As the church that serves the countryside, we commit ourselves to share Christ's love in action through our congregation, community, and the world.
Once again we celebrate our nationhood. On this day when we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we begin to think once again of our patriots, to the brave men and women who saw past the security of the moment to the greatness of the future: We owe so much to all of them, some known and some unknown, who have sacrificed their dreams and sometimes their lives for the greatness and security of this country. We are beneficiaries of their sacrifices, and our gratitude must extend beyond the picnics, the barbecues and the fireworks display. We must return in kind, sacrifice for sacrifice, contribution for contribution and patriotism for their patriotism. Patriotism is not the right of a few but, instead, the responsibility of many. It is a moral imperative of all those who call ourselves “Americans”.
To be a patriot now is not that different as it was in the early periods of our history. The world has changed a lot since 1776. The wonders of improved communication has given us a new appreciation for the worlds many contributions and ideologies of the world’s many races and nationalities. Being a patriot, however, has never meant that we were to be enemies to the rest of mankind. Patriotism, at its finest is not based on hate and bigotry. Love and faith are the building blocks of true patriotism. The love of which we speak is that love for our fellow countrymen to whom we are bound by common sympathies, needs and aspirations. The faith of which we speak is that faith in the American ideal of democracy, an ideal that has brought happiness and prosperity to a multitude of different people and nationalities.
Being a patriot is not just a momentary thrill as the flag passes by. Perhaps it is said best by a dedicated public servant. “I venture to suggest that patriotism is not a short but frenzied out burst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime”.
There are people who are always pointing out that there are two kinds of everything. There are those who believe and those who don’t. There are those who are self-centered and those who are generous and look out for others. A recent quote from an actor in a film was, “there are two kinds of people in this world, those who like Neal Diamond and those who don’t”. Two kinds of everything in terms of people, even such a thing as gratitude comes in two flavors.
One form of gratitude was observed by a critic who said “in terms of human beings, gratitude is merely a hope for greater favors”. This, of course, isn’t gratitude at all. It would be ingratitude, favor seeking disguised as thanksgiving. It is usually showered on people of power and influence. It can even become a part of our prayers. It is a glib imitation of thanksgiving which flows very easily from our mouths.
Real, true gratitude, one writer quipped “is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it runs deep”. It usually is expressed better in what we do and how we act instead of what we say. This kind of gratitude is not so concerned about repaying those who contributed something to your life, as imitating them by extending blessings to others. When I was in my first parish, a couple had been extremely good to me. I asked them at one point how I could even thank them for all they had done for me. They told me I could best show my thankfulness by giving something to others as I passed through this short life. It was that command of Jesus “go and do likewise” that demonstrated the true seal of gratitude in a humans life. One kindness begets a hundred others. “Pass it on” should be our mantra.
In summary, we cannot pay back all the people to whom we are indebted in our live; parents, teachers, clergy, soldiers, statesman, inventors, dreamers, and grandparents. They have all built a wonderful life for us.
Planning a Life
The Greek philosopher Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Aristotle said that the unplanned life was not very productive. If a life does not have some kind of plan or purpose, the individual living it will not know what he’s doing or why and will not know where he’s going or how to get there. Other great thinkers have said pretty much the same thing that we do need to think about our futures.
If we fail to plan, life becomes pretty much a jumble and a sea of confusion. A good share of people live day by day, concentrating on the pleasure of the moment, caring little for the effort that a distant goal demands. The natural tendency of a human being is to be self-interested, but most people don’t pursue their own best interest. An unexamined or unplanned life will follow illusions, momentary desires and mutually conflicting wants. We can be swayed by whim rather than purpose and seek pleasure rather than perfection. We can be too influenced by the world around us and can choose short term gratification rather than long term fulfillment.
More often than not, we find that moral errors are the consequences of shortcuts – attempts to get results in the wrong way. No result of any importance can be achieved in an instant.
The younger the individual is, the more likely it is that they will not have a plan for living. To the young the more immediate goals are the most important – things to do, things to get, things to be enjoyed today.
As we age, we should be more likely to search for a purpose for living. We know we cannot do it all at once, and we learn to be flexible in changing conditions to fit our most important goals.
A New View of Aging
One of the things I catch myself saying when I purchase some major item is “this is probably the last time I’ll be buying something like this”. A statement like this sort of betrays a certain resignation that time is limited and I am limited in experiencing future joys. When this thought invades my mind, I have a certain melancholy feeling. However, when I look at something and say “that will be a new experience, I should try it”, there is an immediate excitement that touches my soul. It takes a lot of trust in God to make it through a life time. There are many people who fear aging and think it is a time they will be bored, useless or ill. Old age is not necessarily that way for most people. I would say a majority of seniors at or beyond retirement have a life that is definitely worth living.
Contrary to popular opinion, old age doesn’t bring many surprises. People who are psychologically well adjusted in middle age tend to be well adjusted seniors. In fact, there is a certain joy which comes with aging. It is no longer necessary to strive for personal recognition. These individuals have earned a chance to relax, to savor life and do some things they’ve always wanted to do. Some have created a “bucket list” of new things to experience in their later years.
“Enduring to the end” as God instructed, does not imply laying back and doing nothing. It does mean setting new goals, working at new tasks, to contribute insight, prospective and experience. People who are aging should not be saying they are doing things for the last time but instead, for the first time. If we keep looking to do things for the first time, regardless of age, we will have an effective antidote against growing old.
Discipline or Freedom
Whether it starts as a young child or later in life, sometime in our life we must learn to discipline ourselves. So many lives have been ruined by uncontrolled desires. There seems to be an increased desire for more thrills, more indulgence and more possession of material things.
The crazy thing about discipline is that it seems, in modern times, to carry somewhat of a negative connotation. Many people of our present age seem to think that discipline is done at an expense of limiting our freedom. We think that the more discipline that is done, the more individual freedom is lost. However, if we stop to think about it intelligently, freedom and discipline are not trade-offs. There can, in fact be high freedom, coupled with a high amount of discipline. In fact, freedom happens when we voluntarily impose self-discipline, when we set goals, when we impose order on ourselves.
Self-discipline is essential for self-renewal and we need to renew ourselves spiritually, emotionally and mentally. The great majority of us go through our lives only partially exercising our abilities. Getting to know ourselves is one of the most difficult things we can do -as well as the most inconvenient. We spend much of our time running away from ourselves. The author John Gardner said, “More often than not, we don’t want to know ourselves, don’t’ want to depend on ourselves, don’t want to live with ourselves. By the middle of life most of us accomplished fugitives from ourselves.”
If we have no discipline, there will be no order in our lives. The most self-reliant human beings will always be self-disciplined. The higher the self-discipline, the higher will be his moral and spiritual condition. As we start a new year, please take some time for personal reflection. Hopefully, the personal reflection will create some self-mastering – the ability to govern ourselves properly through self-discipline – the only road to true freedom.
Ask The Right Questions
How many of us have searched for the right answer to our questions? All of us, of course. We are concerned that the information that we have is accurate. But in order to receive answers, it is also incumbent on us to ask the right questions. Often times we don’t spend a lot of time determining how to ask the right questions.
The apostle Paul, on his way to Damascus to persecute and destroy Christians was stopped in his tracks and asked by God “Paul said; why do you persecute me? The question that Paul (Saul at that time) asked in return was one which changed his life, “Lord, what would you have me do?” What a change takes place when we ask the right questions and how much trouble is caused by asking the wrong questions.
One distinguished author made this observation. “It is a waste of time to ask”, what causes poverty, for if you get an answer, you have merely learned how to be poor. The right question would more appropriately be, “What creates wealth?” and then use the answer to help the poor.
It has been said that a problem well defined is already half solved. So, a good question asked most likely has half the answer with in it.
There is a timeless story of the semi-trailer which got stuck trying to go under an overpass. The truck was high enough so that it got stuck. Many engineers come to render an opinion on how to fix the situation and free the truck. The answer was simple when a young child asked, “Why don’t you just let some air out of the tires and drive it out”. How simple the answer when you ask the right question.
There are many of us who believe that there was sometime in the past that was a much better time in our life than the present days. It was a time when there were less pressures in our life, less tension, a time when the summers were warmer and the winter’s less harsh. Whether it was a Christmas that seemed merrier or a birthday that seemed more joyous, there usually is sometime in the past that carries a vision of a sweeter yesterday.
Some social scholars say that these are universal feelings and go mainly back to our childhood days which seem to walk close behind us no matter how old we grow. We think of “going home”, and remembering gardens, holidays, special occasions, and special meals. We remember bread just baked, pies set out to cool and a birthday cake made exactly to our requests. For most of us, father was a rock we could come to when we had made a serious mistake. Mother’s hands could soothe away the bruises and the cuts, and life held a security so strong and warm that we could not know how fragile it was.
“Going Home”. This phrase has a host of different images but all with a common theme. When we were divided and shaken, or when life dealt us a cruel blow, we could stumble home and be made whole. Because of these images, one of the saddest things we can imagine is one of “homelessness”.
It should be no surprise then that the phrase “going home” has been used for centuries as returning to our God. That “other” home which we have not seen and do not understand, must have all the heart and passion of the world’s best home; a heavenly father who senses our slightest needs, and stands with loving outstretched arms to receive us into joy and a feeling of absolute safety. When we are divided and broken, when we feel that the world, our friends and our family have dealt us a cruel blow, we can limp to that other home in passing from this mortal life to the eternal, and be made whole.
A Lesson in Gratitude
The Gospel writer Luke tells of an incident in the life of Jesus in which he healed ten lepers who were begging to be healed. They all rushed away happy, jubilant and excited. Nine of those healed were so totally self centered that they never thought about the one who had healed them, only one of the ten returned to say “thank you” to Jesus. Jesus said “Were there not ten cleansed, where are the other nine?” A fair question, a question that one might well ask after a life time of being used and then forgotten. However, even though the lepers did not seem to appreciate the gift, the gift was not taken back. How many other people, that we know, have hurried off and forgotten the healer. Perhaps we, ourselves, have forgotten our benefactor after we have received some precious gift.
“As I love you, love on another” Jesus said. And His unceasing service in spite of no proper appreciation, teaches us something about the kind of love He means. Whenever we begin to lessen our acts of love and kindness to others because we don’t feel we have been properly appreciated, perhaps it is time to question our motives. Do we do good deeds so we will be noticed and thanked? Do we give for self-aggrandizements! Appreciation from others is sweet but when we give our gifts merely to receive praise, we have lost something much more sweet.
Psychologist tell us that much or most of our service may become calculated, kindness tainted with self. Sometimes when we don’t think we have thanked properly, we may cease to give altogether. Placing our concern for others on their notice of it is folly, the same folly that affects those who stop obeying the Lord’s Commandment because they fail to see an immediate reward.
Another Endangered Species
During the last couple of decades, our world has spent increasing amounts of time telling us that we need to take major steps to save our environment, to be sensitive to the animal creatures which share this planet with us! A number of “endangered species” lists have been published which include everything from the “big cats” of Africa to insects or rodents which share our own state. On those lists are the names of those creatures which will die out untimely unless we give them protection and provide special conditions for them.
Upon listening to many of the young people I encounter on a daily basis, there is something which should be added to the “endangered species” list. It’s a species whose survival at this time, I believe, is in serious doubt. It is a species whose extinction would be tragic and irreplaceable. This is not a biological creature but a sociological entity. That species is the American family.
The very existence of the family unit, a group of close-knit individuals, parents and children working together toward common objectives, is now threatened.
See the statistics! One out of every two marriages ends in divorce. One parent families are increasing in numbers much faster than two parent families. More and more children are being born in the country without the advantages of a stable, married parental unit. Fifty years ago, one out of thirty babies was born to a one parent family, today that figure is one in eight. The average American father spends seven minutes a day with his children, it is said; American husbands and wives spend an average of 28 minutes a week in serious dialogue.
Realizing Our Potential
Sadly, if most of us were really honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that our potential is greater than the product of our lives. Most of us need to admit that we are only partially aware of the full range of our abilities. Why is this? Because most of us are not willing to take risks. Most of us are not willing to take failure. A successful businessman once told a group of college students that the reason for his success was that he was not afraid to fail.
One virtue of modern higher education is that it forces us to enter into a variety of classes or activities that may not be of our own choosing-at which time we may well fail. Education is a lifelong vocation: but when we're left on our own, we tend to stay with things that we do well and to avoid the things that we've tried and failed or never tried at all.
We also need to free ourselves from the web of social pressure which makes us spend so much time asking ourselves, "What will people say?" or social situations that makes us compromise our principles and beliefs because "everybody's doing it".
One of the interesting things about life is that nearly everyone knows of ways they would like to improve their lot in life, but hardly anyone is willing to improve themselves or take the risk to do so. Self improvement, self discipline and the establishment of strong values and standards in our lives are absolutely essential and should be life long pursuits.