Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Don't Forget the Message

It was my night to cook supper, so I headed for Church's Fried Chicken. There is something about that name that gives me a warm spiritual feeling. As I went out the door, Hilda said, "Don't forget to get coleslaw". I stood in line at the counter and when I began to recite my order I could not remember the word "coleslaw". I knew what it was but I could not remember the word for it. The people behind me were getting restless and the lady taking my order was waiting impatiently. I finally asked, "What is the side order made of shredded cabbage?" She smiled and said "coleslaw". "Yes" I said "Give me one small order". She put her pencil down, looked at me, and said, "You are the preacher who writes the column in the newspaper, aren't you?" It wasn't so much what she said as it was the tone of her voice and the look of amused disbelief on her face when she said it. Hmmmmm.

Several years ago the Saturday Review carried a striking cartoon during the time of the annual Marathon Race in Boston. The race, of course, takes its name from the famous long-distance run of Pheidippides after the Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.. He ran 25 miles to carry the news of the victory to Athens. The cartoon shows a runner with a torch reaching a group of people eagerly awaiting him. Someone asks, "What is the message", and he looks at them and gasps, "I have forgotten".

We live in a world with so many exhausting distractions that it is easy to forget who we are and why we are here. There is so much unhappiness and brokenness in the lives and relationships of people who lose sight of the main goal and purpose of life. We may be like the modern cowboy in Texas who got up out on the range each morning and cooked his breakfast on a Coleman stove. One morning, like any good cowboy, he made his coffee first, then the stove ran out of gas before he could cook his bacon. So, he struck a match and lit the thin dry grass and followed it with his skillet of bacon. When his bacon was done he was a half-mile from his coffee. It is easy to become distracted and wander to far from the most important thing.

Because earning a certain amount of money is fundamentally necessary we sometimes forget that this is not the chief goal and purpose in life. We get a certain satisfaction from our vocation, but work and money are not proper end goals for a meaningful life. There is a great sense of emptiness in the lives of people who have no vision of life beyond work and money. No amount of money can compensate for weak or broken relationships with family and friends. No amount of work can take the place of contemplating who we are, where we are going and how we fit into the larger scheme of things. Making a connection between what we do and why we do it is essential. When this connection is lost or forgotten, we miss the meaning and message of life.

In his delightful book of stories and parables titled "The Song of the Bird", Father Anthony de Mello tells the thought-provoking story of "The Guru's Cat".

Many years ago a Guru lived and taught in his Ashram. When the Guru sat to worship each evening, the Ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship. After the Guru died, his disciples continued the practice of tying up the cat during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the Ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship. Centuries later learned treatises were written by the Guru's scholarly disciples on the liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.

When we lose the vital connection between what we do and why we are doing it, the essential element of meaning is lost.

So what are you working for? What is the meaning of your life?