Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Leave Everything

This is my February column for "ChurchActs" the newspaper of the Diocese of WNY

I heard an interesting story on the radio the other day. Airline flight attendants are trained for any possible kind of problem. For instance they're trained for the event of an “emergency landing”. Right down to the short, precise instructions they are to use to help people exit the plane. Recently they've had to add a new instruction to the training, “Leave Everything”. Seems that they've had a rash of folks who have stopped and tried to retrieve their stuff before they exited the aircraft. Now remember this is during an EMERGENCY. We're talking the plane has a serious problem and these folks are trying to pull things out of the overhead bins. The real problem of course is that they're likely to get themselves killed and kill everyone in the aisle behind them too. Crazy.
It struck me as I listened to the story that some of the hardest sayings of Jesus carry this same basic message. When the rich young man is told to give everything to the poor, when someone is told to let the dead bury the dead, or to leave their mother and father behind Jesus is telling us quite simply to “Leave Everything”. Like most of us those sayings trouble me. Am I supposed to leave my (mumble)-something year old mom? Abandon my wife and daughter? Walk away from my job? Leave my responsibilities? Just chuck it all, cross my arms on my chest and jump out the door onto the inflatable exit slide of salvation? Somehow that just doesn't feel right. Then I looked at my list above of stuff to leave and a thought occurred.
Let's start by defining “stuff” as broadly as possible. It includes all the material things but also all the relationships and responsibilities in your life. It's all your “stuff”. The thought occurred that maybe it's not so much “stuff” that's the problem but the “my” that comes before it. My stuff. My job. My mom. The folks on the airplane get into trouble because “their” stuff is more important to them than the folks around them. As I look at the Gospel teachings and the stories of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles I discover a very strong inclination to look outward, away from “me”. Maybe that's how we're supposed to leave everything. It's less about the stuff than our attitudes about them. When the “my” starts getting in the way of reaching God then it places me in danger. When I model a lifestyle that's all about “my” for family and friends then I'm pushing them into danger as well.
Think about this then: Let's change how we look at our stuff. If the relationship becomes I'm Donna's husband, I'm Rachel's dad, I'm Debby and Jack's son doesn't it change the relationship? Certainly it should change the attitude about that relationship. The relationship with a faith community changes when it becomes “I belong there” rather than “That's my church”. The same thing goes for school. By leaving the ownership of “my” behind we point our attention and our energy away from ourselves. Try it. Instead of thinking about so and so as “my friend” think of it as “I'm so and so's friend”. Now who are you focused on? Them. Somehow that does feel right.
The funny part (funny odd not ha-ha) is that suddenly the material things get set afloat too. You either end up as the computer's operator (which is a pretty silly concept) or the realization that it's just a thing. And things don't fit into the “Leave Everything” world, except as...well, things, objects, tools. None of that kind of “stuff” has any claim on us in the world Jesus calls us towards. It doesn't have the power to draw us away or make us stumble. A huge burden can be lifted from our lives and most of us would love to lose any burden we can these days.
So the next time you hear Jesus call take a look at what kind of stuff is in the way. Take a look at how big the “my” is that's trying to stand in your way. Is it some thing that you just “can't live without”? Is worry about what people might think (that's called “my image”)? Are you getting angry about what someone did because they're supposed to be “my friend”? Then just stop, take a breath and....Leave Everything.


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