Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, August 24, 2017


I am reluctant to use the title above, because your first response is likely to be that it is about police and EMTs and firefighters. Since it is about their opposites, your second response is to be mad at me for “pulling a fast one” on you. That’s okay, but please hear me out.

I was having lunch with my friend. I’ll call him Jerry. I had just gotten the news that the bishop was appointing me as Directing Minister in a large and prestigious church. I wanted to tell somebody in person, but that was forbidden, because the appointment had not yet been announced either in the congregation I was presently serving or the one to which I was going. I really wanted to tell someone, though, and I knew Jerry would keep his mouth shut.

In a restaurant’s back booth in the city where he was an associate pastor, over slightly droopy Italian beef sandwiches, I whispered to him my good news. His face fell. He put his sandwich down on his plate with two hands. “Why doesn’t anything good ever happen to me?” he asked the sandwich, in a voice not unlike Eeyore’s.   

He was a good friend. Still is. He’s still a person I would go to first with good news, were we still geographically close. I trust him. But his life had been difficult for several years. His first response was not to think that something good was happening for his friend, but that good things did not happen for him. When he finally did recognize that he was there with me and not just his sorry sandwich, he was genuinely happy for me. But it took a while.

That’s true with most of us most of the time. Our first response to anything is how it affects me, what it means to me, not to the person to whom it is actually happening. That’s why we laugh so hard at Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory” on TV. His constant me-first first response is out there for all to see, and we recognize it. It’s funny because, unlike Sheldon, the rest of us pretend we aren’t like that.

I learned from that lunch with Jerry. I recognized something universal. It allowed me to make a step forward in understanding that it’s not all about me, that if it is happening to someone else, my first response needs to be not how I feel about it, or how it affects me, but how she feels about it, how it affects her.

That’s called maturity. As a group, a nation, a world, it’s called civilization. It’s possible to grow, from being totally self-centered to being only partially self-centered.

So many folks these days say that since it is natural—a part of our nature—to be selfishly self-centered, to respond first to and for ourselves, that is the way of the world and there is nothing that can be done about it so be yourself and let the most ruthless win as we go about our first responding, because if you don’t get yours first… and on and on…

They are right. It is natural. It is what Christians call “original sin.” Original because it is from the beginning of our lives. Christians also talk about redemption and salvation, that we can grow and mature beyond original sin into creatures who, although it may take a while, can do like the real first responders, the police and fire firefighters and EMTs, and go first to those who are in need to care for them.

Sure, we are never going to outgrow self-centeredness entirely. But a family or church or nation or world where our first response is to be kind and sensitive to one another part of the time is much better than one where our first response is never kind and sensitive to others. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.


I tweet as yooper1721.

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