1493) Forever Strengthened

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By James P. Lenfestey, Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 15, 1988.

     He was eleven years old and went fishing every chance he got from the dock at his family’s cabin on a New Hampshire lake.

     On the day before the bass season opened, he and his father were fishing early in the evening, catching sunfish and perch with worms.  Then he tied a small silver lure and practiced casting.  The lure struck the water and caused colored ripples in the sunset; then silver ripples as the moon rose over the lake.

     When his pole doubled over, he knew something huge was on the other end.  His father watched with admiration as the boy skillfully worked the fish alongside the dock.

     Finally, he very gingerly lifted the exhausted fish from the water.  It was the largest one he had ever seen, but it was a bass.

     The boy and his father looked at the handsome fish, gills playing back and forth in the moonlight.  The father lit a match and looked at his watch.  It was 10 P.M. – two hours before the season opened.  He looked at the fish, then at the boy.

     “You’ll have to put it back, son,” he said.

     “Dad!” cried the boy.

     “There will be other fish,” said his father.

    “Not as big as this one,” cried the boy.

     He looked around the lake. No other fishermen or boats were anywhere around in the moonlight.  He looked again at his father.

     Even though no one had seen them, nor could anyone ever know what time he caught the fish, the boy could tell by the clarity of his father’s voice that the decision was not negotiable.  He slowly worked the hook out of the lip of the huge bass and lowered it into the black water.

     The creature swished its powerful body and disappeared.  The boy suspected that he would never again see such a great fish.

     That was 34 years ago.  Today, the boy is a successful architect in New York City.  His father’s cabin is still there on the island in the middle of the lake.  He takes his own son and daughters fishing from the same dock.

     And he was right.  He has never again caught such a magnificent fish as the one he landed that night long ago.  But he does see that same fish – again and again – every time he comes up against a question of ethics.

     For, as his father taught him, ethics are simple matters of right and wrong.  It is only the practice of ethics that is difficult.  Do we do right when no one is looking?  Do we refuse to cut corners to get the design in on time?  Or refuse to trade stocks based on information that we know we aren’t supposed to have?

     We would if we were taught to put the fish back when we were young.  For we would have learned the truth.

     The decision to do right lives fresh and fragrant in our memory.  It is a story we will proudly tell our friends and grandchildren.  Not about how we had a chance to beat the system and took it, but about how we did the right thing and were forever strengthened.

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Psalm 33:13-15  —  From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth— he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.  (There was no one else on the lake to see that father and son if they would have kept the fish, but the Lord would have seen them.)

Isaiah 29:15  —  Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lordwho do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us?  Who will know?”

II Corinthians 8:21  —  We are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.

Proverbs 10:9  —  Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.

Proverbs 11:3  —  The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.

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O Lord Jesus Christ, let me praise Thee in the way Thou dost love best, by shining on those around me.  Let me preach of Thee without preaching; not by words but by my example, so that my deeds may bear witness to Thy presence in my heart.  Amen.

–Cardinal John Henry Newman  (1801-1890)

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1400) Talking Horses (a)

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            The book Gulliver ‘s Travels has been a children’s favorite ever since it was written almost 300 years ago.  In this novel by Jonathan Swift, Lemuel Gulliver is a sea captain who on three different occasions is shipwrecked.  Each time, he finds himself washed ashore on strange and undiscovered islands which no Englishman had ever seen.  Each island is inhabited, but by beings unlike any Gulliver had ever seen.  On the first island, there lives a race of little people, only six inches tall, and Gulliver is a giant among them.  On the next island, there are giants over forty feet tall, and Gulliver is like an insect among them.  On the third island, the people are of a normal size, but there is another, even bigger difference there.  On that island, the humans are like dumb animals, living in the woods like savage beasts, and are not able to speak.  In that land, they are called the yahoos (now you know where that word came from– Swift invented it for this book).  The civilized beings there are the horses.  It is the horses who live in houses and are able to talk with each other and have a civilized life.  Even if you have not read this book, you can well imagine that Gulliver would have had many interesting adventures in these places, making the book a classic for children.

     But the author was not writing only for children.  Swift was a clergyman, and he wrote not primarily for the entertainment of children, but rather to teach adults about such things as human nature, morality, religion, and the good life.  He also included in the book a critical and sarcastic look at English society in the early 1700’s, lampooning its politics, science, churches, and culture.  Therefore, even though people were at first entertained by the format of the book, before long they began to see its hidden meanings, and saw they were laughing at themselves and their own foolishness and sins.  In fact, Swift said he wrote the book “not to divert, but to vex.”

     The most interesting part for me is the final part, in which Gulliver visits the land of the talking horses.  What is fascinating is that these horses have a perfectly moral and good society.  It is unthinkable for any of them to steal, to be in any way mean to anyone, or to be anything less than completely honest.  They do not even have a word for “lying” because a lie is never told among them.  Everyone has complete and total respect for everyone else, and all live at peace, without fear and without harmful vices.  It is a perfect society.  It takes Gulliver a while to get used to talking with horses, but once past the initial awkwardness of that, he doesn’t want to leave them.  When circumstances make it necessary for him to journey back home, he does so with great reluctance and regret.  And then, once back in England, it is difficult for him to again get accustomed to the dishonesty, meanness, and impoliteness of human society that we take for granted.  In fact, Gulliver never adjusts to his previous life, preferring to stay at home alone because he can no longer bear to live with such wickedness.

     Thus, Jonathan Swift, the minister, is teaching his readers about Christian morality in a creative and effective way.  He doesn’t go on and on harshly with ‘Thou shalt not do this, and thou shalt not do that— or else.’  Rather, he simply and winsomely describes a place in which everyone does what is right and there is no sin, and depicts how pleasant it is to live there.  Gulliver can see for himself how wonderful life is in the land of the talking horses.  When he tries to tell the talking horses how life is in England, with everyone trying to take advantage of everyone else by every sort of dishonest trickery, along with damaging their own lives and health and well-being with every sort of vice and sinful pleasure, the horses cannot believe that rational beings would act that way.  And the way Swift describes what we consider normal human life, makes how we live look very foolish and wicked indeed.  Thus, in Gulliver’s Travels, goodness and obedience becomes attractive; whereas so often in our world it often looks as though anyone who wants to be good and do what is right is bound to miss out on all the best life has to offer.

       In this way, Swift teaches both young and old about the blessings of truth and morality and goodness.  (continued…)

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Lemuel Gulliver and the Talking Horses (from an old edition of Gulliver’s Travels)

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Romans 12:2  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Psalm 128:1  —  Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16  —  See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

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O Lord, we pray that you give us grace not only to be hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word; not only to love, but also to live your Gospel; not only to profess, but also to practice your commandments; for the honor of your holy name.  Amen.  

–Thomas Becon  (1512-1567)

1357) A Good Boy

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McGuffey Readers were a series of graded primers in six levels, first published between 1836 and 1840.  They were edited by Scottish immigrant William H. McGuffey (1800-1873).  They were widely used as textbooks in American schools from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, and are still used today in some private schools and in homeschooling.  It is estimated that at least 120 million copies of McGuffey’s Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960, placing its sales in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary.  Since 1961, they have continued to sell at a rate of some 30,000 copies a year.  Along with teaching children to read, the McGuffey’s Readers also taught science, history, spelling, grammar, religion, and morality.  This reading, entitled “Emulation Without Envy,” is from the 1879 edition of McGuffey’s Eclectic Second Reader.  The ‘second’ does not mean second grade, but second level, and was generally used for children ages 8-10.

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     Frank’s father was speaking to a friend one day on the subject of competition at school.  He said that he was sure that envy is not the necessary result of competition at school.

     He had been excelled by many, but he could not remember ever having felt envious of his successful rivals.  “Nor did my winning many a prize from my friend Birch ever lessen his friendship for me.”

      In support of the truth of what Frank’s father had said, a friend, who was present, related an anecdote, which he had observed in a school in his neighborhood.

     At this school, the sons of several wealthy farmers, and others, who were poorer, received instruction.  Frank listened with great attention while the gentleman gave the following account of the two rivals.

      “It happened that the son of a rich farmer, and the son of a poor widow, came in competition for the class.  They were so nearly equal, that the teacher could scarcely decide between them.  Some days one, and some days the other, gained the head of the class.  The top student would be determined by seeing who should be at the head of the class for the greater number of days in the week.

     “The widow’s son, by the last day’s trial won, and maintained his place the following weeks, until the school was dismissed for vacation.

     “When they met again, the widow’s son did not appear, and the farmer’s son being next in excellence, could now have been at the head of his class.  Instead of seizing the vacant place, however, he went to the widow’s house to ask why her son was absent.

     “Poverty was the cause.  She found that she was not able, no matter how hard she tried, to continue to pay for his tuition and books, and the poor boy had returned to day labor for her support.

     “The farmer’s son, out of the allowance of pocket money which his father gave him, bought all the necessary books and paid for the tuition of his rival.  He also permitted him to be brought back again to the head of his class, where he continued for a long time, at the expense of his generous rival.”

     Frank clapped his hands with delight at hearing this story.  Mary came up to ask what pleased him so much, and he repeated it to her with delight.  “That farmer’s boy,” added he, “must have had a strong mind, for my father’s friend, who told the anecdote, said that people of strong minds are never envious; that weak minds are the ones filled with envy.”

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I Peter 2:1  —   Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

Galatians 5:26  —  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

I Corinthians 13:4  —  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

Luke 6:31  —  (Jesus said), “ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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Christ has no body now on earth but yours:

Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work;

Yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world;

Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

–Teresa of Avila  (1515-1582)

549) Table Manners (part two)

     Third, mealtime is a place to learn self-control and moderation.  This, like gratitude and not complaining, is never fully learned in childhood, and is usually a lifelong struggle.  The child’s first lessons in self-control come even before mealtime.  “No,” they are often told, “you cannot have a bag of potato chips right now; it is almost mealtime and you will spoil your appetite.”  Self-control over one’s appetite for food, and, over all of one’s appetites and passions is fundamental to the formation of good moral character.  Many basic table manners have to do with this self-control.  We don’t just grab the food with our hands and shove it into our mouths.  It takes time, but little children learn to keep the food out of their hair and off of the floor.  They learn to take what they need and not waste.  They learn to use a fork and a spoon.  We dish up our plates, and then we pass the food around to others, and we make sure everyone has enough before we take more.  Even then, we should not take too much, even if more is available.  Eat too much, as we all have at times, and you will end up not feeling well.  In the rest of life it is the same:  drink too much, spend too much, insist on your own way too much, sleep too much, procrastinate too much, or goof around too much, and you will regret it.  Meal-time is a good place to begin to learn about doing things in moderation and about practicing self-control and about orderly behavior.

     Fourth, the family table is a place to learn to communicate, to have a polite conversation.  Families that make the effort to have a meal together have at least that much time to talk to each other.  This doesn’t happen automatically.  Mealtime may be rushed, family members may be upset with each other, and there may be interruptions.  But when the effort is made, the opportunity is there, and children can learn the give and take of reasonable conversation– no interrupting in, no loud talking, no talking with your mouth full of food, and to respect the words and the views of others.

     Part of wisdom is learning the principles and moral behaviors of a good and upright life.  But another part of wisdom is learning to be with people, learning to get along with people, and learning to get your ideas across and to listen to and respect the ideas of others.  The family table is an excellent place to learn that.

     Jesus himself once used the teaching of table manners to teach a larger lesson about life and morality.  Luke 14 tells the story of a time when Jesus was invited to a wedding banquet hosted by a prominent Pharisee.  Place cards were apparently not yet invented, so we are told in verse seven that Jesus noticed how the guests were all jostling around, picking for themselves the places of honor at the table.  So Jesus said to them (beginning with verse eight): “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat;’ and then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when the host comes he will say to you, ‘Friend, move on up to a better place.’  Then, you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.”  There Jesus teaches the table manners, and then in the next verse, he applies the lesson to the rest of life, saying, “For everyone who exalts himself, will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Proper humility, says Jesus, can be learned at the table.

     So can gratitude, self-control, communication, civility, and many other things.  When teaching the people the laws of God, Moses said (Deuteronomy 6), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up… and be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.

     We surely do not want to forget the Lord our God, and an excellent way to remind ourselves of God is to give Him thanks every time we sit down to eat.

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Deuteronomy 6:11b-12a  —  When you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord.

Luke 14:10-11  —  (Jesus said),  “But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.   For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Titus 2:11-13  —   For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,  while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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A thousand gifts Thou dost impart.  

One more I ask, O Lord:  A grateful heart.

–George Herbert

548) Table Manners (part one)

     

     Several years ago, a little known author named Robert Fulghum made a hit with an article he wrote called, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  It was a nice piece of writing– simple, down to earth, and filled with wisdom.  It contained several basic Kindergarten rules like play fair, don’t hit others, say you are sorry when you hurt someone, clean up your own messes, share with the others in the room, don’t take things that aren’t yours, put things back where you found them, and, when you go out into the world, stick together and things will go a lot better for you.  That sort of thing.  You may remember it.  It was written in such a way that the reader could make the application to all of life, including adult life, and see how the whole world would indeed be better off if everyone simply lived by the basic rules learned in the Kindergarten classroom.

     I read a similar article one time in Touchstone magazine by Patrick Henry Reardon.  The name of the article was Wisdom from the Table, but it could also have been called, Everything I Need to Know I Learned at the Dinner Table.  The article begins:  

The quest for wisdom begins with learning how to eat.  The most basic steps toward virtue are mastered at the family table.  Character begins with etiquette.  Teach a child how to dine like a human being, and you have gone wonderfully far in his education.

     At that point I almost turned the page and skipped the article, expecting some high-brow lessons on how to properly fold the napkin when you place it on your lap, which fork is the correct one to use for your salad, and so forth.  But when I saw that the first rule at the table was to say your prayers, I decided to read on.  It was well worth it.  It turned out to be like the Kindergarten article– lots of down to earth wisdom, but along with an eye on heaven.   There are only four things to learn, Reardon says, but those four things, if learned well, would influence one’s entire life.  “Mealtime,” said the author, “should nourish the soul and the mind as well as the body.” 

     First of all, the meal should begin with a prayer.  Even the smallest child, even before learning to talk, can learn to bow his or her head at the beginning of the meal.  One should, after all, at the table pause to thank God for his blessings, some of which the family is about to share in with the meal.  Food and water, when plentiful, can be easily taken for granted.  The mealtime prayer reminds us that those things come from somewhere; from Someone.  They come from God, as his gracious and undeserved gifts, without which we could not live.  In the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”  When that daily bread is given and there before us, the very least we can do is give thanks for it.  In that most widely used Protestant meal prayer, we invite Christ’s presence and pray for his blessing.  “Come Lord Jesus,” we pray, “be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.”  In our home, from the time of my childhood and now with my grandchildren, we add a prayer of thanks.  We add a verse that is found in many of the Psalms, and especially in Psalm 136, where it says again and again, “Oh give thanks, unto the Lord, for He is good, and his mercy endures forever.”

     Gratitude to God is an essential element of faith.  Thanksgiving is a central, often repeated theme in the Bible.  And gratitude is also the key to a happy life.  Life is, for us all, filled with suffering, full of ups and downs, full of sadness and disappointment.  But it is also filled with blessings, blessings that include the gift of each day, and, the food to sustain life day to day.  Gratitude to God remembers that even life itself is a gift, and to keep that in mind gives a person of any age a firm foundation for faith and for happiness.  On the other hand, a lack of thankfulness can lead to resentment for what one does not have, and fill one with sadness and unbelief.  Beginning each meal with a prayer of thanks is a basic first step toward teaching such gratitude.

     Second, because we have just thanked God for our food, we must not complain about it.  Complaining about the food should be discouraged.  Such complaining contradicts the prayer of thanksgiving just said for the food there given.  On the contrary, we should eat gratefully all that is put before us, and this is a good lesson for children to learn.  Did you ever hear a child say, “I don’t like that?”  Did you ever say that?  Well, a good lesson for life is to learn that we need to receive gratefully what life offers, even when it is not always exactly what we want.  Our daily experiences will oftentimes not conform to our preferences, life will at many times and in many ways disappoint us, and a child can begin to learn to accept that by something as simple as eating green beans even if he or she likes marshmallows better.  In all of life you must learn to put up with many things you do not like.  This simple lesson is indispensable to the formation of good character, and it can be learned at the family table.

     Several years ago I spent a week in Haiti, and for many months after I returned I did not feel like complaining about anything.  Everything that we so easily take for granted became for me an opportunity for gratitude:  clean water, a warm shower, plenty of food, peaceful sleep without worrying about disease-carrying rodent or bug bites, and far safer conditions on the road, to name just a few things.  Most of the people I met in Haiti had none of that.  Having consistent, nutritious, safe, plentiful food is a blessing not enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people.  We can learn at a table full of food to first of all be thankful, and secondly, to not complain; and then we can work to apply those attitudes to all of life.  (continued…)

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Luke 11:3  —  Give us each day our daily bread.

Numbers 11:4-6…10b  —  (the people complain about the food)  The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”…  The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.

Psalm 136:1  —  O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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God is great, God is good,

And so we thank Him for our food.  Amen.

234) Why Be Good? (part two)

     (…continued)  On the next level, there are the kind of reasons to be good that Tom Bodet is talking about.  When you are with the same people on a regular basis and for a long time, you begin to care also about what they think about you, and about how your behavior is going to affect them.  And even if you don’t like them, you know you have to get along.  And so you begin to do the right thing not only for your sake, but for their sake also.  As Tom Bodet says, “I act more decently than I probably would if I didn’t have to see these people again,” and he adds, “out here in rural American it is harder to avoid those people you don’t like.  This makes us better than we would otherwise be.”  And so he doesn’t act on his first impulse and blare on the car horn at Jenny Pendergast for not paying attention, because he can understand how a mother might become preoccupied with talking on the cell phone to her daughter who lives far away.  And he knows Jenny from church, and he knows she a pretty good person, and so, there’s no need to be impatient or rude.  He understands.  And he’s also a little more likely to give the umpire at the little league game the benefit of the doubt on a called third strike on his son that ended the game, knowing that he’ll be seeing that ump at bowling Thursday night, and not only that, but that same ump is the one who helped him get his car started after church last winter when it was 25 below.  These are all good and important reasons to do the right thing. Lots of people are always watching– people you know, people you care about, and people whose opinion you respect and whose continued good will is important to you. 

     Finally, at the deepest level, there is the most important reason for doing the right thing, which is because that is what God says we should do.  He, after all, is the one who made the rules, and he did so not just to give us something to do, but because he is the one who has given us this world and this life, and he wants us to know how life is best lived, for our sake and for the sake of all of God’s other children.  And if we care about what we do because the neighbors will see us, we most certainly should be concerned about what we do because the Lord God Almighty sees us.

     17th century pastor Jeremy Taylor was having a talk with one of his parishioners about an affair the man was having with a woman in another city.  Taylor said, “You leave your own town, and you go into the city to see your mistress.  But you do not take your son along on these visits, because you do not want him to know what you are doing, and you are right to be so ashamed.  But do you not consider that God sees and God knows all that you do, and that you have much more to fear from God than from you son, and much more reason to be ashamed before Him?”

     In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a man who goes away on a long journey, leaving his servants in charge of his money.  To one, he gives five talents, to another, two talents, and to a third, one talent.  A talent was a huge sum of money– one talent was the equivalent of 20 years wages for a laborer.  Two of the servants invested the money wisely for the master, and they doubled the value.  The third simply buried the money, giving back to the master the same one talent he was given in the first place.  When the master returns, he is pleased with the conduct of the first two, but much angered by what the other servant did.

     The primary message in this parable is that we are to use whatever God has given us to do our best to serve the Lord and do his business.  But another thing Jesus is teaching us here is that not only does God expect us to use what we’ve been given to serve him, but also that God is watching to see that we do so.  God, like the master, may seem absent for a time, but he is watching, he is keeping track, and when the time comes, there will be an accounting.  Of course, parables like this always need to be read in the context of all that the Bible says about God’s forgiveness of our sins through Christ Jesus.  But that cannot mean looking only at those texts, and not hearing the message of passages like this.  On the one hand, it is very comforting to know that God is always watching over us, but at the same time, we should remember all of what that means; and it also means that he sees our anger and our selfishness and our impatience and our white lies and dishonesties, and all our sins.  And we should be concerned about that and keep in it mind.

     Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us think about how we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  One of the ways that is done in small towns is by keeping an eye on each other.  Sometimes it is best to just not care what the neighbors think, but sometimes it is that very thing that helps you remember to do the right thing.  But best of all, of course, is that we always and in everything care most of all about the fact that God is watching us.

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Matthew 25:19  —  After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.

Hebrews 10:23-25  —  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

I John 3:23  —  And this is his command:  to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

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AN EVENING PRAYER:  Our Father, we thank you for all the friendly folk who came into our life this day, gladdening us by their human kindness, and we send them now our parting thoughts of love through you.  We thank you that we are set amidst this rich brotherhood of kindred life with its mysterious power to encourage and uplift.  Make us eager to pay the due price for what we get by putting forth our own life in wholesome goodwill, and by bearing cheerily the troubles that go with all joys.  Amen.   –Walter Rauschenbusch

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