I was sixteen when I saw the movie “The Way We Were”. One scene has stayed with me for 50 years. Hubbell Gardiner’s college professor praises and reads his essay to the class. It was entitled “The All-American Smile.” Maybe the scene was the beginning of a life-long dream to have anyone appreciate my writing in school, church, or online.
The words that the screenwriter set in the late 1930’s are what have stayed with me for five decades. “In a way, he was like the country he lived in. Everything came too easily to him, but at least he knew it.” Sitting in the dark theater beside my date, I knew that everything came too easily to me. I couldn’t take credit for the “pre-natal brilliance” of choosing my family of origin. I couldn’t change my birthright. So that night I vowed to remain aware of it.
When I read memoirs sharing personal struggles about how to overcome this, or how to overcome that, I think that my memoir title would be: “How to Overcome an Easy Life.” I’ve sought ways to be aware of, grateful for, and responsive to what I’ve received in life. My ministry has given me the privilege of compassionately walking beside individuals through their suffering, finding meaning in the struggles I have, and seeking inclusion, liberty, and justice for all.
Today on the Web I discovered I’d remembered the quote verbatim, but I also learned the next line: “About once a month he worried that he was a fraud. But then most everyone he knew was more fraudulent.” Guess I should have kept paying attention that first night.
What have you received from others in your life? What struggles do you continue to face today? What has come too easily to you? How do you practice an awareness of gratitude?
I told my psychology professor what had happened and that I was never going back. He said, “If you don’t go back, you won’t complete the assignment; you will get a D. If you complete the assignment; you’ll probably earn an A or B. You choose.”
“But what if that guy’s still there? How can I face him?” I whined. My teacher replied, “I hope he is there. Then you can apologize for the buckle and ask him for another chance.”
I went. He was. I did. He invited me to sit and talk. He gave me another chance.
During the first 20 minutes of a 1000 worship services in my 20 years of living, I had been told I was forgiven. Sometimes I paid more attention than others. Here I was truly experiencing forgiveness in an unforgettable way.
That man became the first of many persons with alcohol use disorder whose story I’ve heard and whose path I’ve walked alongside. I have seen families, lives, and relationships ruined by severe problem drinking—some publicly, some privately. I have seen people find a way to live an abundant life one day at a time through the help of a community and a higher power.
As I grew older, I would learn that Jesus of Nazareth had a few things to say about hypocrites. Many people tell me they don’t come to church because it’s full of hypocrites. I’m quick to quip: “There’s always room for one more.”
That day, I became a happy hypocrite, because my clueless belt buckle led to forgiveness which led to trust. Today I join other happy hypocrites who share a vision of God’s Kingdom that we strive for and never complete. What we proclaim is always greater than what we accomplish. Somewhere between being a damned no-good do-gooder and fulfilling all God’s good will for the whole creation lies where you and I find ourselves along the path.
When have you been given a second chance? How have you been told you are forgiven by God? What’s your story of when you forgave another person? What is a hope, a vision, a dream you have that you can never fully fulfill?
In 1977 I learned many lessons about “alcoholism” in a psychology class at Emory University. I learned more about myself.
One assignment was to volunteer at an alcohol addiction treatment facility in Atlanta. My first visit was on a Saturday morning. I walked in and introduced myself to a man sitting at a table. “I’m a college volunteer today. Would you like to visit some?”
The man turned, looked me over, and barked back, “Go home kid. You’re just a damned no-good do-gooder and we don’t need you here.”
“Hey, man,” I thought, “I drove here to be helpful and caring. You should be grateful, not angry.” I had been nervous; now I was confused. I couldn’t speak.
The man stayed silent as he held out his finger and pointed at my gut. I looked down at my daily college attire – yellow Oxford shirt, brown corduroy pants, and a “Coors” beer belt buckle.
Coors was cool in the East, because it was only distributed in the West. As the song “Desperado” put it, “you only want the ones that you can’t get.” Coors was cool, but I wasn’t. I was just a “damned no-good do-gooder” at an addiction treatment facility sporting a beer belt. I ran out in disgrace.
My inner desire to care did not match my outer appearance; the hypocrisy spoke volumes. Since then, I have sought to become more than a damned no-good do-gooder. I have sought God’s help to open my blind eyes. I have tried to pay attention and see how others might see the world, and respond to my actions.
When have your actions spoken louder than your values? How have you been blind to how others see? What steps do you take to bring your interior values and exterior actions into alignment?