If you are not ___________ (fill in the blank) you are not paying attention.
All that stuff out there is all those things.
At least to me.
And, all that stuff out there matters.
And makes a difference.
And demands our attention even if and when we are all of the above.
But today, I also offer this reminder.
Somewhere someone provided food for someone who was hungry.
Somewhere someone went the extra mile to help a stranger.
Somewhere someone called on someone who was sick.
Somewhere someone spent the day helping to make a home safer.
Somewhere someone stopped what they were doing to listen.
Somewhere someone looked another person in the eye.
Somewhere someone said Thank you and meant it.
Somewhere someone promised to love another.
Somewhere someone rocked a baby who was crying.
Somewhere someone read a book to a child.
Somewhere someone took a step towards their dream.
Somewhere someone got back up off the ground.
Somewhere someone spoke up for what is right.
Somewhere someone stood up for what is right.
Somewhere someone broke their silence.
Somewhere someone overcame their fear.
Maybe it was you.
And that matters.
And makes a difference.
And world of difference.
This past Saturday I had the privilege of being recognized and offering remarks at a fund raising dinner for Neighbors Link, a non-profit with whom I had worked for many years. Here is what I said….
As I thought about this evening…
In the genre of practice what you preach, this quote by Marian Wright Edelman, the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar and the founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund. Words which, for me, serve as a reminder and a guide and a challenge. She writes:
I was taught that the world had a lot of problems; that I could struggle and change things; that intellectual and material gifts brought the privilege and responsibility of sharing with others less fortunate; and that service is the rent each of us pays for living – the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time or after you have reached your personal goals.
We are all here tonight to support the mission and the work of Neighbors Link in a world and in our communities which certainly have their fair share of problems. And, as I look around the room, I am certain we share an abundance of intellectual and material gifts. And there is privilege. And, I am sure, all of us understand what responsibility looks like and feels like.
Then we get to the service part which does entail putting our money where our mouth is and where are hearts are which is a part of the purpose and goal of tonight.
But service also involves…
And speaking out.
And stepping forward.
And joining hands.
And building partnership.
And practicing solidarity.
I don’t know about you, but for me, when those moments arise…
To stand up.
To speak out.
To step forward
To join hands
My first reaction is often to say…
Not this time.
Not my turn.
I am too busy.
I have already done my fair share.
What if it doesn’t work out.
What if I can’t do it.
What if someone gets angry.
Which, if the data is correct and I believe it is, is more risky and scarier today then it was 6 or 8 years ago.
Which is why, when I saw this in a small shop in Colorado, I bought it and brought it home and put it on a shelf across from my desk where I would see it every day. Here it is. I know you can’t see it, but this is what it says.
The opportunity for greater courage comes in the most ordinary moments.
Like the one you have right now.
Or the one sometime tomorrow.
But, if not tonight or tomorrow, then most certainly the day after that.
My head wonders why it is so hard, but my experience tells me it is.
Especially in these days in which we find ourselves.
Why is it so hard and why does it take courage to treat others with respect?
Why does it take courage to be compassionate and caring?
Why does it take courage to be understanding and generous?
Why does it take courage to look at another person and see a neighbor instead of a stranger?
Why does it take courage to stand up to or to speak out against that which we know to be wrong or unjust or hurtful or just plain mean?
The opportunity for greater courage comes at the most ordinary of moments.
So besides our Thank You what I would like to say to you tonight is this.
It is not easy to be courageous.
But be courageous anyway.
From Saturday, February 17 – Saturday, February 24, I was in Nicaragua with a group of 45 other people. We lived and worked in two different communities and helped to build homes for four families. This morning, several of us shared our reflections about the trip. Here is what I wrote.
In addition to the cement and the cement blocks.
And the sand and the gravel.
And the outhouses and the bucket showers.
Each evening we gathered for a reflection or program.
Dinner with the masons and their families.
Program with the scholarship students.
A conversation within our community groups about how we were doing and what we were experiencing and learning.
Towards the end of our week in Las Conchitas something was said which caused me to remember an experience I had in 2001. That year was the first time a group from Bedford Presbyterian lived and worked in Las Conchitas. We built a church that year. And in the neighboring community of Pilas Orientales we built two homes.
One day after work and before dinner, I walked through the community of Las Conchitas with Mark Rollins who was one of the adults on the trip and also on the Session/Governing Board of the church. He held the position Dave Keeffe holds today. As we walked down the pathways off the main street and between the houses he shared with me that several people had approached him asking why we were spending time and money doing trips like this. He said one of the people had said to him,
“Who does Alcorn think he is? Is he just a do-gooder?” My immediate response was, “What am I supposed to be? A do-badder.”
As I shared that story with our group I ended by encouraging them to look around and to see what was there and who was there and what was needed. And, to do good.
I would say the same thing to you.
Youth and adults from BPC have been going on trips with Bridges to Community since 1996. Each year at least one of the trip participants (and often more than one) says to me at the end of the trip, “This week has changed my life.” I understand what they mean. My experiences building homes and churches and community centers in Nicaragua and living with and working with the Nicaraguan people has changed my life as well. I see the world differently today than before my first trip. I see my life differently today since our trip a couple weeks ago. While I learn something new about myself each year, there is one constant. And that is I am humbled by the gratitude and grace and openness of the families with whom we work to build a home. And, I come home doing my best to figure out how to nurture that same depth of gratitude and grace and openness in my own life. Right here. Right now.
And, if you are interested, here is a video about our trip.
While the world around me feels crazy, today I am thankful for the really good people in my life.
Ordinary, everyday people.
And their simple acts of kindness.
Who give of their time to make a difference.
Who give of their resources to help another.
Doing what they can.
Well, it’s just the right thing to do.
Intellectually, I know for every act of hate or violence there are hundreds of acts of goodness and kindness that go unreported and too often unnoticed, but today I needed something more than an intellectual understanding. I needed to know it in a different way. I needed to see it face to face.
So, to those who said to me today…
It is the least I could do.
How can I help?
Will this make a difference?
Because of you I will take a deep breath and find a way to take the next step.
This reflection was written for the morning on which we celebrated graduating high school seniors.
Knowing you are now graduating from high school and ready for more rigorous academic pursuits, I thought I would take a moment this morning and introduce you or reintroduce you to Theodor Geisel, one of the most well known philosophers of the 20th century. And, drawing from his extensive literary work remind you of what I think is important as you take this next step in your life.
Do you recognize his name?
Maybe this will help.
[Put on the Cat in the Hat hat.]
So, here goes…
From The Sneetches
But McBean was quite wrong. I am happy to say
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars
And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.
From Horton Hears A Who
Through the high jungle tree tops, the news quickly spread:
“He talks to a dust speck! He’s out of his head!
Just look at him walk with that speck on that flower!”
And Horton walked, worrying, almost an hour.
“Should I put this speck down?…” Horton thought with alarm.|
“If I do, these small persons may come to great harm.
I can’t put it down. And I won’t. After all
A person’s a person. No matter how small.”
From Horton Hatches the Egg
So Horton kept sitting there, day after day.
And soon it was Autumn. The leaves blew away.
And then came the Winter…the snow and the sleet!
And icicles hung
From his truck and his feet.
But Horton kept sitting and said with a sneeze,
“I stay on this egg and I won’t let it freeze.
I meant what I said
And I said what I meant…
An elephant’s faithful
One hundred per cent!”
From Happy Birthday to You
Today you are you! That is truer than true!
There is no one alive who is you-er than you!
Shout loud, “I am lucky to be what I am!
Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of gooseberry jam!
I am what I am! That’s a great thing to be!
Here is what I mean and what I hope you remember because I think it is important. And not just because I say so or Dr. Seuss says so, but the Bible and the wisdom of our tradition also reminds me it is so.
First this…from The Sneetches.
You are made in the image of God which means there is something of the Holy and the Ultimate wrapped up in your very human, very ordinary, very extraordinary life.
And, not just you, I am made in the image of God.
And, not just you and me, your best friend is made in the image of God.
And, even more important and challenging than that, the person you like the least;
Or who seems the most different;
Or who looks and acts the most different
Is also made in the image of God.
All of us, whether or not I or they or you have a star upon thars, share a common humanity tinged with the holy. Don’t forget.
And, learn from Horton. Listen carefully for those small voices.
So much and so many scream, sometimes literally scream, for your attention, but it is the small voices which need to be heard. The small voice within you reminding you of who you are and of what really matters and and what is really important and what the right thing to do is when all the other voices are urging you to do or to be something different. The Bible reminds us God often speaks in that still, small voice within us. So, listen for that whisper of God amidst the clamor and shouting of the world. And, listen for the small voice of the other. Those who are not big enough or strong enough or in the right position to have others to hear them or to notice them or to pay attention to them or to take them seriously. They are the ones whom God names as our neighbors and someone needs to listen carefully enough in order to hear what they have to say. Maybe that someone is you.
Stand by your word.
Stand up for what is right.
Speak up against that and those which demean and belittle and dismiss others.
Remember who you are and who you are called to be.
Even when…especially when… others find that peculiar.
In those moments, be faithful.
To yourself. To others. To God.
Mean what you say and say what you mean.
If not, one hundred per cent, as least as close to that as you can come.
And, be you.
There is no one alive who is you-er than you!
God needs you to be you.
I need you to be you.
The world needs you to be you.
With your own unique set of gifts and abilities and passion and calling.
You are who you are. That is a great thing to be.
Oh…And one more thing.
From The Lorax
And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
Was a small pile of rocks, with the one word…
Whatever that means, well, I just couldn’t guess.
That was long, long ago.
But each day since that day
I’ve sat here and worried
And worried away.
Through the years, while my buildings
Have fallen apart,
I’ve worried about it
With all of my heart.
“But now,” says the Once-ler,
“Now that you’re here,
The word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
Cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better.
Tonight I will have the privilege of being at Scholarship Night at our local high school. I will be there to award scholarships to five graduating high school seniors who have excelled academically, and who have the credentials and dream of going to college, but whose families lack the financial resources to send them. The scholarships they receive will make college possible for them.
Somewhere along the way – nurture, nature, faith or some combination of all three and maybe more – I have come to believe that each of us has the responsibility to do what we can to make our world better. However large or small you define world. Which brought to mind this story.
Each winter our congregation sends a group of high school students and adults to Nicaragua to help with the building of homes for families. Parents and youth expect the trip to take place and plan calendars and household expenses around it. But, that was not always the case. Years ago, when these trips were relatively new for us, a handful of people approached the lay leadership of the church asking why I was doing this. I was aware that some in the congregation were cautious about these trips, but I didn’t know they had become vocal. One of the leaders of the congregation to whom they spoke was on the trip with me. One evening, as we walked through the pathways of the rural village in which we were living and working, he recounted to me what had been said to him and the question/comment they had made. “Why does he have to be a do-gooder?” they asked.
Reflecting on their question then and again today, I wonder what the other option is. A do-badder?