July 12, 2014
“And they never thanked me. After all that time! Not once!” These refrains, heard from several folks, have been echoing in my head. After all, people were still hurting from being used and taken for granted. No wonder they complained. Certainly someone forgot the cultural mandate that we should often say, “Please,” “Thank you,” and, when necessary, “I’m sorry.”
But please, I’m sorry, can’t we just get over saying “thank you” all the time? Sure, say it when it’s in your heart, when you really mean it. Say it with gusto: “Gracias!” “Merci beaucoup!” “Donkeyshine!” Otherwise, think of the damage it does. Just imagine how offering up easy thanks may deepen the sense of entitlement some folks have, thinking they should hear thanks and praise for the slightest effort on their part. We risk stirring people up to coax and control, refusing to do a thing until they’ve heard a “thank you.”
Actually, even more profoundly, they probably should be thanking you. You gave them a chance to do some good, and you might even have taught them how to do it. They can add it to their resume or add a merit badge to their outfit. When they catch on, expect a thank you note.
Saying thanks all the time also requires that you pay attention and notice what people are doing, and that can undercut your effectiveness. The work you do is important and demands efficiency and focus. You really can’t afford to be distracted by peripheral stuff. The people you hire, and even volunteers, should be on board with your importance and the great good you’re doing. Despite what people might say, staying focused is not the same as being self-absorbed or oblivious. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether you say “thank you” enough.
Sure, people like it when you say thanks, even when you overdo it. They hardly ever complain, except for a few who are really trying to pry still another thanks or two out of you: “You don’t need to thank me. I didn’t do much.” “Oh, but yes you did! Thanks again.” That’s all touchy-feely stuff that we eventually have to leave behind. Feelings are over-rated. You can’t kowtow to them all the time.
If you think of other reasons we should get over saying “thank you,” please feel free to post them in a response. Thanks.
June 14, 2014
For years now I have been searching for and collecting pictures of Jesus that hint that he might have been joyful, that he might once have smiled. It’s not easy. Most images of Jesus, historically and now, portray him as dour, morose, burdened, or, at best, flat affect. They seldom show him as happy, warm, or friendly. In The Joyful Christ, Cal Samra reports that the oldest picture of a joyful Jesus he could find was one commissioned for the Ohio State Fair about 1950. Between Samra’s prompt and my search, I think I now know of about twenty images of a joyful Christ, still a miniscule number, even though I’ve no doubt missed some.
So when my talented young friend Chris Breithaupt wanted to barter for an ancient (and terrific) Olds Ambassador cornet, we agree that he might create a new picture of Jesus as genuinely happy. After all, it helps to see that the person who promised us joy might actually have experienced it. Because of an earlier picture Chris had created for a mutual friend, I knew he could do it. So Chris got a fine horn, but I got the best of the deal.
I love his new “Joyful Jesus.” Because I want lots of folks to enjoy and share it, we’ve worked to make that possible. We’ve made quality prints of this image in standard sizes and at modest cost. Prints come in 4×6, 5×7, 8×10, and 11×14 sizes so they can be easily matted and framed. Prices range from $4 – 15, plus shipping and handling. We’ll eventually distribute prints through Red Nose Fun Publishing, but for now, if you want to inquire, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
April 30, 2014
A Nissan Rogue ad flashes images of driving the car pell-mell through traffic, swerving recklessly, and jumping it onto and off of an elevated train. A short sentence low on the screen warns, “Fantasy, do not attempt.” Who needs to be warned? Apparently lots of folks, if you judge by how frequently such warnings show up in ads: “Professional driver on closed course.” “Demonstration only. Do not attempt.” “Do not try this at home.”
Use your imagination here. What shouldn’t you try at home? Stunt driving seems obvious enough. So do tricks in a Jackass movie or in shows about dumb things people do. Or anything you see on MythBusters. But what else? Sometimes I think you shouldn’t try things chefs do on cooking shows where they use razor sharp tools and open flames to create a feast out of odd ingredients like armadillo, wart hog, sacred mushrooms, and crested cockatoo. Some cake-making shows seem only slightly less dangerous. Or how about yoga, especially shows sponsored by chiropractors? I would also warn against using the Bible to predict when the world ends. This stunt is performed by professional interpreters in locked rooms. (There are reasons for the locked rooms.) What would you warn against trying at home?
But you might risk trying some other things at home. You could read Winnie-the-Pooh stories out loud to each other and let the laughter roll. You could sing Mr. Rogers’ “It’s You I Like” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-DsZMKYXzI). Where it’s needed, you might try forgiveness (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=MG_POR_20140404&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1388552400000&bicmet=1420088400000&_r=2). Or you might practice saying, at home, ordinary words of courtesy like “Please,” “Thank you,” or “I’m sorry.” Maybe it would be safe, even good.
So what do you think? What should be left to experts, risk-takers, and crazy folk? What should we try at home?
March 19, 2014
“Don’t be a jerk,” James Martin suggested as he explained how we could “Be kind” during Lent. He added “Always give people the benefit of the doubt” and “Honor the absent,” that is, stop talking (and joking) about people behind their backs.
I think I could be kind, mostly, for forty days. But what if it became a habit? Would I like it? Would I be boring? Would you like it? It’s worth taking a chance. Actually, I’m convinced that, not counting lousy jokes, we can habitually be both funny and kind and that it won’t bore people.
Martin’s “honor the absent” reminds me of one important way to be funny and kind: know your audience. Your audience, any time you speak or chat or joke, is bigger than you think. You have the audience you can see, whether an individual or a crowd. (You can actually see how big they are, but there’s a lot about them you still don’t know.) Then you have the audience you can’t see, the one at the next table or cubicle, or down the hall, or the one to whom you get quoted, live or on Twitter and Facebook. Whatever their size, it’s big.
We can’t choose “the absent,” the unseen audience. So to avoid being a jerk, the kindness habit makes sense. I suspect that some behind-the-back talk can be kind. You could brag on or say nice things about someone. You might even tell a funny story that the “absent” person would laugh along with, that would not feel like an attack or like being laughed at. These are brags and tales you could tell gladly and kindly with the missing person standing right beside you.
But more often, I’d guess, people say demeaning, even false things and laugh at the absent person’s expense. Attacks like that hurt both the target and those who talk and laugh. It sullies everyone who shares in the meanness. And it raises questions about the speaker. Even when they laugh, listeners must rightly think, “What will he say about me when I’m not around? Mental note: do not trust this person.”
Both our integrity and our unseen audience deserve the best we can give. The habit of kindness gives us a good start. You might try it for Lent.
February 26, 2014
Standing outside the small store at the edge of the coastal mountain, I suppose I chickened out. But when I saw the rugged man toss two twelve-packs of Bud into the pickup bed alongside his large chainsaws, I balked at asking about his bumper sticker: “Earth First – we’ll log the other planets later.” In the land where protecting spotted owls and clear-cut logging of forests compete, the conversation seemed risky at best.
I’ve already repented of some of the things I might have said. But I’ve been thinking of others, wiser I hope. And he might have listened. After all, one of the godliest men I know was a lumberjack, complete with tough denims, steel-toe, high-top boots, 60-inch bar chainsaws and all.
For one thing, I might have told him about the earth’s deep gladness at the rule of God. It started with the morning stars singing joyfully as God laid the foundations of the earth, surveyed its dimensions, laid its cornerstone, and set clear boundaries for the sea. (Job 38:4-11) Earth’s gladness continues as all of its creatures – cedars and cypresses, storks and rock badgers, lions and people, too – live richly satisfied with God’s generous provision. (Psalm 104) When God sends rains that turn wilderness to pasture and wrap hillsides with blossoms, that clothe meadows with sheep and carpet valleys with grain, “they all shout and sing for joy!” (Psalm 65:10-13, NLT) In Isaac Watts’ hymn “Joy to the World,” based on Psalm 98, we are invited to sing along “while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.” God rules in faithfulness and love. No wonder the psalmists call all creation to sing. No wonder earth is glad.
Another thing I might have said is that we can join in earth’s deep gladness as fellow creatures. We can admire and wonder at the creation that God delighted to call “good … very good,” with its lavishness, practicality and playfulness, with its diversity, its riot of color and design. We can celebrate our own creatureliness, for example, when we enjoy watching the families of birds – sandhill cranes, yellow-headed blackbirds, bald and golden eagles, cinnamon teals, curlews, and avocets. We can relax into and marvel at God’s power when we explore the shape of the world from broad plains to mountains tilted high by tectonic plates crashing together, from cinder cones that wanted to be volcanoes to fertile tidelands.
Part of joining gladly with other creatures is to remind ourselves that we are not God. We’re just critters. As critters we must, like all of creation, come to rest in God’s goodness and to depend on God’s provision. One of the main reasons for keeping Sabbath is to act as if God can and will care for us, that we don’t have to push 24/7 to be sure we’re okay. With similar impact, Jesus challenged his followers to answer whether they thought that God, who generously tends wildflowers and sparrows, would also care for them. If we can say yes, we can more easily join the rest of creation in living in joy and freedom.
Finally, I think I might have said that we can wonder at and live out faithfully the special place in creation that we humans have. After marveling at the night sky the psalmist wonders that God should either notice or care for people. Even more remarkably, he says, God has given humans authority to govern creation. (Psalm 8, Genesis 1:28) The creation story in Genesis 2, though, tempers the temptation to get uppity about all this. It recounts that earth had no plants yet because there were no people to work the soil. (Genesis 2:5) You need farmers first. The Hebrew word typically translated “till” or “cultivate” has the general meaning “to serve,” which points us in a helpful direction. It suggests serving the earth rather than serving ourselves. Collaborating in God’s rule invites us to share in God’s manner, to emulate God’s right ordering, tenderness, delight, and generosity.
Humans have not always ruled faithfully. The ancient taunt song against the grandiose, fallen king of Babylon describes how “finally the earth is at rest and quiet. Now it can sing again.” The cypresses and cedars of Lebanon, relentlessly over-harvested to build distant palaces, now sing to the king. “Since you have been cut down, no one will come now to cut us down!” (Isaiah 14:7-8, NLT) Of course, despite their song of liberation, today the creation still groans to be set free from the effects of human rule that is not like God’s.
In contrast, the vision of the Peaceable Kingdom which we love in Isaiah 11 and in the powerful images of artists Edward Hicks and Fritz Eichenberg, is only realized in the wake of a just and loving ruler, guided by God’s Spirit and delighting in God’s ways. So as creatures still dependent on God, we can seek God’s guidance to govern our fellow creatures wisely and humbly. Perhaps we can discover better ways to cultivate, grow, and harvest. Maybe we could use our creative powers to develop hardier, more fruitful plants. We could learn to live in ways to do less harm, that strengthen rather than weaken. We can applaud and join individuals and groups who are seeking practical ways of sustaining the creation. We can work hard to provide pure water and clean environments that give life and health to people and lands.
We ordinary people, as unlikely as it seems, have been invited by the Creator to share in God’s rule. In choices large and small, may we live in ways that share the world’s love for God and share God’s love for the world.
[This essay was originally published in Quaker Life magazine in 2008, but I just rediscovered it and wanted to share it with blog readers who would not have seen it.]