My wife and I moved into our new home a month or so ago, and its physical address is not yet on any of the navigation apps. So, when we have needed people to find us, unless they know the neighborhood, getting to our house is evidently impossible.
Like for many of you, spring is my favorite season of the year. I especially love the way that everything around me buds and blooms in a cascade of colors that not even Picasso could come close to matching. A good part of it, no doubt, is that spring just happens to be the season that comes after winter, which as we all know is almost always a dreary and dismal time. Even though we live far enough south for it not to get too brutally cold down here in Birmingham, we get just enough of the chilly stuff that we soon weary of it, which makes the springtime something we anticipate most anxiously.
Some years ago, I remember traveling from my hometown in West Alabama to get back to where I was living at the time. The route I took from York was US 80, which we chillingly referred to as “Blood Alley” because of the number of fatal accidents that had taken place on that stretch of road over the years.
As a “newbie” to smart technology, I continue to be amazed at the immense capabilities I have at my disposal with something as small as my smartphone. Not a week goes by that I don’t discover some new application that delivers on its promise to make my life go so much smoother and so much easier.
There are certain stories that I always seem to fall for. Regardless of how busy I may be, when I’m reading a magazine or surfing the Internet, there are just some stories I can’t pass up. Probably the ones that rank at the top of my lists are the “Best Places” stories. You know the ones I’m talking about – “Best places to live…work…study…retire.” Evidently, I’m not by myself, given how many of them get written.
Some time ago, back when TV was beginning to establish its place or prominence in American households, network executives came up with a format that came to be known as the “game show,” in which contestants would compete with one another for prizes and grand excursions and significant sums of money. It would arguably become a format that would turn out to be the staple of television broadcasting even to the present day.
Dr. Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, once made a speech in which he contended that many people today suffer from a malady he called “Destination Sickness.” Of course, you won’t find anything of the sort in any medical textbook. “Destination Sickness” is a disease of the soul – one that people contract when they focus all of their time and energy in the wrong direction; for example, in the pursuit of position and possessions as the most important concerns of everyday existence. Halverson describes such a person in this way: “He’s the man who’s become a whale of success downtown and a pathetic failure at home. He’s a big shot with the boys at the office and a big phony with the boys at home. He’s the status symbol to society and a fake in the family.” He concludes that “Destination Sickness is an illness peculiar to a culture that is affluent, but godless” (“A Day at a Time”).
What do you think of when you hear the word “average?” I think of a conversation I had years ago with a seminary friend and classmate. It was a stressful semester for me at that time. I was taking a heavy load and trying to balance my studies with my responsibilities at the small church I was serving. Like most of my friends, I was struggling, as were they, with the high expectations each of us had placed upon ourselves, but this one friend seemed to be remarkably at ease. Nothing seemed to bother him one bit, at least not anything related to our studies. When I asked him how he balanced everything that was going on in his life, his answer took me aback. He told me, “While the rest of you are grinding to get an ‘A’ in everything, I’m content with making a ‘C.’ I don’t expect to be anything other than an average student, and I’m OK with that.” Would you be OK with that? Would you be OK with being “average?”
Most of us struggle with picturing what our life will look like in the days ahead, do we not? That’s the conclusion of a Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, and two of his colleagues, who recently did a study that involved more than 19,000 people on this very common trait among us humans. Their research revealed that in fact people of all ages grossly underestimate the extent to which they will change in the future. They instead end up believing that who they are today is pretty much who they will be tomorrow, despite the fact that who they are today isn’t who they were yesterday (Science, January 2013). In other words, even though we know we have changed a lot over the years that have passed, we struggle to wrap our minds around how much change is to be expected when it comes to our future.
There is a quaint expression that I grew up with in rural Alabama. It was something I remember hearing people say when someone else did something nice for them. Instead of saying, “Thank you,” I remember hearing them say, “Much obliged.” When you think about it, that expression is more than a polite expression; it is also a deeply spiritual one. It means that I understand my obligation to the person that’s done something nice for me. I don’t take the act for granted. I don’t presume upon that person’s grace. I am “much obliged.”