Once again, I pleaded with my husband to stop smoking – not just for my comfort and health but for his health. And once again he conceded that he was spending money on something that would kill him – that, in fact, is already killing him.
The next day a friend sent me an excerpt from one of my favorite Frederick Buechner books, Secrets in the Dark. Buechner describes a cigarette ad featuring beautiful people in a beautiful place smoking cigarettes. At the bottom of the ad is the surgeon general’s admonishment that cigarettes kill. Buechner’s message is that we are our own worst enemies:
“As nations we stockpile new weapons and old hostilities that may well end up by destroying us all; and as individuals we do much the same. As individuals we stockpile weapons for de- fending ourselves against not just the things and people that threaten us but against the very things and people that seek to touch our hearts with healing and make us better and more human than we are. We stockpile weapons for holding each other at arm’s length, for wounding sometimes even the ones who are closest to us.”
In my imagination I pictured Frederick Buechner and Frederick Bables meeting for coffee and marveling with disgust and foreboding the truth of a cigarette ad: what we love and protect the most can kill our bodies and/or our spirits.
Think for a moment of the thing and activities we love that can kill us physically or emotionally:
- collections of favorite things that can become a hoarder’s (and his/her family’s)night- mare.
- constant activity (resulting from individual responsibilities that may be good for us and beneficial for the world) that leaves us physically and emotionally exhausted and drained.
- devices that connect us to the world but seem to require constant checking; social media messages that triple hourly; likes and comments that leave us wanting more and more.
- food or drink which brings pleasure, but creates a need which must be satisfied.
- obsessive control of our children which rises from a heart of love but pushes us constantly checking up on them (no matter what age) advising them, preaching to them, or confirming in some way that they still care about us.
You can think of many more good things that can end as bitter pressures. And Buechner goes on to warn us:
“We need no urging to choose what it is that will destroy us because again and again; we choose it without urging. If we don’t choose to smoke cigarettes ourselves, we choose at least to let such ads stand without batting an eye. “Buy this; it can kill you,” the pretty picture said, and nobody on the train, least of all myself, stood up and said, “Look, this is madness!” Because we are more than half in love with our own destruction. All of us are.”
Here are some things to chew on as we attempt to navigate the madness of our world: Am I obsessed with something that will harm me? Is my family headed toward self-destruction because we don’t see the dangers in what we love? Is the western church so consumed with good things such as worship styles, raising funds or ratings, giant, well-appointed auditoriums that we miss the point of a spiritual journey all together? Are political parties so focused on the value of their partisan politics that they accept the narcissism of a president who causes havoc in our nation and the world?
I recently read a quote by William Faulkner: “A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says,’This is where I was when I moved again.'” The example and spirit of Jesus will not help us build monuments to the things we love, but it can encourage us to walk away from them before we destroy ourselves.