Sunday, August 5, 2012

Our gifts are not by hard work or happenstance alone, by Judy Knotts, In Your Words

I met Very Smart Gal Judy Knotts through Very Smart Gal Lynn Meredith and have come to admire her thoughtful life, which includes being the Interim Head of St. Gabriel’s Catholic School, a very active friend of the Austin homeless community, and an occasional contributor to the Austin American-Statesman.  A couple of days ago I received an email from Judy saying, “Because you don’t read the paper…” with her most recent editorial attached. I loved the article so much that I asked if I could include it in my blog. See below, reprinted with permission.

Our gifts are not by hard work or happenstance alone
By Judy Knotts, In Your Words

A simple pleasure is found in many cultures sitting around the dinner table or communal fire after the evening meal and discussing life as it unfolds. At first the conversation might center on things and people, but as night falls, talk often turns to deeper questions. "Who are we? "What is our purpose?" "Who writes the story we are enacting?"

Recently, I was invited to dinner at a friend's home. After we had had our fill of delicious shrimp and pasta and cleared away the dishes, we returned to the table to savor one last glass of wine and chocolate chip cookies. These treats eased us into a meaningful conversation, and we began delving into the age-old question of "Who is in charge of the world, of us?"

Two opinionated people (one of them me) began sounding like a chorus of dueling banjos, rarely letting each other finish a sentence, instead grabbing hold of the topic or melody line and making it our own with a flourish.

We each held strong views, which we flung in the face of the other. "What about the starving child in sub-Saharan Africa, would a god allow that?" my friend demanded.

I countered with the usual response of faith-filled people that admittedly sounded a bit weak: "We can't understand these things. We are merely human, not gods." CLICK ON READ MORE BELOW...

I then tossed out my usual baseline philosophy or theology, that what we have are gifts. I truly believe that our lives are complete gifts from God that we must honor and dignify with praise and purpose. This definitely set my friend off. He said his life was not a gift from God, but something given by his parents, which he further shaped by education and hard work. I pushed him to consider why he was born into an affluent family with educated parents. I asked him why he was given a good mind and a college education. He shuffled between the randomness of creation and the determination of his ancestors; he was sure there was no hand of God in any of this.

My smart, passionate friend has a strong work ethic. He is still employed full-time at 76, a dedicated family man, and a responsible member of society who truly believes it is all his doing. Frustrated, I heard myself saying a bit too brashly, "You need to let go of your ego!" 

If St. Francis of Assisi were alive today, he would probably be horrified by my remark, as the following statement is attributed to him: "Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words." Clearly I missed the boat here. My own ego plowed full steam ahead and ignored the feelings of another. 

I am not a Bible-quoting believer, but I later wished I had remembered Jeremiah 1-5: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you."

These eloquent words convince me that I have been loved by God before time could even measure the fullness. It is a powerful realization, and it makes me wonder how I would cope if I believed that I were just an accident alone in this world. Like the rest of my life, my faith is a gift offered that I accept and cherish.

These issues debated around dinner tables and camp fires are worthy topics, but they are rarely solved. We each bring our own identity and perspective to discussions swaddled in passionate rhetoric because we believe we hold the truth.

My stalwart friend is convinced that his place in society is owed to his parents and his industry. I believe equally strongly that my life is a gift that I did not earn in any way.

Another scripture piece just came to mind, amazing for a non-Bible quoting Christian, that perhaps could sum up the evening discussion with my good friend: "That every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of his labor; this is a gift from God." Ecclesiastes 3-13.

I assume this gift includes spirited conversations and chocolate chip cookies. Thanks be to God.

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