233) Why Be Good? (part one)

     Tom Bodet’s first career was working as a lineman for a power company.  He grabbed on to the wrong line one time, and it almost killed him.  When he got out of the hospital he decided he’d go into a different, less dangerous line of work.  He became a writer, and has had some success.  He’s written a few books, tells funny stories on his radio program, and he has done a few commercials.  You’ve heard him.  He’s the one who says, “This is Tom Bodet inviting you to stop on in at Motel Six.  We’ll leave the light on for you.”

     Much of his humor is about small town life.  He writes in a gentle and kind way, poking fun at the foolishness he sees in other people and in himself, while at the same time managing to find something good in everyone.  For example, a while back he wrote:

     I’ve lived in small towns my whole life– in the Midwest, in Alaska, and now in New England.  Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a more decent person because of rural life, but I act more decently than I probably would if I didn’t have to see these people again.
     If the person in front of me at the bank drive-thru is talking on her cell phone instead of moving along, my first impulse might be to honk the horn, with a hollered “Come on” thrown in for good measure.  But small town people don’t honk their horns unless we’re picking up kids at the neighbor’s or shooing a dog out of the road.  Besides, I can see the person in the car is Jenny Pendergast whose only daughter is away at college, and that is no doubt is who she is talking to, and I don’t want to interrupt.  A good hearted and vigorous wave of the hand will eventually catch her attention in the side mirror and she’ll move on with an apologetic cringe.  The only rude people you’ll find in small towns are those who want to be left alone, and they are.  The rest of us have to bite our tongues so much (to keep from letting someone have it) that it makes us talk funny…
     Rural people think that city people think they’re stupid.  City people think that rural people think they’re stupid.  And they’re both right enough of the time to keep things awkward and make both sides wary.
     In the recent political campaign there were people on both sides trying to take advantage of this real, but harmless rivalry between town and country.  One side expressed an opinion about the bitter, religious gun nuts in rural America.  The other side countered that small towns are the last refuge of all that is right and decent and true about the American character, and if you are not from one you could never understand that.  They’re both wrong.  I’ve met as many wrong-headed and indecent characters in the country as anywhere else, and some of the sweetest and most generous people I know are so much from the city that they think chocolate milk comes from brown cows.  I’ve known stupid big-city lawyers, and I’ve known genius farmers who never finished high school.
     The only real difference between living in a small town or a big one is that out here in rural American it is harder to avoid those people you don’t like.  And that forces you to get to know them.  It requires patience sometimes.  And you often have to politely listen to views you don’t agree with.  It doesn’t make us bitter, but it makes us better.  And least better than we would be…

     You don’t have to read very much in the Bible to see that God cares a great deal about how each one of us lives, and how we treat each other.  There are ten commandments; three that have to do with our spiritual responsibilities before God, and seven that have to do with how we should act in order to get along with other people.  Obeying these, and all of God’s other commandments, is not always easy or convenient, and everyone, every once in a while says to themselves, ‘Why should I?  Why should I think I always have to be honest?– no one else is.  Why should I tell the truth– people lie to me all the time.  Why should I be the only one to try to be kind and fair?– it’s a dog eat dog world out there, and I have to make sure I get mine.  Why try and do the right thing?  Why be good?

     The most important reason to be good and do what is right is that God tells us to, and that should be reason enough.  But it isn’t reason enough for many people, and there’s probably nobody that keeps that in mind all the time.  To want to obey God takes a certain amount of faith and maturity, and even though that is where we should all be at all the time, that is often not the case.  There are other reasons, however, on several different levels, and each can, in time, lead up to that deeper obedience to God.

     On the most basic level, we do the right thing because of the rewards or punishments that are to be received or endured.  A teenager is told to stop talking disrespectfully to her parents or she will be punished with no car on the weekend, and she changes the tone of her voice.  You go to work even on days that you don’t feel like it, because you need the reward of that paycheck.  There doesn’t have to be any love or respect for anyone at this level.  You do the right thing for no other reason than to get what you want.

     On a little deeper level, you do the right thing because that is what will make everything go smoother for everyone.  You wait in line at the store even though you are in a hurry, because if everyone who was in a hurry would push and shove to be first, there would be a fight, and security would have to be called, and then you would really be delayed.  But again, you don’t have to like or respect the people ahead of you, you just understand that the world works better when the rules are followed, and again, that is better for you.  (continued…)

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Matthew 7:12  —  (Jesus said), “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Mark 12:30-31  —  (Jesus said), “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”

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Grant to us, Lord, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will;  through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  Book of Common Prayer