I have a lot of stuff. As I write this, I am sitting in a not-so-comfortable chair, suffering God knows what kind of allergies, thinking about how blessed I am. Within my reach, without even moving from this chair, I have books about lots of topics (John Wesley’s Sermons; Living Buddha, Living Christ; Reluctant Pilgrim; The Death and Life of the Great American School System; Revelations; Paradise; The Ask and the Answer; Mockingjay; the Bible), magazines as varied (Runner’s World; Sojourner’s Magazine; The Writer’s Chronicle), and a graphic novel (Billy Fog and the Gift of Trouble Sight). I have an empty (previously full) glass of clean water and a belly full of delicious food. I have clean clothes, electricity, and too many gadgets. I have every tangible thing I could ever want (except for a brand new Nissan Z). I am blessed.
A line near the end of Billy Fog and the Gift of Trouble Sight says, “Don’t waste your time being mean. Just watch—the years go by in the blink of an eye… Be good to your parents, and work hard at school.” For as blessed as I am, and likely you are, I spend an awful lot of time dwelling on those things I don’t have. I could list a handful of things I’d like to go buy if I had the money to. Are any of those, things I need? Not likely. I have a coat for the winter. I have shoes. Lots of shoes. I have so many clothes I can’t wear them all in a week (or probably a month), and I have access to a a washer and dryer in my house, so there’s really no need for it. But I compare myself to the people around me and come up short every time. There is always something I could do better, purchase bigger, be rewarded for more lavishly. Isn’t this, after all, the American Dream? To get ahead?
Sometimes, because they want to get ahead, people are mean. They’ll stop at nothing to get ahead, and before they know it, their lives have passed them by and they’re left with a closet full of clothes, shelves full of books, and enough shoes to outfit the Harlem Globetrotters. I don’t want to be one of those people. I want to live my life with meaning, because it seems fairly simple to “be good to your parents, and work hard at school.” Being good seems fairly simple, but it’s not for me. Being a competitive jerk is much easier, getting caught up the capitalist snare of trying to do better than those people around me until I no longer recognize myself or the imago dei inside of me. I lose sight of God in me. I can’t recognize the divine in myself, but I can see that my friends’ shoes are cooler than mine, that I don’t have the latest fashions, or that I need one more book. That’s the big one for me: books.
“Don’t waste your time being mean.” Instead, use your time to rediscover the image of God inside you, hiding there beneath all the layers of excess that have built up around you. Shed the American dream for the imago dei.
On a personal note, I’ve been in an athletic slump for about three weeks. I haven’t run in at least as long, and I have a 9 mile race in two weeks. I doubt that’s going to happen, and I seriously doubt the 13.1 miles that are supposed to happen in May are going to happen. Some prayers would be appreciated on the exercise front. In order to help hold myself accountable, I signed up for this College Swim Trip from March 26 to April 27. During that month, I am supposed to swim a total of 57 miles, the distance from Ball State to Butler. My goal is to run 2 miles and swim 2 miles each morning. That’s an hour of swimming and a half hour of running, which isn’t really too much to ask, right? I’m really not sure why I’ve been in such a funk. Here’s to healthy eating, healthy exercise, and to mental and spiritual health.
I got behind on my Lent reading (not to mention writing) the last few days. What a treat to find this gentle reminder of the things that matter. “Don’t waste your time being mean.” “Be good to your parents.” “Work hard at school.” Simple, not easy. Mean is easy. Too busy is easy. School is just bullshit is easy. Doing right is HARD!! Like everyone, I spend more time reflecting on what I lack than on what I have. A Dickinson poem comes to mind: “I measure every Grief I meet/With narrow, probing, Eyes…” We compare pain–“Grief”; we compare doo-dads; we compare successes; we compare failures. Occasionally, those comparisons lead to compassion, generosity, unexpected kindness. More often they lead to envy, to what the Bible forbids as “coveting.” Peace, indeed? No, my dear, you never leave me peaceful. You insist on making me think. God bless you!!