Saturday, September 17, 2011

The One Thing

The man was pushing 85 years old, and spoke with a rural accent so thick it was often hard to understand him. But he had kind eyes, and walked with delicacy that disclosed his care and concern for the land that he tilled. Later, I sat speaking with him as he carefully washed a bucketful of freshly picked jalapeno peppers one by one, dropping them into another five-gallon bucket.

It was cold, and I pulled the sleeves of my sweater down from my elbows to my wrists.

"It's pretty chilly today," I said.

"Yessir, it is. I gots my long underwear on today." He chuckled, plunging his hands into a bucket of water that had to be nearly freezing.

A long silence.

"I can do anything," he said suddenly, without looking up from the task at hand.

I leaned in to listen.

"What I mean is, my whole life I've been able to do stuff on m'own. If I see a brick-layer layin' brick, I think to myself, Wull, I can do that, and I do; and they say to me, 'Why, you been layin' brick for years!' and I tell 'em, 'Nope. This is my first time.' This is jus' plain survival skills, that ever'one needs to have. You need somethin', you learns how to do it yourself."

I've been stewing on this conversation all day. It prompted me to recall another discussion I had with a former employer—a pastor—of mine. Not long before I moved from Cape Girardeau to Liberty, this pastor (who was under the mistaken notion that I am intending to direct my life towards the pursuit of leading worship through music) mentioned to me that I do too many things. "You try to do so much; narrow it down, or you'll end up being mediocre and many things, and truly excellent at none." This of course, in context, was a suggestion to give up my peripheral interests—canning, baking, pottery, art, literary study, poetry, etc.—in order to become a full-time worship leader.

The core sentiment was still striking. My personality is much like that of the farmer's: I look at things, think Well, I can do that, and then I do them.

But sometimes the pastor's words haunt me; occasionally I wonder if my conversation with him was perhaps unintentionally prophetic. Paul Tillich said that faith is essentially what a person is most concerned about. In a similar fashion, Jesus proclaimed that "where your treasure is, there your heart is, also." Where, I often find myself asking, is my ultimate concern? Sometimes I feel that I have sacrificed a life focused on the One Thing (whatever that may be) in order to attempt to experience the Many. Let's face it: I'm good at a lot of crap. Any of my friends can attest to this. But often, my little abilities are really just that: crap. No real substance or power to be found; just a petty little interest or hobby that is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire.

This reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a romanticized film version of the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Do few things and do them well, Francesco proclaims as he rebuilds a burned-out chapel that will become his home, Take your time; go slowly. Good advice. How I so strongly desire greatness through focused concern! To be like St. Francis, or Gandhi, or Dr. King. People of conviction, who pursued their conviction with tenacity. These people sacrificed their lives for their One Thing.

What is your One Thing? Have you sacrificed any measure of faith in the One in order to pursue the Many? Gimme some feedback.


  1. I've been accused of the same thing-having a lot of interests. I am not good at many of these interests. I don't think it's necessarily wrong, it's part of being curious and becoming whole. If I only did what I was good at, how could I grow?

  2. All of your posts show me a man who is focused on the same thing as the spiritual heavyweights you mention: What is it to be human and how can be whatever that is more peacefully?
    I imagine that more than a few of Ghandi's peers thought he had more important duties than the weaving of his own clothes.
    Stop me if I've said this before: Your greatest contribution will be when you are acting at the intersection of YOUR greatest love and the world's greatest need.
    No one can find that point for you--and you can't find it for yourself without exploration.