What does it mean to be useful?

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22

Dear members and friends,

 無用之用 (usefulness of what is useless) is one of my favorite teachings from Zhuang-zi. Zhuang-zi had a friend, Hui Shi, who used to argue and criticize about uselessness of Zhuang-zi’s philosophy. This is the story where Hui Shi confronts Zhuang-zi:

Hui Shi said, “One day the king gave me some seeds of the giant calabash. I planted them, and the calabashes turned out to be huge. One of them alone could hold five gallons. But they were weak, and if you filled them with water, they’d break as soon as you picked them up. And they couldn’t be cut in half to be used as ladles because the ladles would be too shallow. The calabashes may have been big, but they were too big, so big that they were useless. So, I threw them away.”

To this Zhuang-zi replied, “That is too bad you just don’t know how to use big things. These calabashes are so big, you could make nets, and then put the calabashes inside the nets. Then, you could tie the nets around your waist to make a little raft so you could float on the water. Isn’t this fun? Why do you necessarily have to use the gourd to hold water?”

According to the ancient Daoists, humans arrogantly play the role of the ultimate judge in deciding the values and usefulness of all things and matters. However, human decisions are unavoidably influenced by their limited mentality; an anthropocentric point of view. Thus, the evaluation is far from being true. The truth is that humans are also just a part of nature! The role of humans is not to be the judges, but to be contributors to the web of life within which they are born, live, and die. In Psalm 118, we read, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” In my understanding, this is the same truth from the ancient Daoist that God sees the true usefulness of people, even if they were rejected by other humans. The true usefulness of things, matters, and people is not determined by how beneficial they are to some, but assessed by how they support others within their means, abilities, and nature. 

The message of God is always about how we provide useful service to others without asking or demanding service in return. My brothers and sisters in God, let us take a moment of reflection this week on the ways we could be useful to each other. 

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee