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privilege has its consequences

In high school I walked the halls freely. I was a good student; everyone knew that. Student government president, valedictorian-to-be. Hall passes were required to walk the halls, but I didn’t need one. Everyone knew I was doing school business or a teacher’s business. No one would stop me. I was above reproach. Until…

Until one day a teacher — a shop teacher or a vocational skills teacher, one I barely knew — stopped me and asked for my hall pass. I was incensed. How dare he? I would never be skipping class. I was on my own recognizance. Free this period and had important work to do. And I didn’t have a hall pass.

I was incensed. to be asked. to follow the rules. everyone else had to follow. for the safety of our school.

This teacher was not deterred. Everyone in the halls needed a pass, no matter who they were or where they were going, no matter what business they were doing. He sent me back to get a pass and I complied. Grudgingly. Angrily. Seething against the wrong just committed against me. I was above reproach and he should know that. I was entitled to special privileges because of my good behavior, because of the trust I had earned, because of the reliability I had demonstrated.

No I wasn’t.

Today I read that some members of Congress are refusing to walk through magnetometers (metal detectors) upon entering the House Chamber. Something I must submit to upon entering secure buildings, museums, houses of worship, national shrines, and government buildings all over the world. To walk those hallowed halls I need a hall pass. Some members of Congress don’t think they need one. They have never been asked; now we’re asking and they’re crying foul. I am beyond reproach! Going about the nation’s business! Have important work to do! You have no right to stop me!

They are incensed. to be asked. to follow the rules. everyone else has to follow. for the safety of our democracy.

A small price to pay, really. But a hard lesson to learn. I’m feeling particularly grateful today for that teacher who taught it to me when I was young. It’s so much harder to learn when we’re older and there’s so much more at stake.

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14:11

Putting Practice into Play is Easier and Harder than We Think

2012-07-15_14-37-05_775I was told “Practice makes perfect,” so my defiant younger self quipped, “Practice makes perfect, but no one’s perfect, so why practice?” That was a) to hide my fear of being imperfect, b) to distract people from seeing all the practicing I was doing and c) to excuse myself in case that practice didn’t work. (and maybe d) to discourage my competition from practicing too much)

Later I was told, “Practice makes permanent,” so my capable young adult self thought, “Watch what you practice because you’ll be stuck with it.” That set me on course to a) get things right, b) do them a lot and c) not enter any contests until I was good and ready.

Lately I have been learning that “Practice makes patterned.” The more we do something, the more likely we are to do it again the same way. Now to those of us in the sports skills business, that’s a no-brainer. Muscle memory has been gospel for forever, as far as I know. Brain science is now showing us how that happens: electrical signaling sensitizes the pathways encouraging it to happen again the same way.

So, since practice doesn’t make you perfect, nor does it strand you in permanent but instead creates patterns, then if we could just practice perfectly, we would be all set. Put us on autopilot and off we’d go to perfection. But that’s not the way it goes. My practice doesn’t achieve perfect. In fact often it makes me more aware of my imperfections and my inability to conquer them.

Here’s where Lent comes in: Lent is the season to practice denial. Not just giving up sweets or cutting down on Starbucks beverages, but actually denying myself something for the good of another. Giving up something good, in honor of something better. Leaving a space where I had been crammed full.

And here’s what I learned. It’s not the denial that matters, it’s practicing the denial. Actually telling myself, “No, you may not do that. No, you may not say that. You may not even think that, about yourself or others. You may have gotten used to that, but it’s a bad habit. Quit it!” It seems that I had gotten out of practice of denying what didn’t belong.

Though practicing denial, like practicing other skills, makes it neither perfect nor permanent, it does help us create a pattern. And patterns, well designed and well worn, are there when we need them. They’re worth the practice. In fact they may be the reason to practice, so that when the pressure is on, the opponents are jeering, and everything is on the line, we can swing freely and send that beautifully arching nine iron shot sailing straight toward the pin. Because we have denied our need to perform, our desire to perfect and our demand for admiration.

Hoping and imagining it won’t achieve it, and even practicing it perfectly won’t guarantee it, but we have to perform when it counts. That happens best when we deny ourselves and let ‘er rip. A good reason to practice. A good reason to discipline our practice. A good reason to practice the discipline of denial.

What we practice, we pattern. And ultimately, that’s what we put into play.

This is the day to have a good day

IMG_0033Have a Good Day. Such a hackneyed phrase we use upon parting, offered limply to someone we don’t know well. Why title your book this way?

Apparently because Dr. Rilling knew he had something to say in the sermon he chose for the first chapter, its namesake (with added exclamation!). But truth be told, it’s probably also why it took me so long to take this book off the shelf and open it up. Ah, so many Bibles out there, sitting on bookshelves waiting to be opened up. But then…

The chapter begins with a story featuring Eugenia, a character sketched by William Law, some two hundred years before Grandpa wrote (and preached). “Like most of us,” Law wrote, “Eugenia has a picture of herself not as she is, but as she is some day going to be.”

Someday Eugenia intends to be mistress of a considerable household where she will live in strict devotion, raise her children in practice of piety, and spend her time living in a very different manner from the rest of the world.

But, Law points out, though Eugenia may intend all this with sincerity, she is not yet head of a family, and perhaps never may be. But the person nearest her now, she leaves behind as she goes about her ‘faithful living.’ She doesn’t teach, invite or even get to know well, the woman in her service. Eugenia is not availing herself of the opportunity she has now to live in the manner she proposes, so how real are Eugenia’s intentions?

How like Eugenia we are, laments Dr. Rilling. How we intend to live differently when the conditions are more favorable, when that big deal comes through, when the economy improves, and if my circumstances permit it. And we all would be so much nicer people if the people we have to live with weren’t so difficult.

“We shall do nothing of the sort!” Dr. Rilling contends, preaching from First Peter.

He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile; let him turn away from evil and do right; let him seek peace and pursue it.” ~ I Peter 3:10-11.

“The time to do right is now. This is the day that the Lord has made. Every day is a little life; and our whole life is but a day repeated.”

From the distance of years this comes clear, it seems to me, especially to those who have done some misspending. I smile remembering the early morning sessions I worked in the cardiac rehab lab. There I met dozens of balding and grey-haired wonders who, recovering from surgery or a cardiac event or living in the face of severe cardiac disease, sought to turn back time. They changed their diets, adjusted their stressors and disciplined themselves to regular exercise. They were dedicated to making each day count.

I so wished my twenty- and thirty-year-old friends, who were stressed and sedentary in their days and practicing risky behaviors on the rebound could see my cardiac rehabbing friends.

These elders had started smoking because it was cool, well before we knew it caused cancer. They had three martini lunches because it made for more productive business meetings, before we knew it would send many into alcoholism and health compromise. They had fortified their Type A behavior, before we knew that stress had physical consequences. Now, these guys were doing all they could to turn back the clock, while the younger generation paid them no mind. They spent their days as they pleased, come what may.

Today, I think of a dear friend who has recently been diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. She has lead an exemplary life as wife, mother and grandmother. She has taken care of her health and cared for the health of others. She doesn’t deserve what has befallen her, and yet she endures.

And, remarkably, that endurance is a daily occurrence she is shaping into an all out sprint. Thanksgiving, gobble up every minute! Grand kids are over, hug ’em tight and saturate them with full-tilt fun! Sons and daughters-in-law visit, speak what can’t wait!

On visiting her, I am greeted at the front door by a hand-colored sign in green and red crayola: Merry Christmas! And so it is. Each day, completely full of itself. Exclamation point!

It is odd how our preponderance of days can make us spendthrifts and our limit of days can make us conscientious. Indeed from the vantage point of what-really-matters, my friend distances herself from what sucks the life out of the rest of us as she completely embraces the life that is truly life. Day, by everlasting day.

“He that would love life and see good days — this is the day,” Dr. Rilling concludes. “Yesterday is but a dream, tomorrow is only a vision, but today well-lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore to this day.

And have a good day today!”

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