Beware

“[The scribes and the Pharisees] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew, 23:4

Last week I was in Florida, sitting along the shore of Lake Pierce, at the Future Farmers of America Leadership Training Center, an educational retreat center where I was leading a workshop for faculty members and administrators from Florida Southern College. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not humid, with a light breeze. I watched an egret on the shore and a great blue heron that was chasing the egret from place to place along what must be good fishing grounds. There were occasional splashing sounds in the reeds and water in front of the dock on which I was sitting. Those sounds made me a bit uneasy, thanks to the big sign warning about the alligator. By the time I heard the splashing and looked in its direction I couldn’t see any movement, not even ripples on the water’s surface. I wondered if the sign meant that there is one alligator to beware of and I doubted it. In this context I’m guessing that “alligator” is the plural as well as the singular, similar in an odd way to “moose.”

Beware of alligator sign

What were my “take-away” thoughts from this peaceful-although-occasionally-anxious setting?

  1. Danger is a part of life, whether we can see it or not. Depending on the kind of danger (an alligator) we can take preventive measures and be pretty confident that we will be safe. Other kinds of danger (illness, loss of income) can arise regardless of what we do or don’t do, and their unpredictability brings its own anxiety.
  2. Some people have more resources to deal with danger and its accompanying fear and anxiety than other people, depending on the form of the danger and the type of resource.

I should add here that I’m reading David K. Shipler’s book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, a very sobering account of Americans whose lives are different than my own. My parents remain married to each other (and celebrated their 63rd anniversary this year!), still are healthy, and both earned bachelor’s degrees before they had children. My dad had a steady job as a teacher and my mom was a full-time mom for my brother and me. We were well cared for and loved, got great educations, and were raised with a Christian faith that emphasized God’s love and minimized God’s judgment. I could believe in the American dream because that was my family’s experience.

Given what I’m reading, I have to acknowledge that for me to write about danger in life is like me writing about playing football – I’ve sat on the bleachers watching many games but have never played the game. So I’ll bring this essay to a close not by providing a happy, Pollyanna-type ending, but by being thankful for what I have been given in life (lots of advantages, including good health); praying for peace and justice in our country and our world; and committing to take action, in addition to prayer, for the same.

God, thank you for your loving grace, freely given and not earned. May all your children experience it every day. Give me humility and compassion, and the courage to work for justice for all. Amen.

Lake Pierce

Photo of Lake Pierce

Moving

Moving

“See, I am making all things new.” Rev. 21:5

I’m moving offices and although I’ve been in my current office only three and a half years I’ve accumulated lot of files, reports, and books. Between the sorting and packing the other day I took a break to talk to a colleague about a new project. Our conversation led us to the subject of organizational change. We speculated about how a bold new initiative can generate energy and enthusiastic action, then ever so slightly fade over the years as it becomes institutionalized. It gets seen as normal, as “the way we do things here;” new ideas and energy are directed elsewhere. People are curious and as much as we like patterns and routines we also like new things and we like to be creative, creating. Both for our minds and our bodies, we have to keep moving to stay lively, limber, and flexible.

I imagined a lobster trying to grow without shedding its shell. It would be squeezed, constricted, stifled, and unable to move because of the weight of all the new shells formed over the old. While it is disruptive to pack up my office and move to another building, it also is an opportunity to shed some baggage and possessions that are old and no longer useful. If I were to drag to the new office all my old files, books, and mementos, I too would be weighed down and unable to move, unable to grow or change or to do new things. That printout of the presentation I made in 2000? It was a good presentation but now it’s out of date, and the printout doesn’t make it any more current. The national norms from the 2001 survey? They probably are on the web by now, if I ever really need to see them. It is okay to give up old things (old habits, old ideas) so that there is room in my new office (new year, new life) to think and do new things.

What is it that’s holding you down, keeping you from being able to move? Is it possessions? Things you’ve signed up for or agreed to do? Attitudes? Things you think are supposed to be so? What new things could you be doing, what new friends could you be making, if you had some freedom to move, to breathe, to stretch and grow?

It doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t have to be done all at once. I started with one file, then another. Then one drawer, and a shelf. It felt great! It was liberating to let go so that I can move on.

Which will you be – the lobster with all its old shells, weighed down by their gradual accumulation? Or the lobster with a new shell, growing and changing?

Gracious God, thank you for the example of nature, ever growing and changing. Help me to resist the temptation to stay the same. Let me follow your lead toward newness of life. Amen.