From the Tee Box
Before I say a single thing, please accept this as simply my personal perception, and please know that I always welcome your feedback. I saw something on CNN earlier this week that caught my attention. First, let me back up to a month ago or so. Fr. Simeon Gallagher was here for our annual parish mission. During his weekend homily, he made the statement, “so often in society, we reward mediocrity.” His statement was based on his perception that, all too often, we give awards for any little thing. Within the context of our faith life, this spoke to the theme of his mission, which dealt with the reality expressed, he says, by a lot of the people he meets. These are people who sometimes say to him, “I’m spiritual, I’m just not religious.” In his mind, this often leads to us going only so far in our faith life. Anyway, immediately after he made the statement, our congregation erupted in applause, perhaps as a validation of his thought? Now, fast forward to this past weekend and the mid-term elections. CNN was reporting that the race in Florida had finally been called. In doing so, the anchor referred to the candidates as “the winner” and the other as “the one who did not win.” Now, I may be wrong, but I got the feeling that they were stating it this way on purpose. My reaction, to myself, was, “it’s called a ‘loser’. One wins the election, and one loses the election.” I’m probably making too much of this, but I do think that, sometimes, in some places, we water down reality. Most importantly, losing an election or a game or whatever does not make you a loser. In fact, calling someone a loser, as in, “you’re such a loser” is probably one of the most hurtful things we could ever say to anyone. Making fun of someone’s loss, as in football, elections, and so on, is wrong, sinful, mean, and harmful. But life is life and reality is reality. Things do not always go as we planned. Things do not always turn out as we would like them to turn out. I’m all about compassion, following upon the example of Jesus, our Good and gentle shepherd. It’s just, that, sometimes I wonder if, from one generation to the next, we’re not softening a blow that we sometimes need to feel. To some of you, this sounds crazy and unfair, I’m sure. But I do sometimes worry about the foundation that some of us are laying when it comes to how life sometimes goes. So often I meet people who, when things don’t go their way, want to change the rules or the process that got them to that point. Everyone’s not going to make the team or get elected to student council or make the honor roll. We may very well not get the job for which we applied or be able to keep the job that we have. This is just how things go sometimes. It is absolutely crucial that we are there for each other when we feel discouraged or left out in anyway. Helping ease the pain, however, does not mean taking the pain away.
You will, no doubt, laugh, but this even plays out in traffic. More and more people are running red lights in our city. One young man in college told me recently, “when my light turns green, I wait. I use to go right away but not anymore, because someone’s gonna come plowin’ through.” So, you’re running late? Well, that’s nobody’s fault. But wait, that’s okay. I reserve the right to run a yellow light. No, wait, I’ll run a red one too. Why? Because, in the moment, I choose to change the rules. In the moment, I say to myself, “I should not have to wait.” (That’s the end of my traffic rant.)
So, in my opinion, when we come face to face with this or any other similar reality, we have basically 3 responses from which to choose. We can either walk away and opt for an “I don’t care” attitude and do nothing, discuss nothing, and maybe even become discouraged. Or I can choose to be negative, belligerent, hostile, and mean. If I want, I can even let this seriously damage relationships with family and friends and totally disintegrate any semblance of a positive example for my children. Or, thirdly, we can choose as positive an attitude as possible. In other words, if I don’t like the results, or even if the results frighten me, I will still try to be as objective and “non-mean” in conversation and in my attitude as possible.
I offer for your consideration these words of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel: “…so shall it be with you. When you have done all that you have been commanded to do, say, ‘we are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Luke 17:10) In God’s eyes, no one is a loser. We’re all winners. That’s how it should be “in our eyes” too, as we look to and relate with one another. Life sometimes hurts, and we may be down for a while. That’s okay. But hopefully that won’t keep us from getting up again and continuing our move toward all that God has created us to be. None of us is a mediocre creation. We are just the opposite, wonderfully made. That alone gives us the empowerment to do what we need to do, to become what we are meant to be.
Most of us are very familiar with the phrase, “you’re burning the candle at both ends.” Typically, it refers to one who is working too hard and doing way too much, all the while not taking care of themselves. We’ve all been there. Recently, however, I came to a new insight about this. In late September I took a little 4 day trip to Colorado with a good friend. We spent the majority of the time in the mountains just outside of Aspen and Snowmass, part of which was spent hiking past Maroon Lake and then on to a beautiful location named Crater Lake, where we made camp. The lake itself was completely dry, but you don’t hike there for the lake. You hike for the view, which is beyond words. The mountains. The greenest grass you’ll ever see, and the bluest sky as well. And in the morning nothing tops sitting there on one of the many huge rocks, drinking camp coffee with your buddy and watching the sun come up over the mountains. It actually looks like a time-elapsed happening. That particular moment reminded me of resurrection, another new day, and all of the possibilities that come with it. Again, the whole thing was beyond words. For those of you who have been to Colorado, you know that you can say the same thing about the entire State. During our hiking time, especially, and for our entire trip actually, one of the things that we had to pay close attention to was the battery life on our cell phones. Other than using them for GPS during our non-hiking time, we basically only used them for taking pictures or listening to music, both of which can drain their life pretty quickly. For our trip I had purchased an external battery that, according to the guy at the Backpacker in Baton Rouge, could give your phone about 3 charges. I bought it, because I definitely didn’t want us to miss out on any opportunity for a great photo. While driving through the mountains, we could also use the USB port in our Jeep to charge, but that took way too long. I know this is all probably pretty boring, so here’s the thing. Regardless of how we were recharging our phones, we were at the same time using them. We would listen to our favorite songs, continue to take pictures and videos, and look for directions to our next destination.
And therein, my friends, is the thought. We do the same thing to ourselves. We do it to our bodies, our minds, our souls. Sometimes we push and push and push, without taking a deep breath. As author Wayne Muller puts it in his book on the Sabbath, we rest when we can and not when we need to. There is a difference, you know. Now, I’m not talking about those times when we HAVE TO push ourselves. Exam time. Projects that are due. A talk that we may have been asked to give, and so on. But you tell me. Is this whole cell-phone battery-recharging thing not a good analogy of how we often live? We work and give and do and play. We expend, we move, we push and push and push. And we wonder why we sometimes feel the way we do. This may not be your reality, but I bet, in some way, it’s hitting pretty close to home. We put off our prayer, all the while saying to ourselves, “oh, God understands.” We know we need to exercise more, but again, we put it off, and before you know it, months have gone by and we go through the days feeling tired.
I learned (actually, re-learned) 2 things on this recent backpacking trip. First, I experienced in a new way the benefits of being temporarily off the grid and totally cut off from everyone and everything. Second, I came face to face with my own physical limitations. Was I prepared enough to go and actually do what I had hoped to do? Probably not. I only accomplished part of the hiking goal. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and one of the best trips ever. I mean that. But I came face to face with a stark reality: if I was going to return home to the joys and the challenges of ministry and work and family and just life in general, I would need to continue being good at the whole recharging thing. I thought I was pretty good at it already, but I know I can be better at it. I want to continually feel fulfilled in my ministry and relationships with family and friends. I want to continue to enjoy things. Play more golf, maybe. Cook a little more. Take even more time for meditation. As I bring this blog to a close, you and I may wish to ask ourselves 2 simple questions: are you taking enough time to recharge? And, if there are children in your life, are you setting a good example of this for them? Because, if they grow up thinking that the majority of life is “petal to the metal,” then, wow. That would be so tragic.
Burn the candle as you need to, as your responsibilities ask of you. Just don’t burn it at both ends, because eventually the two will meet. And then there will be nothing left to burn, nothing left to give.