Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law? And he said to them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” -
Saturday afternoon Feb. 26th was an experience to remember – emotionally draining and at the same time, uplifting. I was attending the funeral service for our pastor, Ken Diehm, and I was trying to hang on to every note of music, every verse of scripture, and every word of Cindy’s sermon. Darrell dropped me off early behind the parking barricades that were placed to handle the crowd of thousands and I met with fellow Stephen ministers to take our assigned places to assist our congregation and guests. He was planning to watch the live feed on the computer at home and pick me up later in downtown Grapevine.
While waiting for the service to start I greeted people as they came in to the overflow seating in the Family Life Center, exchanging hugs, waves and nods with those that I knew. Watching the slide show of photos of Ken and his family through various stages of his life, I noted that we were from the same generation – teenagers in the ‘70’s – and I noticed Kenda’s fabulous fashion sense. Her dress in the family photo of their daughter’s wedding was the same that I wore at Travis and Chelsea’s wedding and the same that Chelsea’s mom had also chosen unbeknownst to either of us.
Cindy preached what I judged to be the most powerful sermon of her life to the largest audience of her life. She openly shared her own pain and shared stories of Ken – some familiar and some were new – and she used The Bible to remind us all that there is faith and hope without end. One story she shared I will carry with me for a long time. A man in our church was teaching a Sunday school class based on Paul’s letters to the early churches. He had questioned Ken – if Paul were sending a letter to you about the current condition of the church what would he say? What is God’s message? Ken’s reply was simple and concise, five words, “Ken, it’s not about you.” God wants us to live in simplicity and humility. He wants to let his light shine through us. He wants to permeate our hearts with compassion. Tears flowed freely from sadness and loss, but also from conviction of what my life should be like. “Susan, it’s not about you.”
After the service was over, I waited for the crowds to empty the buildings; some were going on to Grapevine High School for the reception. I walked up the street to Wilhoite’s and turned north up Main St. While I waited for Darrell to come pick me up at the gazebo, out of town visitors were there giving out prizes to their corporate group – lots of laugh and cheers. On the way home, Darrell asked me, “What was the most important message you brought back from the service?” and before I could put my jumbled thoughts into words he said “It’s not about you!” Our connected thoughts voiced out loud, took my breath away.
A few weeks before when we experienced an unprecedented string of snow/ice/no school days, Darrell and I had spent our indoor time reading books and watching movies. One movie that enthralled me was Social Network. The musical score and fast paced script accentuated the story (based on a true story) that is also an allegorical comment on the society of our times. Critics acclaim “the tale of power, fame, betrayal, revenge and responsibility” (Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter) with the “protagonist a character drawn in a Shakespearean mode, a high-achieving individual who carries within him the seeds of his own destruction” (Rob Mondello, NPR) and they say that the movie was “an unlikely thriller which makes business ethics, class distinctions and intellectual property arguments sexy.” All of the characters (real people) portray the worst of all human traits – we all have these natural tendencies: arrogance, selfishness, pride and fear.
So how do we resolve our own conflicts which come from these challenges to our self-will as we coexist with other self-willed humans in our world? As thirteen years olds are known to be particularly living with a me-first attitude, I come across these conflicts often in my work as a middle school math teacher. I have patience with the children because they are not yet fully developed – they are a work in progress. I find the condescension harder to tolerate from their parents, whom I consider old enough to have learned common courtesy and respect for the individual. Arrogance is not limited to the hallways of public schools – it’s repeatedly seen when just driving down the street – someone cuts into your lane and narrowly misses taking out your car and then flips you off. A life-long friend decides you are no longer worthy of her time, and cuts you off – do not call or email, this relationship is over. A respected supervisor unexpectedly unleashes a verbal attack calling you worthless and easily replaceable. A cop refuses to leave his traffic duties and answer pleas to break up a fight he can clearly see in the adjacent parking lot. As a child of God, how do I respond to these people?
Richard Foster in his classic book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, reports that “Pride takes over because we come to believe that we are the right kind of people. Fear takes over because we dread losing control.” He also uses scripture to guide us to understanding, reminding us that God can “take over our inner spirit and transform the ingrained habit patterns of our lives.” When we seek him, he gives us his grace and we learn to respond in kind with “the fruit of the Spirit- which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. Galatians 5:22-23
So all this rambling narrative is to say, we are all a work in progress and I have adopted Ken’s wise words as my mantra, “It’s not about me.”