March 2009


 

One of my favorite old saws is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately for me, I didn’t heed the wisdom of that saying last Sunday.

 

I typically take a tried-and-true route to my preaching assignment in Amory, MS, north of here. Go up Highway 45A, exit on MS 41/US 278, cross Highway 45, and I’m at the front door of the church in one hour, five minutes. On the way home Sunday, though, I decided on a whim to take MS 25 out of Amory, knowing only that it went to Aberdeen. (I didn’t look at the map, right there in the door pocket.) Rather than listen to folk wisdom, I heard the poet: “I took the road less traveled by, and it has made all the difference.”

 

Yeah, it made a difference. It lengthened my time getting home, confused me, and taught me a lesson. 25 intersected US 45 as I expected, but I wasn’t exactly in Aberdeen. That town was north of me, but I wasn’t sure whether 25 continued that way or south, toward Columbus, MS. First I headed toward Aberdeen, following my best guess (I have a lousy sense of direction, and I still hadn’t looked at a map), but soon convinced myself I needed to go south. After traveling a bit, nothing felt right, so I finally pulled off and looked at the map. I saw that I needed to turn around, so I headed for Aberdeen and had to go through most of the town before I got to the MS 25 turn-off I was looking for.

 

The lesson? Change for change’s sake is only for those times when you have the luxury of fixing your mistake if the change turns out not to be so great. And if you’re contemplating a change, you ought to consult a resource (like a map, someone’s experience or a history text) before committing to a new course. Somebody is bound to have tried the very thing you’re thinking about, and you can benefit from their guidance.

 

On the other hand, there are times when a change in thinking and action is quite necessary:

 

  • when a crisis comes, and it’s the former behaviors and philosophies that have gotten us where we are;
  • when the traditions and “the way we’ve always done it” are contrary to the Gospel or the ideals of our land and benefit only a few in the church, the community or the nation;
  • when the rut we’re in feeds depression and despair, something new and fresh may be one key to beating the blues.

 

Otherwise, it if ain’t broke….

 

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

Please visit these other CCBlogs Lenten posts:

 

Don’t Eat Alone   

The Connection      Pastor’s Post

Faith at Ease      Holy Vignettes     

I-YOUniverse  Where the Wind   

As the Deer      The Other Jesus

Mark Powell   

Getting There      Ellen Haroutunian

Theolog      Welcoming Spirit   

Living Word by Word

Where the Wind   

Faith in Community   

When Grace Happens

Theophiliacs J. Stambaugh      Theophiliacs A. Hunt     

Everyday Liturgy

Available Light      Work in Progress     

Allan Bevere

A Diner at the End of Time   

The Painted Prayerbook     

Just Words

The Church Geek   

Breaking Fast on the Beach     

The Pocket Mardis

Reflectionary      One Hand Clapping     

Unorthodoxology

 

 

 

 

Following this reflection, there is a list of all Lenten posts from writers associated with CCBlogs. Please visit these sites.

 

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:18-21).

 

The wind blows where it chooses…” (John 3:8).

 

Wednesday night, the new episode of the hospital comedy/drama “Scrubs” had Dr. Turk risking a new and experimental procedure, and thus his reputation and livelihood, to give a young man and his father hope. The teen had a 90% chance of being paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal injury, but Turk was determined (against the advice of his colleague and friend J.D., but with the support of his wife Carla) to give the family that other 10%, even at potentially great cost to himself.

 

Where did he get the idea? From a medical seminar or journal? From talking with experts in the field? No. From watching a favorite TV sports show and hearing about the procedure, called “cold therapy,” being used on a professional athlete with success.

 

Sometimes our best ideas and greatest inspiration come from conventional sources and from talking to the usual suspects, as it were. But other times, if we pay attention and are serendipitously/providentially in the right place at the right time, we may be given the sort of help Turk got. Who knew his watching a few minutes of a sports show on a break would result in a young man in his care being able to walk again? Who can tell if your conversation with someone with radically different views than yours might provide insight you need in a situation later on? Who’s to say that my glance out the window as I drive might not convince me again of God’s good purpose for the world? What if our own imagination, intuition, and/or common sense is/are the place(s) we find the answers we need, if we but trust ourselves as the vessels of God’s Spirit, who blows about like an uncontrollable wind?

 

God is full of surprises. He doesn’t work always in the expected or conventional ways. We need to be open to what he is doing and yet may do, wherever, whenever, and through whomever God chooses to work. As one of my favorite passages from a Presbyterian document says: “We do not fully comprehend who God is or how he works. God’s reality far exceeds all our words can say. The Lord’s requirements are not always what we think is best. The Lord’s care for us is not always what we want. God comes to us on his own terms and is able to do far more than we ask or think” (A Declaration of Faith 1[2]).

 

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

CCBlogs Lenten Posts

 

Don’t Eat Alone     

The Connection     

Pastor’s Post

Faith at Ease     

Holy Vignettes     

I-YOUniverse

Where the Wind     

As the Deer     

The Other Jesus

Mark Powell     

Getting There     

Ellen Haroutunian

Theolog     

Welcoming Spirit     

Living Word by Word

Where the Wind     

Faith in Community     

When Grace Happens

Theophiliacs J. Stambaugh     

Theophiliacs A. Hunt     

Everyday Liturgy       

Available Light     

Work in Progress     

Allan Bevere      

A Diner at the End of Time    

The Painted Prayerbook     

Just Words

The Church Geek     

Breaking Fast on the Beach     

The Pocket Mardis

Reflectionary     

One Hand Clapping     

Unorthodoxology

 

 

Note:  After this reflection there is a complete list of all Lenten posts by writers associated with CCBlogs. I invite you to visit their sites.

 

“[W]hen I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways…” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

 

“…until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 3:13-15).

 

“Your mother doesn’t live here. Clean up after yourself”—sign in the kitchen of the Presbyterian Student Center, Montevallo, AL, circa 1983.

 

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! My SUV is being obsessive in its attempt to protect me by insisting I put on my seat belt. It doesn’t know that I’m only going down the driveway and slightly around the corner with a load of cut timbers for pick up on the curb by the local recycling center.

 

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! Again, with the warning! This time my vehicle thinks I’m leaving my keys in the ignition. But actually, I’ve left the door open while I unload more wood. I know exactly where my keys are.

 

Beep-beep-beep! says the microwave as “food is ready” scrolls across the screen. If I don’t immediately get the plate out of the oven, it beeps at me again, once, and will keep on doing that very often until I retrieve our breakfast burritos or get my reheated half-cup of coffee. Enough with the beeping!

 

We’ve gotten used to machines saving us from ourselves, haven’t we? Besides the insistent beeping and dinging, there are power toothbrushes that signal every thirty seconds that it’s time to go to a different part of the mouth. Computers make any variety of sounds to alert us that it’s time for our appointment or that a message has come in. And, of course, who can forget the humble alarm clock?

 

Sometimes it’s nice to be protected, reminded, and coddled, whether by machines or other people. I generally am glad that my car lets me know when the lights are left on or my keys are in the ignition, especially when I’m in a hurry. And when my brain is full, I’m grateful for the reminder of a promise to do this or that or for someone else doing a task I don’t have the energy to undertake.

 

But I wonder if we haven’t gotten so used to being taken care of that we expect others also to take the blame for our stupidity, weakness, and wrongdoing. The businessperson whines about circumstances when a deal falls through, but he or she actually wasn’t organized or didn’t pay attention to details. A young adult makes a bad mistake, but tries to paint himself or herself as the victim of poor upbringing. You or I sin, but it was due to (fill in lame excuse here).

 

No, being an adult—whether physically, emotionally or spiritually—means making up our own minds about what we want and what’s important. It’s keeping up with our lives and fulfilling our obligations. Being an adult is also taking responsibility for our actions, owning up to mistakes, failures, and sins, then trying to make restitution as we can. It’s accepting the consequences, whether we lock our keys in the car or hurt someone’s feelings or make a drastic error that has long-term effects on the community or the nation. It’s putting away “childish ways” like dependence and lack of accountability. We police ourselves, by our conscience, without needing so many external warning bells or legal sanctions to keep us in line.

 

How wonderful it would be to live in such a world.

 

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

 CCBlogs Lenten Posts

 

Don’t Eat Alone      The Connection      Pastor’s Post

Faith at Ease      Holy Vignettes      I-YOUniverse

Where the Wind      As the Deer      The Other Jesus

Mark Powell      Getting There      Ellen Haroutunian

Theolog      Welcoming Spirit      Living Word by Word

Where the Wind      Faith in Community      When Grace Happens

Theophiliacs J. Stambaugh      Theophiliacs A. Hunt      Everyday Liturgy

Available Light      Work in Progress      Allan Bevere

A Diner at the End of Time      The Painted Prayerbook      Just Words

The Church Geek      Breaking Fast on the Beach      The Pocket Mardis

Reflectionary      One Hand Clapping      Unorthodoxology

 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth” (Matthew 23:27).

 

I’ve ended up on all sorts of catalog mailing lists. Most of the stuff I’m sent goes in the recycle bin, but one I really enjoy is called “Improvements.” Flipping through the latest issue the other day, I discovered a true must-have, and at a reasonable price, too! It was a counter-top scrap container (“Compost Crock”) featuring a filtered lid to keep everything from getting smelly and messy. For only $24.99, I could have one in white ceramic, and for just $15.00 more, my crock would grace my kitchen in shiny stainless steel. For a picture (and to confirm that I am not just pulling your leg), see http://www.improvementscatalog.com/product/compost-crocks.do.

 

Oh, come on! They can’t be serious! $40 for a can to put banana peels, rotten fruit, potato peels, and coffee grounds in until they’re ready to go out to the compost pile? We use a large recycled molded plastic coffee can with a snap lip and a handle and keep it under the sink. Before that, the container was an old ice cream bucket.

 

How many of us are much like that pricey crock? We look great (or try to) on the outside and put ourselves on display as if we’re “all that.” We do and buy things to gain prestige and to make our neighbors envious. But inside we’re as unappealing as those stinky scraps, as broken as eggshells, as rotten as the moldy grapefruit that stayed too long in the refrigerator bin.

 

There’s a classic Lenten prayer that says in part: “We are misled by pride, for we see ourselves pure when we are stained, and great when we are small.” The result of such an attitude, the prayer implies as it goes on, is that “we have failed in love, neglected justice, and ignored [God’s] truth.”

 

Those coffee grounds and squishy red peppers, from whatever kind of container we had them in, when turned/tumbled and cooked in the compost pile or barrel become rich soil in which plants and vegetables can take root and grow. In the same way, our sinful pride can by God’s grace be transformed. We can learn to see ourselves differently, as we really are: stinky sinners, yes, but also rich and fertile ground for the seed of God’s Word to take root and grow to his glory.

 

© 2009 Tom Cheatham