Thursday, August 07, 2014

When True Simplicity is Gained, part 4: Humble Stumble

Tools of Universal Love

So here I am and I find myself with all this land and stuff. Besides use it and enjoy it (well, some of it. Books and music never grow old. A high speed mower quits being fun after the third mowing of the season!)? Well, 18th century Quaker John Woolman says the business of our lives is to “Turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love.”

Woolman, unlike me, was a good Quaker. He worked valiantly and humbly against slave holding. He began wearing undyed plain clothes – the dye being produced by slave labor. He was a ray of white in a sea of Quaker black and grey – and was thought odd of it. He worked only half-time so that he could travel in ministry and witness. He lived his faith and his actions matched his words. Even if he was considered a bit of an odd duck in the Friendly pond at the time.

His words, when I first encountered them as young man, didn’t have much impact I admit. I thought they would make a good – if long -- bumper sticker. But how can that be practical? To turn all that we own into a channel of universal love? I can turn some things that I own into specific love – I give books to my friends not expecting their return. I loan my pick-up truck to people who need to haul things. We open our house to visiting travelers. I…

Oh wait. That’s one way it’s done! By holding on loosely to the things we have. Realizing that they are things – not possessions.

This is a hard lesson for me. I mean, I’ll loan the truck. It’s just a truck – albeit pretty new and low mileage. But it’s insured. It gets crashed, it gets fixed. The 1955 MG – hmmm, I have to think more about that. I often think of it as more than just a car – it’s family history. The fellow I was named for, Brent Stephens, bought it new in 1955. I rode in it as a little kid. After he parked it and didn’t drive it for years, my dad, John, whom I’m also named for convinced Brent to sell it to him in the late 60s. So I drove as a teenager and young college student. We have family pictures of all of us kids in it. And our kids in it. And friends in it. Then my dad gave it to me. Now I have pictures of my grandkids in it. And friends in it. And it being driven in all kinds of cool places. So this antique car with under 30,000 miles on it to this day, has a lot of meaning. Can I loan it as freely?

I’m getting there. And it’s not always easy for me. It’s easier if, as I said, I focus on a particular love. Would I give a book to Laura? Music to Eric? A place to stay to Rick and Jo? Sure thing. Would I give money to a panhandler in Philly? Hmmmm. Would I give my wallet – willingly – to someone robbing me? Universal Love – God’s Love – is harder, especially toward one whom I don’t love, don’t know, consider my enemy, or considers me the enemy.

And yet, Woolman makes no distinctions like that. Indeed, when we read the entire section from which the quote above was taken, we see that it echoes Jesus’ radical commandments to love without reservation and hesitation.

Our gracious Creator cares and provides for all His creatures; His tender mercies are over all His works, and so far as true love influences our minds, so far we become interested in His workmanship, and feel a desire to make use of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted, and to increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, so that to turn all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.

“So far as true love influences our minds” we will, at every opportunity, “feel a desire to lessen the distresses of the afflicted.” Well, I’m working on that.

And yes, you may borrow my pick-em-up truck. I still have to think about the MG.


Barb said...

at least thee is thinking about the MG ;)

Tom said...

Well, Brent, I was thinking more about the MG, though a pick up would have been handy a couple of weeks ago when we were moving. Oh, and yes, you do still have a place to stay when you are in the area.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed your "food for thought" about simple living. I have struggled with this for years and have had issues justifying even dinner out if it meant the extra money I spent was not available for feeding others in need. I'm coming to realize that it IS all about the attitude, that what we have should be shared with love ala Woolman. I can enjoy a home with guestrooms and room for more at the table as long as I know that I am called to be a gracious host. That part's a little difficult for an introvert like me, but I'm working on it! :)Thanks for your blog series on this!

Yvette said...

Good stewardship of God's material blessings is tricky if you're not used to giving freely even to those NOT in need. Skepticism is also a spiritual block when you know panhandlers may use your donation unwisely. The point is to manage His money and goods to help you first (like taking the first breath from an oxygen mask in an airplane at high altitude), then give the rest generously. Giving takes practice like home budgeting. :)