J is for Jumble

If a job is like an outfit, at the moment I have clothes but I bought them at the jumble sale. I’ve got one long-term part-time job; a part-time short-term project I’m trying to finish off; a part-time short term project I’ve just been asked to start; a part-time short-term project I’m trying to get off the ground; long-term and short-term voluntary work which needs varying amounts of attention; and several things I ought to be doing for the sake of my CV and future prospects which are both difficult and don’t pay anything (some of them actually cost me money). Trying to prioritise this lot and make sure everything gets done – at least a bit done! – feels like a constant jigsaw puzzle, or trying to find a whole outfit in a single charity shop.

The jumble can be very creative. Sometimes it just looks like a mess. I keep telling myself that if I keep going, sorting it out one piece at a time, eventually I’ll be able to make it into a coherent picture.

I think this kind of jumble is one of the things people worry about when the issue of multiple religious belonging comes up. It’s one thing to have a jumbled set of tasks for your paid work, or a jumbled knitting box (how many non-jumbled knitting boxes are there, anyway?). It seems like another to have a jumbled set of religious beliefs and practices. One issue here is that we may over-estimate how un-jumbled the religious beliefs and practices of a so-called single tradition actually are: as Jeffrey Carlson has argued from a Zen Buddhist perspective,¬†religions as we know them now contain elements of the other religions they have descended from and come into contact with over the years. The other thing is to ask when and how the potential jumble arises, and when it’s creative: if you create a jumble by stealing, even if it’s useful it seems morally wrong, while a jumble created carefully and in love may be morally fine but neither beautiful nor helpful. (I’m sure you’ve seen assemblage art which seems to have this property.)

The jumble is at the hard of much of my way of thinking and working, and I’m committed to keeping trying with it: doing this work and that work so that I see how they relate, holding this fabric next to that and the other until I see which combination works best, and watching the ways different practices and beliefs come together to see what effects they have for people and communities. Sometimes I just want to sort things out neatly, though, even if I know that my wool won’t stay untangled and my timetable will be disrupted!


One response to “J is for Jumble

  1. Yes! Loving the jumble – definitely a part of my teaching of Religious Studies! Good luck unjumbling the work thing, though!

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