“Remember, if someone dances with you in the rain, they will most certainly walk with you in a storm,” I tell the sheep this morning. “So, thank you for listening to me every week. I am grateful.”
Their look tells me, “No worries, that’s what we’re good at.”
“My world shook a little yesterday,” I tell them. “My Father died.”
Rest in Peace Jerry Hershey. I’m glad you were my dad. Today, I’m remembering and telling stories.
I’ve told this story before, but want to tell it again to honor my father. I am the son of a brick mason. I am the eldest of five children. Which means that my summer options, as a schoolboy, 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.
My father’s leadership style, typical of Midwestern fathers of his generation, was straightforward, “Don’t loaf. Don’t whine. Don’t make excuses. This’ll make a man out of you.” (I will admit, as a high school football player and wrestler, I couldn’t have asked for a better workout regimen.)
Even so, college beckoned. Real work, you know, where I could make a real difference. And become somebody.
And I did. After two degrees and an ordination, I set out as The Reverend. No longer just a hod carrier, or just a construction worker.
On one visit to Michigan in my late 30s, my father and I drove the streets in the small town of Sturgis, drifting in his pickup truck. We could drive for miles without saying much. (Not a bad skill to learn.) The truck slowed as if by volition, and I wondered if something was amiss. Then it hit me. My Father slowed to regard a house that he had built; decades prior. He parked by the curb. And he told me stories, about building the house, about the owner, about members of the crew and about pranks played on the job site.
For the rest of the afternoon, we meander the streets, looking not just at houses or chimneys, but also at the quality of work that has stood the test of time. These weren’t just buildings. They were works of art and labors of love.
And then we stopped in front of a house I recognized. Where I spent a summer on a crew, just a hod carrier, building someone’s dream. (But I hadn’t seen it.)
And the light bulb came on.
Now, I never use the phrase “just a” any more. About anyone.
I know this for certain: it doesn’t take much to nurse resentment or regret. There are times when whatever we are doing seems not enough (no doubt a miasma of guilt or shame and the vagaries of public opinion).
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: the parable is not simply about work. The 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.
Over the years I have heard, “I’m just a volunteer (or just a member, or catechist, or aid, or worker, or helper, or employee, or friend or mother or fill in the blank).”
To each I say, No.
You see, “just a” creates a label and tells us what we are not. And when we label, we dismiss. (Regardless of the label. Dorothy Day once scoffed, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”)
So, how then do we make a difference?
Here’s the deal: Your work (labor) is your turf of responsibility. Which 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.”
Not, when you get your act together.
Not, when you feel noble.
Not, when you find a specific vocation.
Not, after you’ve chased all the gloom away.
Just let it shine. Because the light is already there. Inside of you. Now.
My Father never signed a contract. His handshake was his word. One man told me, “When Jerry Hershey shook your hand you knew you were going to get something you would be proud of. Something that would stand the test of time.”
What did my Father build? Houses.
What did my Father do? He made a difference.
It doesn’t take much to cover our light with a bushel. And there’s a whole lot of fear and worry and apprehension and hurry and the need for perfection that can do the job. But here’s the deal: what we do, and who we are, 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.
So. What if we let our light shine?
What if we build a world where people matter.
Where humanity blossoms, permeating inclusion and dignity and mercy and creativity and kindness and magnanimity and hope.
Where we walk the earth each day in search of good deeds and acts to carry out. Because how we live makes a difference.
I’m in my garden today. Drinking in the healing calm and gladness of the wine-colored leaves forming a memorial tapestry on the back patio.
Quote for the week… Vocation is the place where your deepest gladness and the world’s greatest hunger meet. Frederick Buechner
(Note: Stonecutter parable adapted from Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli)
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SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s photo credit — You shared about perfection within the “imperfections” in our world focusing on a walk in your garden. I was immediately transported to the “dead” zinnias in my backyard that abruptly ended their season of glory with our recent cold snap here in Paso Robles, CA. You spoke of the need to embrace the change, untidiness, and transformation of autumn…and see its perfection! Yes! So I used this thought to lead me into contemplation. The first idea that presented itself to me was, In MY messiness and untidiness, my “imperfections”, I need to see I am perfect. This photo is Yosemite, Fern Spring… Madeleine Gallagher… Thank you Madeleine… Keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Your words about connection resonated while the photo from your garden brought the pulpit closer. It must be hard to be a faith leader at present when for so many of us it feels as though our reserves of faith are evaporating at an accelerated rate and then we turn to people like yourself to tells us how we can slow that evaporation down, forgetting that you might be experiencing the same…. Well, I guess finding beauty in the here and now (the garden), on a walk to the sheep fold, in the fact that the leaves dance when it rains and I’m that much less anxious to break quarantine in the wet weather is kind of what I’ve been learning from you for a few years now. Thanks, Joanne
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I have faith in all that is not yet spoken.
I want to set free my most holy feelings.
God, lover of life, lover of these lives,
God, lover of our souls, lover of our bodies, lover of all that exists…
In fact, it is your love that keeps it all alive…
May we live in this love.
May we never doubt this love.
May we know that we are love,
That we were created for love,
That we are a reflection of you,
That you love yourself in us and therefore we are perfectly lovable.
May we never doubt this deep and abiding and perfect goodness.
We are because you are.
Beloved Presence on my path of life,
thank you for the footprints left on my heart:
the soft and gentle ones that brought comfort,
the deep and lasting ones of enduring friendship,
the lightly passing ones conveying kindness,
the heavy ones causing necessary change,
and the impressionable footprints swept away by time.
Even though lost, forgotten, or not recognized,
these visitors have led me to live more fully
the innate goodness residing deep within me.
How grateful I am.