Thursday, April 5, 2012

The all consuming desire for knowledge

Yes, all consuming. Voracious readers of newspapers. Avid History Channel watchers. Genealogy devotees. Knowledge is the apex of human endeavour, or so we are led to believe.
Yet, what is knowledge's use if it isn't wedded to action. How many people pride themselves on their knowledge of US policy and politics but the use of that knowledge takes them no further than voting for a democrat, a republican, or some other flavor.

I have read a month of Daily Lenten Devotionals from my home church and only 1 or 2 actually had a call for any action. All the rest were content to merely grasp the meaning of the day's scripture reading. Some of them were content without even grasping the meaning.

But Lent is a call to make habits. To put into practice that which was previously dormant.

Beware. All around us are invitations to inaction. To "care" without doing anything.
Have a concern? Go to Facebook or Twitter. Tell your "friends". Your duty is done.
See an injustice? Wait for voting day.

But Lent invites us to stop waiting. Start stripping away the unnecessary and start building the habits that incline us to action. How you say? I have an anecdote.

Many years ago I lived in NYC. As you can imagine, I came into regular contact with panhandlers, the homeless, the truly disturbed. I rarely gave change to panhandlers assuming I would be feeding an addiction. But one day it struck me that when I got to the end of my life I'd rather be known as a generous person than a prudent person. So I resolved to give change to everyone that asked. I always carried some change in my pocket and a couple of $1 bills so I'd be ready. Initially, I was hit and miss. Sometimes I'd be ready to hand over some change with a  smile, other times I'd fall into my habit and walk right by and say no. But when I did walk by I'd catch myself, turn around and walk back to provide some change.  I was surprised by how hard it was to decide to turn around and go back. It felt like admitting I was wrong. And the longer it took me  to overcome that feeling the longer the walk back was. I am not ashamed to say some times I walked back 2 or 3 blocks. But I built a habit of giving when asked. And over the next 5-6 months I was a regular giver.

This episode in my life culminated in a wintertide encounter in front of the Ansonia. It was a cold winter's night. And I had finished a voice lesson and was just starting my walk uptown to my apartment. As always, there was a throng of people smartly dressed going about their business. That part of town has a lot of nice stores and restaurants. The very wide sidewalks were very crowded. And right in the middle of the side walk in front of one of the finest buildings in NYC was a homeless man laying there looking up at all the passersby pleading for help. Yes, literally hundreds of the well-to-do were passing him by, studiously ignoring him. But not me. Months of building a habit made it easy for me to respond. He had a thin jacket and blanket and no gloves. He was obviously cold. I pulled the gloves off of my hands and gave them to him. He looked at me with deep gratitude and said "God bless you" in that voice that you only hear from the truly needy and desperate. I responded in kind and continued my journey home.

I'm convinced that God was preparing me all those months for just that moment. To meet the one small need that man needed right then. I've never looked into a stranger's eyes and been more sure I was looking at Jesus than that moment.

Habits. I can guarantee you that everyone that walked past that man was in favor of a better social safety net. But until you put your heart into action it is worthless to the man laying in the street in front of you.

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