Blogging for a Better World

June 27, 2016

Being Responsible

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 6:38 pm

Some days ago, in a somewhat downcast moment, I posted an item on Facebook decrying how social media, as a tool, can be used to divide, confuse, and mislead – and there is some truth in that line of thought. But in the last few days I have also seen how social media, as a tool, can also highlight needs, inform, and mobilize resources to work for positive change in the world – a powerful lesson to drive home the point that social media is but a tool.

The first word I read regarding the terrible floods that struck West Virginia was not in any news aggregator, it was a personal post from a resident of central West Virginia living in the impacted area. It happens to be that he has a visible platform – he’s the host of his own television show, which I follow. He made use of that platform to highlight the issue before the major media picked it up. Continuing to follow the story, I see that agencies in that area are using social media to immediately communicate to residents and to bring the needs of flood victims to the awareness of those elsewhere in the country.

I have no doubt that in the wake of Superstorm Sandy similar things happened in my immediate vicinity; but I was not aware of them until long after. This situation I could follow as it developed.

Each of us has access to some social media platform – I am something of a techno-Luddite and I am doing so here. We need to take responsibility when we use this tool and be cognizant of what impact we might have – one our friends, our community, or anyone else who might read our words. Beyond being cognizant of our impact, we need to examine our motives – are we merely expressing our honest opinions, sharing an unfounded rumor or faux news story, or deliberately trolling the interweb to raise someone’s hackles?

Social media puts in your hands great power – though you might not realize it. With power come responsibility – this is an old story we all know; only now does it filter down to our level. Speak when you are moved, and do so with care.

 

June 12, 2016

Hanging In There

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 4:32 pm

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1: 2-7)

I recently completed reading “The Call”, a study of the ministry of the Apostle Paul, by Adam Hamilton. It is an excellent examination of the apostle’s life and message, as documented in the Book of Acts and in his many letters. There are many topics raised in his work that would be worthy of examination, but for the moment I would confine myself to perseverance, a quality that Paul had in abundance.

Consider; Paul made three documented missionary journeys across the Roman world; a fourth, to Spain, is a tradition but not impossible. For the most part he walked from town to town on these journeys, across mountains, fording rivers, enduring heat, cold and privations one can only imagine. When he took ship, he suffered shipwreck and the other dangers of the sea. When he stopped to preach more often than not he was met with opposition, being beaten within an inch of his life or run out of town on a rail by those who did not wish to hear his message. Yet he went on for year after year, preaching to any who would listen, all the while supporting himself by his trade of a tentmaker. No matter how you might view the content of his message you have to admit that he was determined to make it known to the world and would endure anything to accomplish it.

In our modern world this sort of drive is all too often absent. Oh, we see it sometimes when someone focuses on their own success, for their own benefit. And there are examples of those who have dedicated themselves to the service of others and found the drive to carry on through adversity. But for too many of us – and here I include myself – when the going gets tough we falter; or we question whether what we are doing is truly worth the effort. We give up, we doubt, we psyche ourselves out.

Over the last several years I have been involved supporting a ministry that seeks to address the needs of the homeless and those in want. Despite an expanding program and growing resources there are times I feel that what this ministry can do is just put Band-Aids on the problem. Conversing with the person in charge I ventured that I wished we could deal with the underlying issues that cause the problems and not just treat symptoms. She wisely explained that right now, Band-Aids are all we can do, and right now, Band-Aids are what are needed.

That any issue that is worth addressing – poverty, income inequality, food insecurity, homelessness – they were neither created overnight nor will they be solved overnight. We should not let that fact discourage us, but rather we should persevere in what we are able to do until the circumstances allow us to move forward to address other aspects of the problem. When we cannot solve the problem on the first attempt we need to persevere rather than quit; that perseverance is founded on faith in what we find ourselves called to do and the knowledge that in the end our striving will not be in vain.

I have come to realize that if I can help someone else take one step forward in their struggle with what life has thrown against them, then I have succeeded. My challenge is to find the means to help someone take the second step forward, and then a third. That is how things change; that is how problems are eventually overcome.

March 15, 2016

Pride Goeth…

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 12:33 am

“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8-9)

The other day I was driving down the road and found that I was blocking the way of a Very Important Person. I know that he must have been a Very Important Person by the way he kept honking his horn at me as I drive through the school zone, where children were waiting for their buses, at the posted speed limit. He confirmed his importance by continuing to honk his horn at me as I drove at the posted speed limit through the targeted enforcement area next to the local police station. Obviously he was so important that he had to get somewhere in a hurry and adherence to traffic regulations made no matter.

No, the driver was not operating a police, fire, or other emergency vehicle. No, we were nowhere near a hospital. No, there was no room for me to pull over and allow him to pass – it was single-lane traffic in a no-passing zone. The Very Important Person merely lacked patience and was intent in demanding (by honking his horn) that I violate the law in order to suit his desires. This is a prime example of self-importance going before reason.

Now I admit that there have been times that I have grown impatient behind a slow driver; I suspect we all have at one time or another. But I have successfully resisted the temptation to announce my self-importance to the world by constantly honking my horn. Most often, I am able to maintain my patience with all the benefits to driver safety that flow from it.

So often we feel the need to put our needs before those of anyone else. Why is that? Are our needs so much greater that we must scramble to get ahead of the next individual? In an emergency there could be a grain of truth in that view, but do we live in a constant state of emergency? I don’t think so. We put on the blinders of pride and see our needs alone; anyone else is a competitor, a road block, or someone out to get us. Pride, self-importance, and anger go hand-in-hand.

Over the years I have grown more conscious of the needs of others around me, and that has prompted me to be conscious of what I do, or do not do. I have to continually remind myself that it is better to cooperate with others than to compete with them; when I do, much more is accomplished. When I am able to help others, I have the opportunity to experience a joy I might not otherwise have felt.

In some respects I feel sorry for the Very Important Person who was in a hurry to go somewhere. His mind was not on his driving; I suspect it was on whatever he had to do once he got to his destination. How many traffic accidents happen for such reasons? Concerned with all that he had to do he failed to see the world around him – its joys, its beauties, and its needs.

The poet Max Ehrmann, back in 1927, put things far better than I ever will:

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.”

“Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.”

“Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.”

“Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

 

January 15, 2016

Making a Difference

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 12:12 am

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

 

Some of my friends are bemoaning the fact that they were not among the winners of yesterday’s enormous lottery jackpot; others are horrified at the passing of a number of prominent celebrities within the space of days. For most of them, not coming into huge amounts of money is probably a very good thing in the long run, and the departure of even prominent entertainers only touches them tangentially. What about the big picture?

In January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. Of that number, 206,286 were people in families, and 358,422 were individuals. About 15 percent of the homeless population – 83,170 – are considered “chronically homeless” individuals. About 2 percent – 13,105 – are considered “chronically homeless” people in families. About 8 percent of homeless people- 47,725 – are veterans. Estimates are that some 700 homeless people die each year to hypothermia each winter. How does this stack up against the “might-have-beens” of a lottery win or the death of someone prominent?

No one person alone – no matter how rich – can solve the problem of homelessness by themselves; it is too complex and issue for simplistic fixes. But we do not need to try to solve it by ourselves; there are innumerable organizations that are trying to solve the problem of homelessness one case at a time, or to help ease the distress of hunger and homelessness until a solution to the underlying problem is found for an individual. And it does not take much to help these organizations tackle the problems before them.

Support your local food bank – even at retail prices canned goods and other imperishable are relatively in expensive, and through networking your local food bank can leverage cash donations for even greater returns.

Support a local charity – particularly in winter, warm clothing – such simple things as hats, gloves, and warm socks – can literally save a life. A kitchen that feeds the homeless not only needs your donations, it needs your help. If you can, volunteer some time to help.

Don’t ignore the issue – too often it seems we deny that there is a problem, or put that problem out of our minds because we think it is far distant – not in our own neighborhoods. Look a bit harder and you will find those in need, even in your backyards.

President Theodore Roosevelt said it far better than I can, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” You do not need to do everything, you do not need to do a lot; but if each of us does something, we will be much further along in solving the problems of hunger and homelessness than we are now.

As you are able, make a difference.

January 6, 2016

Christmas Trees

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 2:42 pm

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

For me, one of the enduring mysteries of the season is how the evergreen Christmas Tree has come to be the quintessential symbol of Christmas. Its origin lies in the Germanic pagan tradition of Yule, and entered into our consciousness only in Victorian times, courtesy of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. Yet the vision of the huge tree, scraping the ceiling of the room in which it sits, bedecked in lights, ornaments, and tinsel, with mounds of presents beneath its boughs and the toy train set running around the perimeter has taken center stage in our thinking. There was even a minor tempest in social media when a grammar school teacher was ordered to remove a Christmas tree from her classroom, with accusations of the continuing “War on Christmas”.

I find that rather ironic. This vision of the over-done Christmas tree and its bevy of presents for one and all is, for me at least, not a symbol of the Advent season but a celebration of the secular holiday in which we are encouraged to out-do anyone else in display and gift-giving, to the greater glory and bottom line of retailers. The Christmas tree is the last thing to be a symbol of “Keep Christ in Christmas”. I cannot recall the number of times I saw that bumper sticker on the back of a car groaning under the weight of the evergreen tree tied to the roof. Now I do not oppose Christmas trees out of hand; they are a part of our traditions now, they can be a place in our homes or our communities where people of good will can gather on common ground to celebrate the season.

I do find it problematic when the level of conspicuous display consumes a disproportionate amount of resources. There are so many in our society for whom the coming of Christmas merely ushers in the season of dark and cold – the homeless, the hungry, and the marginalized. One of the benefits of Christmas is that for at least a few weeks many become more conscious of the needs of those about them, and charities have come to rely on that end-of-year spurt of giving. And while this is a good thing in the abstract, it would be far better if we could keep those needs in the forefront of our thoughts year-round, rather than the last six weeks of the year.

This is the essence of stewardship – all we have been blessed with comes from God, with the expectation that we will use it wisely towards the accomplishment of His plans. That is a 24-hour, 365-day job. As the New Year begins, take a moment to think how you can better use that with which you have been entrusted to make a positive change in the world.

October 28, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 10:24 am

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set,    or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”

“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken. Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.”

“What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?” Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? (Job 38:1-30)

 

These words conjure up, for me at least, the mental of image of God, manifest in his power expressed in the whirlwind, looking down at Job and demanding “Who do you think you are?”

He demands an answer from Job, who has sought justice, and an answer to his own question “What have I done to deserve all that you have done to me?” He demands answers from Job’s three friends, for the counsel they have given him was misguided and without understanding.

Now, Job, a righteous man, who had been previously blessed by God, has no idea that he is part of a test between God and Satan. The latter had challenged God with the suggestion that those who are pious are pious only in expectation of receiving material blessings from God; to prove that Job, and others who are righteous, do so out of their love of God, God allows Satan to strip away all that Job has except his life. Thus the contest begins.

Job’s children die; his flocks die; his crops wither and die; he is afflicted with boils, and all manner of discomforts. His wife – before she dies – advises to Job to curse God and die, thus ending his misery. But Job knows that he love God, that he has not sinned against God, and trusts in God despite the calamities that have befallen him.

Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar try to reason with him and console him, each arguing in his own way that since Job has suffered, and that God does not seem to hear his pleas, his must have sinned in some way. Their best advice is that Job should plead for mercy. But Job will have none of it; he has been righteous in all his dealings, a pious man, and demands that God answer why he has turned against him.

“Why do the righteous suffer?”

It is a good question, from our perspective. Look at the world around us. The way to get ahead seems to be “do unto others before they do unto you”, or “seize the day, and do not worry about tomorrow”, or “he who has the most toys wins”. In business affairs it seems to make no matter who you step on or how close you come to breaking the law – so long as you make the deal and come out on top. In personal matters our culture seems to lionize those who disobey any number of the Ten Commandments. Why do the greedy and impious seem to prosper while we, who strive to live according to God’s word, seem to have such a hard time?

Job concludes that because he, a pious and righteous man, has suffered at God’s hands, that God must be unjust. He retains his love for God, and fears God, but he has reached an erroneous conclusion about the nature of God. He calls on God to answer him. In our heart of hearts how many of us have asked the same question when we see the apparent disconnect between the behavior of the unrighteous and their success in the world?

God appears in the whirlwind with his answer. God created the heavens and the Earth – where was Job, and can he do anything close to that? Can Job call forth rain, or lightning, or contend with the great creatures of the natural world? No, he cannot. God created the heavens and the Earth for his own purposes – not ours; that is something we too often forget. Human understanding cannot be compared with that of The Almighty. God moves forward in his purposes, in his time, for his own ends – which we are assured are for our good, if we obey.

Yet we still have that nagging question in the back of our mind – “Why do the righteous suffer?”

Remaining focused on that question – which humans lack the wisdom to answer – turns our hearts cold. We start to slide down that slippery slope towards adoption of Satan’s argument – that the righteous are so only in expectation of some sort of material gain – and since we do not see the gain, there is no use acting in a righteous manner.

How many times have we seen or read of someone who behaves in a selfish, greedy, and impious manner come to grief for their transgressions? The millionaire who ends up bankrupt because of one gamble too many; the celebrity with a life cut short by over-indulgence. In the end those who are unrighteous will receive their just reward, one way or another.

But our true reward lies not in this world, and the rewards of this world in no way can be compared with the fruits of the spirit. Through his son, Jesus, God calls us to show compassion on our fellows without regard to the reward or recognition we might or might not get here on Earth. If we respond to that call with all our hearts God will reward us immeasurably, just as his power and wisdom are beyond our comprehension. In this we have His assurance.

 

August 19, 2015

Go for Baroque

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 11:22 am

My tastes in music tend to be eclectic, and even within a given genre that I like there will be artists that I favor and those I cannot really stand. However, if you asked me to choose only one genre of music as my favorite I would have to say Baroque, the style that evolved in the late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Centuries.

Of the many composers of the era the ones most familiar to people might be Bach or Handel; maybe Telemann or Vivaldi. I like much of their works too, though I tend to prefer some of the lesser known composers like Lully, Couperin or Rameau. I can hear you wondering though, “What does this have to do with a better world?”

We live in a world where we are yelled at all the time. Commercials blare in our ears, urging us to spend money we do not have on things we do not need, all in the name of style or novelty. No matter your preferred media for news, you are bombarded with the lurid details of the most tawdry happenings on the premise of “if it bleeds, it leads”. Do not even bring up what passes for public debate… There are few if any issues that are discussed at any level without descent into ad hominem attacks and muckraking. To escape, even for a moment, this constant cacophony is almost a necessity, and I suspect we all have our “happy place” to which we can retreat. For me that place is filled with the sound of baroque music.

Why that particular era? My favorite composers wrote not to convey a story, or to paint a tone-poem, but for the sheer pleasure of music. You are likely to be familiar with Pachelbel’s Canon, properly the Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo by Johann Pachelbel. The composer takes a relatively simple tune and builds a structure of elegance and timelessness. Many of the works of the period were written for the Church, and their sacred character echoes through to our modern world. In many respects some of the best music, to my ear, was written as background music to be performed during dinners – Tafelmusik, or table music – for a small group of musicians, not a huge orchestra.

When I seek to organize my thoughts I will turn off the radio or the television and put on a recording of one of my favorite composers and concentrate on the task at hand. It is also the music I can relax to, as it does not provoke me to argument or tries to get me to understand a particular message, as other genres might. Order, moderation, careful choice – all qualities our fast-paced world would have us abandon – for me are reinforced by the measured tones of music written in the Baroque period.

It will not work for everyone, but one thing is certain – each of us needs time to step back and refresh the soul.

August 5, 2015

Giving

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 11:05 am

“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:24-25)

I am at the present moment re-reading the Book of Proverbs, and came to these verses the other day; they have stuck with me. Some years ago I made the conscious decision to become more intentional with my giving, and identified a number of causes I would support. Some of those have shifted as I became aware of other needs, and others have been added; these I regularly budget for and periodically make my contribution. I also deliberately set aside something for those needs that arise unexpectedly, or a cause that suddenly speaks to me – which I regard as a nudge from God. And as these verses from Proverbs advise, I believe I have gained more for having done so. But every once and a while I find myself asking, “Am I doing enough?”

I suspect we all are bombarded by telephone calls from professional fund-raisers operating on behalf of a spectrum of charities – these I find I have no trouble with ignoring; the administrative costs of the fund-raiser, even for legitimate charities, eats up too large a fraction of any contribution I might make. The bulk-rate mailings are another issue. I have less of an excuse to ignore them, and some have made it onto my list of occasional contributions. Those causes that I regularly support which plead for more cause me the greatest heartache and soul-searching.

How should I try to balance the needs of the hungry in the far corners of the world versus the needs of those who are hungry in the next town over? How might supporting a missionary stack up against helping someone who is homeless? Support of my church has first call on my resources, but what other causes deserve my support? I find no easy answer; in fact, I find myself constantly asking if I can do more.

The needs are there – of that there is no question; but I cannot fix the world alone – no one can. That is why one of my regular contributions goes to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which pools funds from around the country to support many valuable long-term projects. But I think that it is proper for me to continually ask myself that question – “Am I doing enough” – so as not to become complacent.

July 22, 2015

Simplification

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 10:26 am

I suspect that you have all heard the phrase, “He who dies with the most toys wins”, or some variant thereof. It is unfortunate that so many seem to believe this old saw.

Think back – in “the good old days” there were no self-storage facilities into which one would pour the excess possessions from your home; few if any could afford furniture or other things that were not of immediate use – and those affluent enough to have such a surplus dealt with commercial storage firms. Now days climate-controlled self-storage facilities proliferate wherever space can be found for them. We gather stuff at a prodigious rate – such that the job of professional organizer has emerged, do-it-yourself television shows showing how to organize your home have a wide following, and so-called “interventions” to deal with extreme hoarding are the grist for ‘reality’ television. Why do we feel compelled to fill our lives with material goods?

I am certain that the ‘why’ is more complex than any answer I might give here. Certainly our consumer-oriented culture exhorts us to go out and buy the latest new things. Styles are changed deliberately to encourage us to shed the old in favor of the new – except we actually do not get rid of the old, merely put it into storage. We see items on sale and want to stock up to take advantage of the bargains – so how long will it take to go through a hundred rolls of toilet tissue?

There are some individuals who so fill their lives with possessions that there is no room for people; books, video games, fabric, toys, or any of myriad kinds of stuff our economy can churn out becomes more interesting to them than talking to another human being. At one time I think I might have been on that course; thankfully, I believe I have cured myself of it. Of late I have been going through the house, again, to identify items I can no longer use, that I no longer want, or have just worn out and no longer serve a useful purpose. Truthfully, I am much happier for doing so – in many cases I can feel a burden being lifted from my shoulders; in other cases I have found items I thought were long-lost but had merely been tucked away and forgotten. Some items I have passed on to those who can make use of them for their original purpose; others have been donated to charitable organizations for their use or resale to further their various ministries.

Working at keeping things simple in my own life has helped me to see the needs of others – whether it be the use of my talents, my treasure, or my time. I take comfort in the admonition of John in his First Epistle:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

I find I have far more time for people, whether it be my family, my friends, or those in my community; and that is the way it ought to be.

July 8, 2015

Worry

Filed under: Uncategorized — brucesinclair @ 11:15 am

Jesus said,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34)

 

The word ‘worry’ derives from the Old English ‘wyrgan’, that is, to choke or to strangle. It is the same root of our modern ‘wring’. In current usage however, worry can describe the distress and mental agitation we bring upon ourselves, the thoughts that disturb our peace of mind, and the mental anxiety brought on by dwelling on the unknown. Moreover, worry can describe the accidental or deliberate words and actions of others that prey upon our own concerns. When we are caught up in worrying we do feel that constriction in our stomachs and in our throats that harken back to the original meaning of the word.

In our lives there are things about which we should have legitimate concerns; and these are things we have some measure of control over – how we might prepare to send our children to college, or how we will provide for our health and happiness in old age. But too often we fall into worrying about things we have no control over. Some of these can be quite minor in the grand scheme of things – indeed, the less important the issue might be we often worry more.

I was speaking with a friend of mine who was quite agitated by the fact that a third person had not yet failed to pass on a bit of information necessary so that my friend might complete a plot plan for group camping. There was more than a month until this plan was needed, and the plan itself was not vital – it usually changes when people actually show up – but to my friend the fact that this information was not available yet gave her great anxiety. It had taken control of her thoughts and blown itself completely out of perspective, coloring her thoughts on other matters and bringing on a general sense of bitterness. While I could comprehend a bit of concern for the lack of information, the situation was far from being dire and my friend’s reaction was quite unnecessary. Worry does that to us.

Worry is, however, a human condition that is difficult to avoid. I used to worry far more than I do now, for I have come to understand, accept, and practice what Jesus said to his disciples. It is my belief that God expects us to be the rational beings he created and do what is in our power to prepare for living our lives; what is beyond our power to influence is in his care. The trick is to know when the one ends and the other begins.

The Serenity Prayer, attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, comes to mind immediately on this matter. This has appeared in a number of forms over the years, but I would share with you a later version that expands upon what we are generally familiar with:

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.”

Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

 

 

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