We had for years a great little toaster oven that finally gave up the ghost a few months back. We bought a new appliance, but, while just fine for small baking jobs or browning cheese toast, it fell down in the toasting department. That task involved turning a dial past 10 minutes, then back to your preferred toast darkness mark; setting the oven temp at 450; and making sure a switch was set on “bake/toast” rather than "”broil.” Even after all these steps, and putting the dial where we thought we wanted it for perfect toast, the bread or bagel always came out either too light or too dark. And worst of all, it took forever to make toast, since the coils did not heat up immediately as in a conventional toaster.

We finally gave up on toasting in the thing and bought a traditional toaster. Wow! Simple. Fast. It does one thing and does it well. No menus or steps or confusing settings.

I like simple. Life is too complicated to have to fool with applicances that give you fits. I guess that’s why I don’t have a smart phone. (I saw a “For Dummies” book about the iPhone 4S in someone’s home Wednesday that was as thick as one of my Bible commentaries!)

There’s an old saw we all know called “Occam’s Razor.” It’s stated a number of ways, but the version I know is “All other things being equal, the simplest solution to a problem (or the simplest answer to a question) is likely the right one.”

In these days when faith is clouded by arguments on hot button issues, debates about standards, and on and on, I like to think that Jesus would have liked Occam’s Razor. And he would also have liked toasters. Both for their simplicity. After all, did he not sum up the gospel like this: “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”?

What would happen if all the preachers, politicians, and pundits today remembered and practiced that simple summons?

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

On Highway 82 just outside of Albany, GA, near a landscaping firm, there is on a hill a single tree done up completely in white lights. Simple, bright, elegant.

Just up the road is another business, a car dealership, featuring a used car in gaudy livery, with Santa waving from the driver’s seat, with colored lights and the traditional mash-up of accoutrements of Christmas. Vulgar, overdone, in your face.

I thought as I drove past these displays last Friday evening that they represented two approaches to this season. One is quiet, contemplative, focused, restful. The other is rushed, full of unnecessary drama, stress, and worry. And it further seemed to me that the way people approach Christmas is the same way they live their everyday lives. Some seek to do one thing well and without shouting and self-promotion. They are the single tree standing bright against the night. Others are constantly rushing and spending and running, and to what end? Only their own exhaustion and brokenness. They are the gaudy, too-much Santa car.

“Purity of heart,” said the philosopher, “is to will one thing.” And Jesus, the baby of Bethlehem grown up, taught us what that is: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

A single star shone at Christmas, pointing the way. Maybe God was reminding us that life doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

One of our favorite restaurants is a place in Mentone, AL called The Wildflower Cafe (http://www.mentonewildflower.com/index.html). They feature fresh ingredients and a creative gourmet menu. On the evening we visited, we enjoyed the salmon Wellington and a dinner special, the “Greeked” mahi-mahi.

Although the food was good, the overall experience was marred by the brash and loud young man sitting at the table just across from and behind us, at my left. He was with a date and was obviously—and did I mention LOUDLY?—trying to impress her with his knowledge of various subjects, his achievements at work, the people he knew, blah, blah, blah. He had not learned to use his “inside voice,” and his mama and daddy had apparently not taught him courtesy and manners in a public setting. Or it they had, the lesson hadn’t stuck.

But what can we expect in this disconnected day, when people walk around or drive with their cell phones stuck to their ears or are routinely rude and discourteous, whether driving, walking, dining or simply living? Like the woman who at the polling place completely ignored the sign on the door that said “No cell phones allowed.” What happened? She kept her cell on, and when phone rang, she didn’t immediately shut it off. She had to be scolded by the poll worker before she took action!

We are so unaware of our surroundings and the people—our neighbors—who populate them. We don’t pay attention. I think it’s because we have become so thoroughly self-absorbed, intent on getting our own way, asserting our privilege. But such behavior should come as no surprise in a society where selfish and greedy corporate executives make ridiculous salaries and pull down outrageous bonuses, where government officials care not about helping the American people find jobs but rather about getting elected and keeping their own jobs, where we have had drilled into us that the pronoun “I” is more important by an order of magnitude than “we.”

But the fundamental teaching of Jesus still stands. Drawing on the ancient Hebrew tradition, he said: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

What would our land be like if we were to connect with God and with each other in such a way?

© 2011 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.