_ The following is a guest post from my dad, Paul Cloeter, a fifth generation Lutheran pastor currently serving in central Minnesota.
A Point of Reference
Memory loss, when it comes with age, doesn’t often affect the distant past. That’s why I paid particular attention to a story told to me by my wise and now-sainted grandfather (that would be ‘thirdgen’) not long before he died at 95 years of age. It was a simple story of an incident in his life – in the year 1907 to be exact – and it was etched in his memory.
He had been sent out in a winter storm to get some grocery items at a store 2½ miles away. In the prairie, there are straight roads that intersect at 1 mile intervals. In the prairie, there are also blinding snowstorms. Being a typical 13 year old, he tried to “cut the corner” on a mile section, but instead found himself lost in the middle of the field. He kept walking what he thought was a straight line, but in fact, had walked in a complete circle and came out right back at the road where he started.
It was then that he learned the lesson I learned for the first time listening to him: that one leg is stronger than the other and will, without a point of reference, out-stride the weaker leg, sending the traveler in a circle. He also learned that shortcuts don’t always produce the desired effect!
A “point of reference” is what I was thinking about while reading a recent USA TODAY article about a large and growing secular subset in our culture whose response to religion – in fact, any spirituality – is described as “So What?” Call them “apatheists”, folks who have come out of the closet to publicly confess “no spiritual curiosity . . . they simply shrug off God, religion, heaven or the ever-trendy search for meaning and purpose.”
I know: it’s nothing new. I remember a conversation I had in my first parish with a father who was trying to encourage his daughter and son-in-law in their spiritual walk. With grave concern in his voice he asked me: “What do you say to someone who says, ‘I don’t see the need’?”
There are many ways one can get lost in this life. Attempting self-serving short cuts to contentment and thinking only in terms of the here and now come to mind. So can short-sightedness about ‘who I am’ and ‘why am I here’; ‘where am I going’ and ‘who am I going to meet there’. Without answers to those questions, life becomes a vicious circle, and those who say ‘so what’ ultimately find themselves with no leg to stand on.
A new year is a good time to sight in a point of reference, get our bearings, and proceed –one step at a time. Past Christmas and Good Friday to Easter we go; “in green pastures” and “beside quiet waters”; into fiery trials and finally, through “the valley of the shadow of death.”
No shortcuts . . . just a Father’s love!
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