Today is Ash Wednesday, the day which marks the beginning of Lent for many in the Christian tradition. Thereafter, for 40-plus days, many will observe a period of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting from things ranging from certain types of food and television to shopping and social media. The fasting portion of Lent is what most people focus on and what people abstain from usually depends on what it is they believe is hindering their relationship with God. Most aren’t afraid to share what they will abstain from for Lent, but Lenten waters are sometimes muddied by that sharing. It is as if Lent is the new black and it is fashionable to rattle off the list of things you are giving up in order to gain the esteem of your colleagues–Christian or not. Some critics of this approach have compared it to a “benchmark for righteousness.” Stories have been published ad nauseum about the so-called “Lent trap” and I’ve noticed that, increasingly, my social media news feed is filling up with people throwing symbolic punches by way of status updates aimed at those who decide to share what it is they are fasting from. Yet no one is free from the Lent trap, not the person who makes a list and shouts it twice or the person who chin checks the person who makes the list. In both cases, the people are being boastful either about what they are giving up or the fact that they have reached a pious peak that is above stooping to the perceived valleys of talking about what they will give up.
All of this conversation must be muted for the sake of upholding the sanctity and penitent nature of this upcoming season. A season where we are all faced with the same reminder, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return”(Genesis 3:19). And we are all told, “Repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Whether you are one who proudly proclaims what you have given up for Lent or one who proclaims how Lent should be done in light of your revelation about the vanity of proclaiming what you will give up, the Ash Wednesday lectionary text teaches us all a lesson about the performance of piety.
Matthew 6:1-4 says,
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Here Jesus is contrasting the piety of the hypocrites to the piety rewarded by the Father in heaven. This piety is inward and requires the individual to do pious acts in private, which was not something the Pharisees were doing at the time. On the topic of almsgiving, Jesus warned his followers that they weren’t to alert the masses to giving alms by way of trumpet blowing, they were to give their alms in secret and their heavenly Father, who sees in secret, will reward them. In the same way, we are called to such a quietness in service so as not to draw attention to ourselves but to draw attention to God. This scripture also introduces us to two phrases that will repeat two more times throughout Ash Wednesday’s text, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” And “…your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus continues by talking about prayer. Of this he says,
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6, NRSV).
Again Jesus warns of doing pious acts in the public eye and reminds followers that their Father “who is in secret and sees in secret will reward” them. In the case of prayer, followers are not to stand in the public places where they can be seen nor should they “heap up empty phrases as Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” Instead he tells them to pray the prayer that we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer. In this way there is no room for bloviating, only God-oriented thanksgiving and petition. This concern about prayer turns the act from outward posturing to inward connection.
Matthew 6:16-18, is the linchpin of the Lenten season, in it Jesus says,
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18, NRSV).
At once this scripture appears to contradict the spirit of the Lenten season. It seems to go against remembering mortality, humility, and penitence in exchange for putting on a happy face. But it isn’t a contradiction. Actually, the text focuses on three of the several disciplines of Lent; almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In this particular text, Jesus is encouraging followers to let none be the wiser when they are fasting. By telling his followers not to look dismal or disfigure their faces he is telling them not to draw attention to themselves. They are supposed to keep the same countenance as if they weren’t fasting and let the act be about what is going on inside of them, not what they display on the outside. We too can learn from this teaching during this season, the lesson being that what we choose to fast from or how we choose to observe Lent in general is not something we proclaim to the masses lest we miss the point.
In Psalm 51, David gives us further direction about our posture during this season when he says, “You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” Again we are faced with the secret nature of our search for God which is connected to our inward being and caring for our inward selves. Our participation in Lent is for our relationship with God “the Father who is in secret and who sees in secret.” What we choose to do is between God and us and need not be shared. Granted, we can find accountability when we share what we are abstaining from with a close circle of friends, but what we choose to do in this season is really no one’s business but our own and God’s.
By keeping our lists secret or keeping our judgement secret from those who announce their lists we open ourselves all the more to what God wants to do in our lives during this season. In doing this we open ourselves to God’s reward and that is the point of it all.
Do you participate in Lent? What does this period of reflection and sacrifice mean to you? Share your thoughts below.
Violence dramatically affects the people directly involved — but it doesn’t stop there: The repercussions, especially of gun violence, ripple out across entire communities.
People become frightened, stressed and less engaged in neighborhood life. Their physical and mental health suffer. Those who are financially better off move away, and housing prices decline, setting in motion a downward community spiral — one that engenders still more violence.
“Violence is not just these little isolated instances of one individual doing a bad thing to another person,” says Michelle Kondo, a social scientist at the US Forest Service Northern Research Station in Philadelphia. “Crimes happen in a context, and environments can contribute to those acts of violence.
Kondo is one of a growing number of sociologists, epidemiologists and public health researchers who are focusing on neighborhoods as the most effective context in which to study violence and devise innovative interventions. They say that how communities are arranged — and the subtle cues people encounter as they move about in them — affects the way they live and interact with others. This makes a place either vibrant and welcoming or the opposite.
“Some places are more violent than others,” says Robert Sampson, a social scientist at Harvard University who studies crime and urban inequality. This, he adds, “suggests that the locus of intervention should be the neighborhood. That’s not to say that individuals are not important — it does say that you can get a lot more crime-reduction effect from a more population-based approach.”
Neighborhood-level interventions may not only cut down violence and crime but benefit communities in other ways, too. “These small — what we call ‘treatments,’ because of a public health perspective — have big effects on neighborhood life,” says Bernadette Hohl, an epidemiologist at Rutgers University. She says that residents are quick to realize that the interventions also improve community well-being, social interactions and civility between neighbors. They improve the health of people who live in such communities, replacing chronic fear and poor coping responses such as drug use with reduced stress and risk of mental illness.
The most promising interventions to emerge so far from this public health approach are improved housing and blight remediation. Spreading out public housing — replacing high-rises with dispersed, scattered-site buildings — has been shown to effectively reduce violent crime. Improving, or “treating,” abandoned buildings and vacant lots can also reduce rates of violence and improve public health, at relatively low cost and with little political resistance.
Building safer, healthier neighborhoods
Disintegrating buildings with boarded-up doors and smashed windows alongside plots full of weeds and trash are much more common than one might think. About 15 percent of the land in US cities is considered vacant or abandoned — a swath that adds up to roughly the size of Switzerland.
Kondo and her colleagues have focused their research on blight remediation in the abandoned buildings and vacant lots of Philadelphia, which has more than 3,000 deserted properties. In research they published in 2018, they reported that residents living near “treated” vacant lots, where trash and debris had been removed and people planted grass and trees, felt the neighborhoods had markedly improved, according to interviews with 445 randomly selected people in the area.
Police reports also showed as much as a 29 percent reduction in gun violence, which, if scaled up to the whole city, would translate to 350 fewer shootings each year. Interviewees’ perceptions of crime and safety concerns when going outside the home were reduced by 37 percent and 58 percent, respectively. A follow-up study published this year surveyed 342 Philadelphians living near such vacant lots and found that their feelings of depression and poor mental health dropped by about half.
Charles Branas, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, collaborated with Kondo on the Philadelphia research on remediating dilapidated buildings and vacant urban land. To explain their results, he invokes a kind of “broken windows theory”: Neglected and vandalized spaces start to multiply because people are fearful and are less apt to maintain the upkeep of an area if it’s surrounded by places that haven’t been kept up. And that allows serious crime to move in.
“But we find that if you go in and clean those places, if you fix the buildings even in a very basic way, and if you green abandoned land, people begin to become invested in that space and they don’t want it to return to the way it was,” Branas says.
The nature of public housing also plays a significant role. More incidences of violence tend to occur in places with concentrated public housing such as tower blocks. But when Chicago demolished 161 old high-rise public housing units in the 1990s, for example, the numbers of gunshots fired, and homicide rates, dropped by 5 percent to 8.5 percent across the city and outweighed small rises in crime in the areas where former tower-block residents moved to.
Another team of researchers studied Denver over the same period, as the city built 38 dispersed public housing units. Residents in those neighborhoods saw no increase in crime rates, and the study authors suggest that the new structures may have led to lower crime rates in some nearby areas.
The promise of holistic, customizable interventions
Of course, widespread violence is a massive, complex problem, and multipronged solutions would likely work best. Poverty, poor nutrition, guns and environmental contamination — such as high levels of lead exposure — can all play major roles in both public health and levels of chronic violence, and they all should be addressed, these researchers say.
But grasping some of these obvious, large nettles can be very difficult. It’s hard to change the economic system, it’s controversial to enact stronger gun control laws and it’s expensive to rebuild large-scale infrastructure.
That is why proponents of altering neighborhood environments say this approach is so promising: It provides some quick wins. Early reports already have implications for city planners and policy-makers seeking simple, cost-effective interventions to reduce violence, which currently costs the US tens of billions of dollars in work loss and medical bills every year.
Social scientists continue to seek out treatments that could make a dent in crime that hits poor communities the hardest. These might include reducing alcohol availability, opening new neighborhood schools and improving public transit, although findings from studies have been mixed. The gold standard approach toward such studies are randomized controlled trials — like what’s done when testing drug treatments for an ailment, but on a citywide scale. The Philadelphia studies were structured that way (only certain neighborhoods were targeted for treatment) but many other, earlier interventions were not.
Cities may find that reshaping their built environment is a relatively easy, uncontroversial way to tackle the complex problem of violence and improve public health at the same time, Branas says.
“Political opposition to this is nil. The gun lobby’s not opposed to this at all, so this is largely an apolitical treatment for gun violence in our cities,” he says. “Impoverished neighborhoods in cities are desperately in need of inexpensive treatments like this.”
Women have been elected heads of national governments on six continents. They have flown into space, served in elite combat units and won every category of Nobel Prize. The global #MeToo movement, in 15 months, has toppled a multitude of powerful men linked to sexual misconduct.
Yet in most of the world’s major religions, women remain relegated to a second-tier status. Women in several faiths are still barred from ordination. Some are banned from praying alongside men and forbidden from stepping foot in some houses of worship altogether. Their attire, from headwear down to the length of their skirts in church, is often restricted.
But women around the world in recent months have been finding new ways to chip away at centuries of male-dominated traditions and barriers, with many of them emboldened by the surge of social media activism that’s spread globally in the #MeToo era.
Millions of women in India this month formed a human wall nearly 400 miles long in support of women who defied conservative Hindu leaders and entered an important temple that has long been off-limits to women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50.
In Israel, where Orthodox Judaism has long restricted women’s roles, one Jerusalem congregation has allowed women to lead Friday evening prayers. Roman Catholic bishops, under pressure from women’s-rights activists, concluded a recent Vatican meeting by declaring that women, as an urgent “duty of justice,” should have a greater role in church decision-making.
Many feminist scholars are challenging the rightfulness of long-standing patriarchal traditions in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, calling into question time-honored translations of verses in the Bible, Torah and Quran that have been used to justify a male-dominated hierarchy.
Social media is seen as a big catalyst in boosting activism and forging solidarity among women of faith who seek more equality. The #MeToo movement has been evoked — even in the ranks of conservative U.S. denominations — as a reason why women should expect more respectful treatment from male clergy, and a greater share of leadership roles.
“Women are looking for opportunities to have their voices heard and be more effective in their religious traditions,” said Gina Messina, a religion professor at Ursuline College in Ohio who describes herself as both a feminist and a Catholic theologian. “Using social media is an opportunity to say what they think.”
She co-founded a blog called Feminism and Religion that has scores of contributors around the world and followers in more than 180 countries. She also co-edited a collection of essays by Christian, Jewish and Muslim women explaining why they haven’t abandoned their patriarchal-leaning faiths.
“The perception seems to be that it is a feminist act only to leave such a religion. We contend that it is also a feminist act to stay,” the three editors write in their foreword.
Here’s a brief look at the status of gender equality in several of the world’s religions:
Catholic doctrine mandates an all-male priesthood, on the grounds that Jesus’ apostles were men.
A decades-long campaign for women’s ordination has made little headway and some advocates of that change have been excommunicated. Women do play major roles in Catholic education, health care and parish administration
While the recent meeting of bishops at the Vatican produced a call to expand women’s presence in church affairs, no details were proposed. The seven nuns who participated along with 267 male clergy were not allowed to vote on the final document.
Earlier this year, a Vatican magazine published an expose detailing how nuns are often treated like indentured servants by cardinals and bishops, for whom they cook and clean with little recompense.
At the University of Dayton, a Catholic school in Ohio, religion professor Sandra Yocum says some of the young women she teaches “are having a hard time seeing where they fit in” as they assess the church’s doctrine on gender roles and its pervasive clergy sex-abuse scandals.
“They have a deep concern for the church,” she said. “They want to respond in some way and take a leadership role.”
Messina sometimes engages in “small acts of dissent” to show displeasure with patriarchal Catholic traditions. At the recent funeral for her grandmother, she changed a Bible reading to make the passage gender-neutral.
“We have to continue to push — regardless of whether it’s in our generation or five generations from now.”
Rose Dyar, a senior at the University of Dayton, says she’s determined to team with other young Catholics to help the church overcome its challenges. The ban on female priests isn’t enough to drive her from Catholicism, but it dismays her.
“I absolutely support women’s ordination,” she said. “Unfortunately I don’t foresee it happening anytime soon, and that breaks my heart.”
Some of the most important traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad were preserved and carried forth by the women closest to him— his wives and daughters. But as with many other major faiths, women in Islamic tradition have largely been relegated to supporting roles throughout recent history.
Women in Islam do not lead prayer or give traditional Friday sermons. In larger mosques where women are welcome, they are almost always segregated from men in the back or allocated spaces on other floors with separate entrances and exits.
In Saudi Arabia, a male-dominated interpretation of Islam bars women from traveling or obtaining a passport without the consent of a male guardian. Only this year did the kingdom allowed women to drive.
Changes are happening elsewhere. In Tunisia, President Beji Caid Essebsi has proposed giving women equal inheritance rights with men — a much-debated topic around the Muslim world. In the Palestinian territories, Kholoud al-Faqih became the first female Shariah court judge in 2009, in part to help women beset by domestic violence.
Some women are challenging interpretations that state only men must attend traditional Friday prayers. A few have chosen to create their own prayer spaces, like the Women’s Mosque of America in California where women lead the services and female scholars share their knowledge.
The bylaws for that mosque were drafted by Atiya Aftab, who teaches Islamic Law at Rutgers University and is chair of the board at her mosque — a first for a woman in New Jersey. She says moves in the U.S. to expand women’s roles in the Islamic community have sometimes been met with conservative backlash, but the momentum for change seems strong.
In Texas, Muslim women recently formed a group that has investigated and publicized instances of sexual, physical and spiritual abuse committed against women by Muslim community leaders.
The gender situation within Judaism is markedly different in Israel and the United States, which together account for more than 80 percent of the world’s Jewish population.
The largest U.S. branches, Reform and Conservative, allow women to be rabbis, while the Orthodox branch does not. In Israel, the Conservative and Reform movements are small, and Orthodox authorities hold a near monopoly on all matters regarding Judaism.
One major source of contention: the Orthodox-enforced policy of prohibiting women from praying alongside men at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can pray. Numerous women protesting the policy have been arrested, and several American Jewish groups were angered last year when Israel’s government backtracked on plans to expand a space where both men and women could pray.
However, there have been moves to expand Orthodox women’s roles in religious life. A Jerusalem congregation, Shira Hadasha, has adopted a liberal interpretation of Jewish religious law that incorporates women’s involvement in services, such as leading Friday evening prayers and reciting from the Torah on the Sabbath.
An Orthodox organization called Tzohar is trying to advance women in roles where social custom, not religious law, has excluded them — such as teaching Jewish law or certifying restaurants’ compliance with kosher standards.
“If Jewish law does not say that something is prohibited, but just because of social or cultural reasons women were not involved, we see no reason that they should not be involved, said Tzohar’s chairman, Rabbi David Stav.
Women in the Mormon church are barred from being priests, leading local congregations or holding the top leadership posts in a faith that counts 16 million members worldwide.
The highest-ranking women in the church oversee three organizations that run programs for women and girls. These councils sit below several layers of leadership groups reserved for men.
The role of women in the conservative religion, officially named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been a subject of debate for many years, with some members pushing for more equality and increased visibility for women.
The church has made some changes in recent years; women’s groups say they mark small progress. In 2013, a woman for the first time led the opening prayer at the faith’s semiannual general conference in Salt Lake City. Later that year, a conference session previously limited to men was broadcast live for all to watch.
Mormon women are still expected to wear skirts or dresses to worship services and inside temples, but the religion has loosened its rules in recent years to allow women who work at church headquarters to wear pantsuits or dress slacks and to let women serving proselytizing missions to wear dress slacks.
The church shows no signs of budging on women’s ordination. Kate Kelly, the founder of a group called Ordain Women that led protests outside church conferences, was expelled from the faith in 2014.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Lorie Winder Stromberg, 66, a member of Ordain Women’s executive board. “I think women’s ordination is inevitable — but I have no sense of the timing.”
HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM
The gender-equality situation in these two Asian-based faiths is difficult to summarize briefly. Neither has a single supreme entity that enforces doctrine, and each has multiple branches with different philosophies and practices.
In Buddhism, women’s status varies from country to country. In Thailand, a Buddhist stronghold, women can become nuns — often acting as glorified temple housekeepers — but only in 2003 won the right to serve as the saffron-robed full equivalents of male monks, and still, represent just a tiny fraction of the country’s clergy.
India’s Sabarimala temple had long banned women and girls of menstruating age from entering the centuries-old house of worship. Some Hindus consider menstruating women to be impure.
The Supreme Court in September lifted the ban, and violent protests broke out after women entered the temple. Earlier this month, women formed a human chain spanning than 600 kilometers (375 miles) to support gender equality.
“The Hindu temples at present have almost 99 percent, male priests,” said women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari, director of New Delhi-based Center for Social Research. “Things have to improve.”
While many Protestant denominations now ordain women, the largest in the U.S. — the Southern Baptist Convention — is among those that don’t. It advocates that women submit to male leadership in their church and to a husband’s leadership at home.
Southern Baptist leaders say this doctrine aligns with New Testament teaching. One passage they cite quotes the apostle Paul as writing, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”
A recent statement from SBC leadership insisted that Southern Baptists “are not anti-woman.”
“However, because Scripture speaks specifically to the role of pastor, churches are under a moral imperative to be guided by that teaching, rather than the shifting opinions of human cultures.”
Cheryl Summers, a former Southern Baptist who has challenged the church to improve its treatment of women, describes this gender doctrine as “tortured logic” — especially given the accomplishments of SBC women in the secular world.
“There’s tremendous cognitive dissonance for a woman of faith who is leading professionally or through volunteer efforts when she experiences the glass ceiling and walls in her place of worship,” Summers said via email.
For the past year, the SBC has been roiled by a series of sexual misconduct cases involving churches and seminaries, prompting some activist women to demand new anti-abuse policies.
____ Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.
Willie Perkins. Zachariah Graham. Cornelius Robinson and Will Thompson.
Names are the only heirlooms still left from the four, who were all lynched at various times in Alabama’s history, and they are four of the thousands of people lynched nationwide who Lynda Tredway hopes to memorialize with her quilting project.
Since she began in 2013, Tredway has completed 24 quilts for nine states, including Alabama, and she estimates she has 41 quilts and three years left to completion.
Sewn into the front of each quilt is that state’s official tree or flower. Each leaf represents one of the names scrawled on the back.
There are scores of pine needles representing the hundreds lynched in Alabama, and it took three quilts to record them all.
“I’m a history teacher but not a historian, so I’d say I’m not trying to be as accurate as the Tolnay and Beck lynching database is,” Tredway said, referring to work done by Stewart Tolnay and E.M. Beck documenting lynchings. “The number isn’t as important to me as representing that, at one point, someone thought it was OK to commit an act of terror against another human being.”
As a history instructor who first began teaching in predominantly minority schools in Washington, D.C., in 1969, Tredway said it became “imperative” to become familiar with African-American history.
Her passion for telling the stories of lynching victims first blossomed as she studied the anti-lynching campaigns of Ida B. Wells Barnett. Tredway’s foray into quilting as a medium for “redemptive art” was inspired by the photography of Ken Gonzales-Day, who photoshopped lynching victims out of pictures to show mobs staring thirstily at naked trees.
“That said to me, ‘Why aren’t you representing this in what you do? You’re a fabric artist and quiltmaker. What would it be like to take on this large project to represent the people who were lynched in America?'” Tredway said.
So far, Tredway has completed Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. Next is Virginia, and its difficult-to-stitch dogwood.
The white mother of a black daughter, Tredway said the project is a personal, spiritual practice.
She says aloud the name of each lynching victim before writing it on the back of the quilt. In so many cases, Tredway may be the first person in decades to utter these names. She preserves them in the hope she won’t be the last.
“I feel like a memory keeper. . . . It feels like a personal legacy piece to me,” Tredway said.
This past April, Tredway’s journey led her to Montgomery where the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative unveiled the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the nation’s first memorial to more than 4,000 known black lynching victims, and the Legacy Museum, which traces the history of slavery through lynching to present day mass incarceration.
At the time, Tredway called it a “holy experience.” She recognized so many of the names.
The visit also solidified the purpose of Tredway’s mission. She marveled at EJI’s steel pillars emblazoned with the names of those killed for the color of their skin under the guise of justice. Here was a horrible truth that, through art, allowed people more time to spend with it and understand it.
“The thing people say to me the most (about the quilts) is, ‘How can something this beautiful be about something so horrible?’ The second thing is, ‘I can look at this longer than a lynching photo and take in the history,'” Tredway said.
Quilting has long been a traditional medium for African-American art. In Gee’s Bend, Alabama — a long-segregated, river-bound peninsula inhabited mostly by descendants of slaves — quilting remains an honored tradition passed on through the generations.
Tredway visited Gee’s Bend and spoke with those quiltmakers. It was just another reminder that her project is larger than 65 quilts.
“It does feel like I’m doing this for more than me, like I’m doing this for a larger understanding. The honor really goes to the people who had to endure this horror,” Tredway said. “If I can represent that in any way that commemorates them and honors the incredible sacrifices they have made, then I feel like I might have contributed a small part to us reconciling.”
The alarm goes off. Your eyelids crack open as your brain starts to register the piercing foreign and unwelcome sound chosen out of a list of stock options that came with the device. In that moment, you choose. You can attempt to acknowledge that another day has indeed started or you can prolong this inevitability with one of modern history’s greatest inventions: the snooze button.
Just like all other inevitabilities, it is time to face the fact that another day has come, and with it, your routine. A lot of times, you can pretty much predict or foresee what the day is going to look like. If you have a 9-to-5, you know that you need to get up to make sure you’re out the door in enough time to beat traffic and make it to work on time.
Then you work all day, come home, eat something, unwind, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Before you know it, you’re caught in this cycle and your life has become the one word childhood dreams and imaginations dread: mundane.
The Drum Major Instinct
As Christians, we believe fundamentally that we are all created for a God-given purpose. We believe that there is a reason we are on this earth, that our lives mean something. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 2:10 reinforce this belief. We serve a great (i.e. massive, full of grandeur) God and He made us so surely we are meant to be great, right?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to this feeling of being meant for something greater in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” He states, “We will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first… It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.”
It is a natural inclination to want to be significant.
When we consider purpose, we must consider that which we were commanded. We’ve all heard them before: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Then, Jesus’ last instructions before He ascended to Heaven were, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
This is our purpose.
Love God, love people, make disciples. In everything we do, we can point back to these three things. It’s vague and specific at the same time. How can we do these things when we are just normal people?
A word on Purpose from the late Dr. Myles Monroe
Most people will never know Lyle Gash. He was a boy with Downs Syndrome in a rural town in the foothills of North Carolina.
When he was born, his mother and father were told he would not make it through the night. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t make it through the week. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t see a year. And so on, and so forth for his 24 years of life.
Lyle survived multiple open heart surgeries, kidney failure, and various other health complications. He finally went home to heaven at 24.
One might ask, “What was the point of his life? He struggled for 24 years then died. Where’s the purpose?”
Well, one year, Lyle’s mother had an idea. Watching her baby boy suffer in pain, she wanted to do something to make him feel at least a little better.
She noticed whenever he received “get well soon” cards his mood was significantly better. She wrote a simple Facebook appeal to all who would read it: “Let’s collect 10,000 cards for Lyle.”
It seemed like an insurmountable feat. However, once word got out, cards came zooming in from all over the world. Lyle even got a special card from President Barak Obama and his family. All of a sudden, the story of a boy with Downs Syndrome in small-town North Carolina was impacting the lives of thousands of people that he never would’ve dreamed of meeting.
Lyle’s story serves as a very important lesson: as long as there is breath in your body, you have purpose. It’s up to us to seek out that purpose in our everyday lives.
It’s up to us to never lose our wonder. Whether we realize it or not, in our seemingly mundane lives, we have the opportunity to dream, to encourage others, to delight in creation, and to take advantage of every second of every day.
We can search out beauty and joy. We can take pause and acknowledge the miracle of every breath we take in. We can help others. Life becomes so much more meaningful when it becomes about more than just you. Don’t let the mundane steal your purpose.