Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pointless: 18th Sunday OT 2016

“All is vanity.” So says Qoheleth… the narrator of our first reading who is traditionally identified as King Solomon himself, the wisest man on earth. Which makes the words all the more shocking. It sounds so bleak, so dismal. “It’s all in vain.” Wait… is that right? Do you agree?

The answer might be ‘sometimes.’ I think most people can relate to this kind of attitude. Chances are you’ve had moments and moods in which it all just seemed pointless. All the things that people run around trying to acquire and achieve, it’s just dust and shadows. Qoheleth puts it like this: “For so it is that a man who has labored wisely, skillfully and successfully must leave what is his own to someone who has not toiled for it at all. This, too, is vanity and great injustice; for what does he gain for all the toil and strain that he has undergone under the sun? What of all his laborious days, his cares of office, his restless nights? This, too, is vanity.” You know this mood. You’ve felt it before. There are times… maybe a brief moment, maybe a large part of your life, there are times when things really do feel pointless.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Praying Right: 17OT 2016

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Right? Excellence needs no argument or reason; it speaks for itself. It’s true that excellence can become an idol, a false god… but that’s true of all good things. If you’re going to spend some portion of your one precious life doing something, for heaven’s sake do it as well as you can. If you’re wise you know it matters little how your best compares to anybody else, but it matters much whether your effort is your best.

The Scoutmaster held up my whittling project; I’d asked if it was enough to finish the woodcarving merit badge. It was a little building, a tower: I meant it to look like a skyscraper, roughly carved out of some 2x2 pine. He looked it over and then looked me in the eye and asked, “Steven, is this your best, is this as good as you could make it?” I said it was. He said, “then you’re done.” I learned some interesting things about whittling, but I learned a lot more from the seriousness and earnestness with which he asked that question. I don’t think about that moment often, really, but I think in some ways that question has never left me. “Is this your best?” If it is, then you’re done.