The geese don’t celebrate Father’s Day, but that didn’t stop me from telling them a story about my Dad. It’s a story I’ve told a few times over the years. (An occupational hazard for we clergy; every good story we find, gratifies re-telling. Because it does our heart good.).
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” anymore. 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 father 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.
My Father died in 2020. RIP dad.
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. We need a reset on making a difference.
On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all enslaved people free in Confederate territory. But many enslaved people didn’t get the news right away. June 19, 1865 is when word of the proclamation reached African Americans in Texas.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner reminds us, “This is not just another day where you just take off… It is a day of freedom, of liberation for people who were once slaves and who were set free.”
And, the “cute Beatle” is 80. Paul McCartney celebrated by singing “Glory Days” with Bruce Springsteen on Thursday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., serenaded by 60,000 well-wishers.
A happy father’s day to all…
Quote for our 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)
Today’s Photo Credit: “My brother in law took this picture in his back yard in Billings, MT and shared it with me. I thought it was so beautiful and wanted to share it with you, also. Mick and I saw the Emersion exhibit of Van Gogh is week. I call to mind his quote, ‘If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.’ And we say Amen. Blessings,” Joanie Owens… Thank you Joanie… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
UPCOMING EVENTS —
August 12 – 14 — Mary and Joseph Center, Rancho Palos Verdes CA, Soul Gardening: Sacrament of the Present Moment.
October 3 – 5 — Hinton Retreat Center, Hayesville, NC, Life in the Garden
Letters that do my heart good…
–I’ve gathered a group of women via Zoom to read and discuss various books starting with the topic of Kintsugi, continuing with Wabi Sabi, etc. We are now reading (and enjoying) your excellent book. I see you have frequent lectures and will try to check your website from time to time to see if anything pops up that we might journey to. Do you ever come to the East coast? Thank you for your writing. It’s lyrical to read and inspiring. Dr. Brown
–Hi, Terry, I thought of you the other day. I have been walking near my house in Sparks, NV and the lizards seem more abundant this year. Anyway, I usually stop to chat with them if they don’t scurry away too quickly. It made me think of you talking to the sheep and the geese. I only get them in ones or twos not a large flock, but I do enjoy our chats. Mary
POEMS AND PRAYERS
It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today. –Robert Hastings
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.