Imagine being one of the bridesmaids who was left outside? What would your reaction be?
Timothy Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, andWestminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia and, in 1989, started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Redeemer Presbyterian currently hosts 5,000 members and 5 weekend services. In his book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, Keller says that, when circumstances don’t go our way or we don’t get what we wanted from the world, people often act in one of four ways.
- Blame the other. “Well, if that stupid groom would just have had coke earlier instead of hanging out with his drinking buddies, I would have gotten in. What an inconsiderate jerk. This is all his fault!”
- Turn the blame inward, also known as the “Blame and Shame Game.” “I wasn’t worthy to be happy or to attend the party. I shouldn’t even have been invited in the first place. How could they have invited a loser like me? This is why this is happening to me.”
- Become cynical or bitter. You blame the world or your circumstances or how or where you were born or your upbringing, etc … “This always happens to women like us. Just because we were born in a different country, I didn’t attend an Ivy League school like those other girls, and my parents didn’t grow up on the Main Line, they think they can treat us like this. They’re such pigs.”
These are idols. We worship at their altar of emotions because we think that this will bring us hope or happiness or comfort. Instead they only lead to manipulation, obsession and addiction.
There are other idols as well. Keller writes that many place their faith in success, true love, recognition, fame, and a life we’ve always wanted, believing they hold the key to happiness. Nevertheless, there is always a sneaking suspicion they might not deliver. No wonder people feel lost, alone, disenchanted, and resentful.
But why is that? C.S. Lewis gave us a hint when he wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Oblate Father Ronald Rolheiser writes that such idols, “become habitual distractions and worries of daily life that tend to so consume us that we habitually take for granted what’s most precious to us, our health, the miracle of our senses, the love and friendships that surround us, and the gift of life itself. We go through our daily lives not only with a lack of reflectiveness and lack of gratitude but with a habitual touch of resentment as well, a chronic, grey depression. We fall into the habit of ’being asleep.’”
How do we wake up? Well, in addition to the three choices provided above, there is a fourth option. You “recalculate” your emotional and spiritual GPS and and refocus on God. How do you do that concretely? In his bestselling book, Outlier, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on a journey through the world of “outliers”—the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He points to two ideas:
Gladwell’s first point is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. It’s also about paying attention to their routine – their dull, boring, repetitive, routine.
(From the review): Along the way (Gladwell) reveals the secrets of software billionaires like Bill Gates, why you’ve never heard of the smartest man in the world, why almost no star hockey players are born in the fall, why Asians are good at math, what made the Beatles the greatest rock band and, why, when it comes to plane crashes, where the pilots are from matters as much as how well they are trained.
Second, Gladwell says that we need to examine their routine – their dull, boring, repetitive, routine. (Again, from the review): “Gladwell repeatedly mentions the ‘10,000-Hour Rule.’ Although disputed by authors of the original study, Gladwell claims that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.”
Rolheiser writes that,
Precisely for this reason, every major spiritual tradition has daily rituals designed precisely to wake us from spiritual sleep. We need to begin each day with prayer. What happens if we don’t pray on a given morning is not that we incur God’s wrath, but rather that we lose something – we miss the glory of the morning, spending the hours until noon trapped inside a certain dullness of heart. The same can be said about praying before meals. We don’t displease God by not first centering ourselves in gratitude before eating (God is doing just fine without your prayers, thank you very much), but we miss out on the richness of what we’re doing. Liturgical prayer and the Eucharist have the same intent, among their other intentions. In their, dull, routine, repetitive, boring way, “they’re meant to, regularly, call us out of a certain sleep.”
If you are not doing this on a daily basis, you end up in a place that is dark, gray, cold, damp and unwelcoming. You become a bridesmaid outside of the celebration where there is life and light and warmth.
One final reason why this is important deals with your ministry to, your responsibility to, and your mission to others. When you fly, the attendants always instruct you about what to do “in the unlikely event that cabin pressure fails.” Oxygen masks will deploy. Put it on yourself first. You can’t help others until and unless you take care of yourself.
Audio versions of the homily is here: