my kids eat.

I have to believe that God has grace for my insufficient attentiveness to all the choices I could make better.

I’ve assigned Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies to a class called Writing Theory and Ethics. Urging her readers to read quality fiction and poetry, McEntyre also informs them: “I spend a good part of my own reading life these days. . . trying to become reliably informed about resource use, militarization, and relationships between the government and large corporations that shape our choice if not ends.”

As with my colleague in the hallway, I flinch as I reread it, comparing myself to another.

I teach my students about ethicist Oliver O’Donovan’s image of morality as an outline we fill in based on the situation. The outline provided by Scripture gives us space to make moral decisions for varying situations. In those situations, we read Scripture comprehensively in a community led by the Holy Spirit. We pay attention to what God is telling us in our dialogue with Him–whether through His word, relationships, or our noticings.

But as finite beings we are gentle with ourselves–we’re aware, as O’Donovan says that our knowledge of morality is “provisional,” subject to change and always developing.

Morality, for O’Donovan, is “participating in God’s created order.” It’s a way of being rather than an exhausting adherence to a multitude of laws created for each situation. “In him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) –our lives are integrated: integrity.

In the last couple days, I’ve received packages in the mail: a few sweaters and a couple brightly colored blouses that make my daughters eyes grow big, and they say “Pretty!” when I put them on. They’re from a company that makes clothing that fits my tall, slender frame, and I can afford them on clearance. Their tags read “Indonesia.” A few years ago though a friend reported to me she thought their clothing production was suspect. Am I guilty of an immoral consumption because I’ve not researched them?

After my kids’ piano lessons last Saturday, they hung out in my office at work as I finished up a project due Monday. We swung through the McDonald’s drive-thru for a late lunch. Despite an inner squirt of guilt over the questionable nutritional value, I was surprised how good a bacon a double cheeseburger is along with fries skinny enough not to taste too potatoey. We ate them at home at the dining room table. If we had waited twenty more minutes I could have microwaved homemade frozen soup from the freezer.

I’ve got my new favorite word: bandwidth.

It suits me: the amount of data that can be sent over a communication channel. A few years ago, bandwidth was business jargon coined from technology, but now non-corporate types like me use it. “I just don’t have the bandwidth” I’ll say. My bandwidth narrows and widens based on the fullness of life—both activities and emotion.

Frequently, as a mom and wife with a demanding job, my bandwidth feels limited.

Coming up with a meal when my kids are already whiny and hungry could turn into a clash between the sharp words of a daughter and me that I’ll regret more than the additional fat and salt of a McDonald’s hamburger.

As my biology prof friend strolled down the hallway with me with our coffee, he told me he tries not to judge. He understands we’re submerged in a consumption-oriented society, where Styrofoam cups, and thus natural resources—God’s creation—are disposed of too easily. And yet what he hopes is that these ecological concerns are on people’s radar.

Radar. Another technological word. The tiny blip on the radar screen could someday become big enough—I’ll get a current article in my news feed on my clothing company, and I’ll click it to let me know if I should be concerned about its ethics of production. Likewise, I will remember my coffee mug next time if I see it as I walk out of the office.

God asks me to live in a way that’s conscious but not self-conscious.

On our utmost conscience is our love for God, and all the other matters that I sometimes feel guilty about orbit Him as the sun. In being gentle with myself, trusting His grace, I know that one of those objects may one day block a ray of the sun when I’ll have the creative energy to attend to it. I’ll tuck more coffee mugs in my desk drawer, or find another quick but healthier meal for my kids, or read up on clothing production. That’s grace. That’s Him keeping me in integrity.

Heather Walker Peterson

Heather Walker Peterson

Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.
Heather Walker Peterson