April 2, 2017
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
I have not been lured into the world of electronic gaming. I also admit that my notion of gaming “machines” is a little antiquated. It was influenced by what was then the hottest thing on the market, the pinball machine. For those of you curious about this you can still find them in museums and on eBay. The pinball machine has been a powerful image for me as I think about life. Over the years I have come to appreciate how much of human life resembles that game. Let me paint a picture of what I mean.
In the fall of 1968 I was just old enough to buy a new car. Being a practical young man, I had determined that a new VW Bug would be just the right car for me. I wanted to be certain, so on the night I planned to make the purchase I looked at several American offerings that were close to the same class of car. I went to see the Plymouth Valiant, Ford Maverick, and the Chevy II. The Chevy lot was where things went wrong. As I drove into the lot, parked right in front of me was a brand new, bright yellow Camaro. I could not resist looking at it. It had all the bells and whistles available, plus more horsepower than I thought possible. This wise young man drove that supercar home later that night.
This was not my first nor last experience of falling victim to “bright and shiny” objects and a personal will that was weaker than their attraction. As the decades have passed I have watched in fascination as the number of those distractions and their power to redirect our lives have increased exponentially. Most of us can look back at purchases we have made and wondered why we had decided to make that “thing” a part of our lives. Our closets and garages are full of them. This being attracted to bright and shiny things that our better-self may recognize as a mistake is not limited to objects. We can make lists of the choices, decisions, actions we have taken that often remain puzzles to ourselves, and that we often later regret. Far too frequently these wrong turn decisions have been hurtful or worse to ourselves and to others.
It’s no wonder life can feel a little like we are living in a pinball machine whose flappers keep sending us off in wildly new directions that later seem to have been many shades of wrong.
During my ministry I have sat with many individuals who had come to recognize something of the “pinball machine” metaphor at work in their own lives. Usually, they came to me after they had tried the route of simply willing to live differently. Most often their will power carried only so far. Then something that was overwhelmingly distracting came along. Before they realized what had happened, their lives had fallen under the control of the newest “shiny” something. The net result was usually a complication they were not enjoying and would never willingly choose again. The question we explored together was how to get out of this self perpetuating dynamic
The answer is to fight the problem with its own power. It is a question of what we love. I would not have bought that supercar if my heart had belonged to the Beetle. What we are talking about is the choice to love what is right and best, or choosing what is less than that. Our lives are not the only lives that have their share of mistakes, regrets, and burdens we wish we have not taken upon ourselves. We come by this naturally, a family thing. It is shared by all the children of Adam and Eve.
How do we learn to love what is life giving more strongly than those things that draw life and its energy from us? We have probably learned by now that we can not teach this to ourselves. God knows we need outside help. In fact it seems the only way forward is for the ability to love rightly be given to us as a gift. This is why we pray for this gift on the fifth Sunday of Lent.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 219)