There is a parable about three stonecutters working on a cathedral, set in the Middle Ages. Each is asked what he is doing.
The first responds angrily, “Idiot! Use your eyes! They bring me a rock, I cut it into a block, they take it away, and they bring me another rock. I’ve been doing this since I was a boy, and I’m going to be doing it until the day I die.”
The second man smiles warmly and says, “I’m earning a living for my beloved family. With my wages I have built a home, there is food on our table, the children are growing strong.”
The third man pauses, and with a look of deep fulfillment says, “I am building a great cathedral. It will be a holy lighthouse where people lost in the dark can find their strength and remember their way. And it will stand for a thousand years!”
This would be heady stuff in the hands of Stephen Spielberg and John Williams. But not all lives are even close to the movies. Not everyone feels the nobility of the third stonecutter. Or the selflessness of the second. But we have all felt the heaviness or bleakness of the first. To wonder, does any of what I do make a difference?
Let’s be clear: this parable is not simply about work. This parable is about how we derive our value—our self-worth and our dignity and our calling—and how that spills onto everything we do, and everything we touch, and every person whose path we cross.
This is something every one of us needs to hear, to remind us that our work (labor) is our turf of responsibility, yes. But this is only part of our DNA. Because no matter where we labor or toil, our calling is to spill the light.
And the good news? For this we don’t have to pass a test, or qualify, we have only to be willing.
Jesus made it simple, “Let your light shine.”
I hope you are following the Special Olympics Summer World Games. It opened this weekend in Berlin, with 7,000 athletes from 190 countries competing in 26 sports, backed by 3,000 coaches and 20,000 volunteers. Special Olympics launched a Global Leadership Coalition for Inclusion to “improve information sharing and exchanges of best practices among countries that are deepening their commitment to social inclusion.”
(Note: Stonecutter parable adapted from Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli)
In 1997, Mr. Rogers received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 24th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. Today’s Daily Dose is his acceptance speech. And sometimes, when I’m feeling blue, I watch and listen to the speech, because it is about making a difference, and affirming those who’ve made a difference in our life and world.
“Oh, it’s a beautiful night in this neighborhood.
So many people have helped me to come to this night. Some of you are here. Some are far away. Some are even in heaven.
All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.
Would you just take along with me 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are—those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life?
Ten seconds of silence.
I’ll watch the time.
Whomever you’ve been thinking about — how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made. You know, they’re the kind of people television does well to offer our world.
Special thanks to my family and friends, and to my co-workers in Public Broadcasting, Family Communications, and this Academy for encouraging me, allowing me all these years to be your neighbor.
May God be with you.
Thank you very much.”
And yes, indeed, it is the little things that usually have the greatest impact in life… a smile, a hug, a thank you, a compliment, an apology, a word of encouragement, an invitation. (A shout out to SM friend Deb for helping make this list.)
Here’s one other Fred Rogers memory: Testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications (May 1, 1969), he said, “This is what I give. An expression of care each day, to each child.”
And to that, I say, “Amen.”
Remember as children, we sang—right index finger raised—“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus reminded us. And yet, we read it as a command (or a test to ace) rather than an affirmation.
Here’s the deal. Jesus never said, “Create the light. Contrive the light. Design the light. Engineer the light. He never even said, ‘Be good at light shining.’”
He said simply, “Let.” Meaning “allow.”
Meaning, get out of the way. The light is already there.
Inside of us. Now.
So, here’s the deal: Who we are, and what we do, touches lives, plain and simple.
This matters more than ever, in a divisive world, a world on edge, a world where a kind word or gesture makes all the difference.
We need a reset on making a difference. And no, it doesn’t help if we tell ourselves that we don’t have what it takes. (You know, the right kind of light.) Or when we compare ourselves to others who are “better and stronger”. Or when we discount (fueled by shame) our broken places as shortcoming and detriment. Forgetting that the light shines, especially from broken places.
Here’s our paradigm shift invitation today… let us shift our focus from big world to small world. It is easy to forget that change happens (ferments and grows) in the small world, not the big world.
You see, the big world feels (too often) overwhelming and outside of our ability to change or affect change. Plus, you know, “we don’t have the skill set”. No wonder it is so easy to give up when we see only big world issues. “It’s not my problem, after all.” And the big world takes us away from this moment… and the people who are right in front of us…
“There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Amanda Gorman’s reminder.
When we know that the light is here, now, we embrace the permission to be present. Where we are grounded, we pause. We say thank you.
We will see beauty in places we didn’t expect, and we are gifted with surprises of grace.
We will see craziness and pain, yes, but now we have the permission to engage, instead of resign. To care. To spill light.
Even in small ways… to spill compassion, forgiveness, second changes, understanding.
And remember; this call to spill light is not merely something we “should” do, as if an obligatory check mark on a resume. This is something we are wired to do—because spilling the light is in our DNA.
I hope you savored our first day of summer. And stayed up to enjoy the sunset on the longest day of the year. Mercy, that does the heart good.
As the eldest son of a brick mason, my summer options were limited. I could be a hod carrier (mixing mortar—called “mud”—hauling bricks, blocks or stone and intuiting the needs of masons not known for their patience).
Or, I could be a hod carrier.
Being a hod carrier is real work. I mean, physical work. Dog-tired at the end of the day work. And I couldn’t wait to grow up and go to college, and get a real job, you know, where I could make a real difference. And become somebody.
And my Father? Well, in my mind, he was “just a” brick mason.
And I was “just a” hod carrier.
Boy, did I ever get that wrong.
Focused only on labels (limiting everyone by “just a”—seeing only their trade or job) I missed the gift and the power of connection. And I missed the healing reality that making a difference grows in the soil of connection. We make a difference when hearts and lives touch.
Barbara Bush’s reminder, “At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent.”
I no longer use “just a” about anyone. Because making a difference is not simply about work. I now know that the connection bond is bigger and stronger than any achievement line on a resume. And I now know how this connection spills onto everything we do, and everything we touch, and every person whose path we cross… where light has spilled, and difference is made, along the way.
So. Let me tell you the rest of the story (I can still hear Paul Harvey’s voice): Twenty-three years ago, building a new house on Vashon Island, there was a good bit of stone work and brick work needed, including fireplace and two story chimney. I had my father spend a couple of months on the island. And we did all the brick and stone work together. I’m still smiling big…
Let’s give Jimmy Carter the last word. “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something . . . I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. Now, my faith goes beyond theology and religion and requires considerable work and effort. My faith demands — this is not optional — my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”
Photo… “Happy Father’s Day. This was our Father’s Day Weekend sunset in Door County, Wisconsin. Thank you for your inspirational emails Terry.” Pat Ensing…
Prayer for our week…
Praise What Comes
Surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven’t deserved
of days and solitude, your body’s immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise
talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps
you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few very simple questions: did I love,
finish my task in the world? Learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where one life began and another
ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, at the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?