October 21, 2018
There is a moral intensity to Jesus’ suggestion that salt that loses it’s saltiness is worthless. He was originally talking about keeping your moral purpose in a time of great trial. That is important, but most of us are getting worn out at the moment by a low grade agita that threatens to diminish our meaning.
I was struck this week, flipping between Fox and MSNBC this week, when they have their late night political talk shows. I think it was Sean Hannity and Lawrence O’Donnell. I haven’t had much time this month to watch TV. And I was thinking how much both of these programs just gin up and enflame people’s righteous anger. Sean is outraged about something that liberals just don’t see like they have some kind of moral defect. Lawrence is outraged by something the Administration has done that Conservatives just won’t talk about because they are morally corrupt.
The other side is full of hypocrisy. They don’t get it. Can you believe it? What is wrong with these people?
When I was a child, none of these shows had been invented. Back then you had the choice between the very reasonable Walter Cronkite or the very reasonable Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. My kids grew up with the very reasonable choice between Robin McNeil and Jim Lehrer.
Today, the first shows in the morning start in partisan rancor and the last shows at night end with partisan rancor. We are ginning up our anger, our outrage. I sat there thinking of George Orwell’s Novel 1984. Every morning Big Brother would have the masses assemble in a great movie theater where they would depict the Enemy of the Day on the big screen, and people would engage in “two minutes of hate”.
Orwell said, “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes of Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”
It cultivated a really negative spiritual ethos. These people would then go to their jobs, where they would encounter the ordinary frustrations that we all encounter- bureaucratic compliance that we find more than annoying, legal blockades from people that just can’t get to ‘yes’, long lines or other inefficiencies because management is just pathetic.
At any given moment, they could turbo charge ordinary annoyance with this subterranean sea of emotion and blow up over seemingly nothing. The society he describes is full of people that are personally miserable, in fear, living out of their negative emotions, on edge, not fulfilled. And unable to fulfill the people around them that they would normally like to love. They are isolated, ruminating, vindictive, perpetually keeping score of the offenses they have endured, miserly with their compassion and affection.
I remember reading that book in college thinking, “Who would ever willingly put up with such a miserable way of being in the world?” And last week, I realized, we are letting the lowest common denominator lead in our wider world in our media.
I wonder how many of you are starting to feel miserable yourselves? We are cultivating a spiritually toxic ethos. Add to that your legitimate fears, anxieties, worries. Next thing you know, you are wondering to yourself whether much of anything you are doing is worth doing. You are flat, cynical, dyspeptic, hostile.
You need a spiritual antidote. You need spiritual disciplines to structure your life internally to access your Higher Self, to access your positive spiritual energy. Because this is not you. You are more. You are deeper.
Last week I had a wedding for our baby, my youngest daughter Annie. I have a deeper appreciation for families that throw weddings, now that I have thrown four. You are looking forward to this wonderful day, but for a year prior to that, you have to deal with finances and tastes with your in-laws that you don’t really know all that well.
They want Chartreuse table cloths on the tables? Where do you find chartreuse table cloths? You watch your own daughter morph into Bridezilla, “Daddy, what do you think about having the wedding in Machu Pichu?” (You mean like Peru, I was thinking Summit would be just fine). You have vendors that you contract with that go out of business. You have a thousand little items that come up, right up to the morning of the wedding, right up to 5 minutes before the wedding, actually during the wedding itself.
And you could let this thing take over your life if you don’t watch it, right up to the last payment as the florist drops off her bill. “How much are we paying for these flowers?”
But then there comes this moment, after the party is started, great food, good wine… Lights go down and we remember how the bride and groom grew up and eventually met each other. All of these images from the past, some of them you don’t even really remember anymore.
The beach, vacation, graduate school… My kids were so little. I was so young. My wife was so full of can do optimism. The crying and the fighting aren’t in this batch of photos. It looks like we got along pretty well. I’ve forgotten more than I remember about way back when but I remember being very happy when we were together.
What a blessing it was. I loved Kate. She loved me. We loved our children. What a wonderful family we were. And now, all of those little kids are grown and they all have their own families. And time is moving on.
The seasons are changing. It is getting colder. I’m looking around the room and the older generation is almost all gone now. The generations are rolling over. I’m just about the oldest person in the room.
And suddenly I’m filled with this deep sadness about the beauty of our lives together. I’m watching all this change and for a moment, I just wish I could hold onto time for a moment. I just wish I could capture this because our lives are fleeting.
But we can’t hold onto time. We can’t go back. But this is what is really real in our life. This is what is the most meaningful part of why we live, what we look back on, what makes it worth getting up every morning and starting again.
We are taking a moment, with family and friends, to stop and ‘Savor’. Spiritually, this is what puts the saltiness in the salt of our lives. Spiritually, this is what gives our lives that zest. It is not the stuff in our lives. All that is leased. You can watch it come and go with the styles of each passing decade.
It is our people, the people that we were privileged to live our lives with, the people we were privileged to learn how to love, the people that helped us to grow up, who stayed with us during our mistakes and helped prune us so that we might be worth being around.
In a moment, we are just deeply, emotionally grateful. We are grateful to have been born, grateful to be alive. Maybe we achieved a lot in this life, maybe not. But as Louis Armstrong sang, “What a Wonderful World”.
Gratitude is our soul pointing us towards what is important.
In the endearing movie “Jerry McGuire”, Jerry has his big moment. He closes his biggest deal after a lot of frustration and heartache. His phone rings. He answers it with abandoned excitement. But it is not his wife, it is the wife of the football player that he represents, who can’t wait to connect with her husband.
He has that instant where he realizes that he has no people. He hasn’t cultivated his people. He missed the spiritual point of his own life. And he starts running, running, running all the way to the airport, all the way home from LA to New York because he finally gets it about what is important in his life. He finally remembers who is important.
Are you walking around in your life, filled up with cynicism and a low grade anger that bubbles up to the surface of your life all too easily? Are you slowly losing your zest. I hope for you the chance to zoom out. I hope you can see your life in its perspective and remember who it is that is important, who it is that makes your life go.
I hope that you can ‘Savor’ spiritually. Find what you are grateful for. Call it to mind. Name it. Remember who you are grateful for.