Myself, the problem

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G.K. Chesterton is said to have responded to the inquiry “What’s wrong with the world today?” with two simple words. “I am.”

This must be where we both start and end. I am what is wrong with the world. My faults contribute to the brokenness we see. My actions, outright or inadvertent, cause pain and confusion on a daily basis. The inner dialogue of my mind is often not filled with grace and love but pride and selfishness.

As much brokenness as we see in the world, we must first address the problem of ourselves, for that and that alone is our responsibility.

On Consistency

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I recently went to watch a movie with a couple friends. One of my favorite parts about the cinematic experience as a whole is the trailers at the beginning of the movie. With only a few exceptions, the two or three minute trailers promise a great story line, interesting characters, and a great balance between intense drama and lighthearted comedy; however only a small percentage of the full-length films actually lives up to such promises.

For a while I have wondered what the trailer of my life would look like. After some consideration I actually think it could be rather good. Adventure sequences in the great outdoors, travels to different countries, a handful of awards, and touching moments with friends and family would be stitched together into a compelling two or three minute spot. And the same could go for anyone. It is easy to look good in a highlight reel. It is simple to hide our cracks, our humanity when only our best moments are shown. Whether that be in the trailer of our lives, our social media outlets, or our carefully maintained appearance as soon as we step out the door we can, without much imagination, create an image of ourself, a story we want others to believe that hides the confused, the broken, the disillusioned.

After listening to one of my mentors give a talk at a breakfast meeting, a close friend of his spoke up and called attention to the consistency he demonstrated in everyday life even though the two of them were so close that they could clearly see one another’s cracks, their imperfections. Consistency is what takes good trailers and makes them into great movies. Consistency is what changes acts worth momentary applause into world altering movements. Consistency is what engenders trust in those around you, faith in those nearest to you, and respect from all who know of you. When all is said and done, everyday I want to work to make my two minute preview into an even better story.

Considering Our Breaths

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“the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time. Not only that, but maybe the basic message of original sin isn’t “feel guilty all the time.” Maybe it is more along these lines: “We all have a notion of what it means to be good, and we can’t live up to it all the time.”

– Paul Kalanithi (from When Breath Becomes Air)

So far I have gone through the recently published book, When Breath Becomes Air ,  three times. The book is the first hand account of Stanford Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi as he is diagnosed with, battles, and later dies from, EGFR+ lung cancer. So much more than a narrative or account, the book brings sees the intertwining of a great literary mind and an outstanding member of the medical field in one of the most demanding venues. More interesting than just what he went into was why he went into it. To study the questions of the life, the essence of what it means to be human, to understand the processes that make us who we are, and to discover meaning, Paul investigated first literature with graduate degrees at Stanford and Cambridge before deciding to attend medical school and specialized training as a neurosurgeon. Diagnosed with cancer midway through his training as a surgeon, the critical questions he had been contemplating in the abstract became material and imminent.

While modern life makes it easy for us to distract ourselves from the important questions of life, examples such as Paul bring us back to contemplate what is important, to remember that life and health hang in delicate balance, and to consider the strengths and limitations of our loftiest endeavors. Among other themes, one consistent thread throughout is the ceaseless, constant pursuit of perfection coupled to the understanding that grace and mercy are necessities- that we will never be good enough. Grace and mercy from God, grace and mercy for ourselves, grace and mercy for those around us are required.  But in the midst of this, while we are given the gift of life, a life for which we will give an account, that we strive not just for good, but perfect.

On Enough

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“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” 

Most people have probably had this said to them by a parent, friend or mentor; however this is often easier said than done. Growing up my dad would say occasionally say this to me. Then it was easy to act on as it usually pertained to not eating as many cookies or candy bars as I possibly could before an adult intervened. Now as an adult, I find the concept to be more difficult.

The majority of those living in the industrialized world now lives with the unique privilege of excesses in some area of life whether that be in food, money, houses, cars, other possessions, or even free time. Through the previous centuries and millennia, only a handful of the elite had the ‘problem’ of such excesses. Today, a significant amount of the population must grapple with the question: What is enough? 

Talking with young and middle aged people planning for retirement, everyone has a minimum amount, no one has a maximum. Many people work tirelessly for more houses (of which they can only live in one at a time), more cars (of which they can only drive at one time), more club memberships (of which they can only enjoy one at a time), more collections (most of which will sit in a closet or garage), and more free time (most of which will need to be filled with hobbies). It is these excesses that will need to be suppressed for the global good as the environment.

When, not out of economic necessity, but moral responsibility we are willing to stop at what we need instead of consuming all we can out greed, then we may have a chance at a sustainable earth.

In the words of Gandhi:

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”