Generally Speaking: An old/new approach to changing the world


I read the most interesting column in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal this morning.

Here in my temporary state of unemployment where every day except Sunday is Saturday in my universe, I do love poring over the Wall Street Journal, several news blogs online and listening to way too much talk radio before 9 a.m.

I consider myself well informed. My adult children think I need serious behavior therapy.

For once, I agree with them.

A weekly columnist for a newspaper in Baton Rouge had penned an unusual New Year’s column in the Journal. It was more warm and fuzzy than your usual WSJ fare, and I loved it.

He took a Carl Sandburg poem, “Clean Curtains,” and used it as both an illustration and an encouragement to be a beacon of light and hope in a culture that does not value what you value.

The poem is about a rural family who moves to an industrial city.

Bear in mind the poem was written in the 1920s before there was the slightest bit of environmental concern.

Day by day, the dirt from the city’s buses, trucks and factories soiled the family’s pristine curtains, and although the lady of the house tried to keep them laundered, she finally gave it up.

The filth of the city defeated that which had long been a symbol of something that mattered in that family’s daily life.

Although that sounds sad, the poem ends with what Danny Heitman, the columnist, says is a reminder that “a single deed, a lone life cultivated to seek health and beauty and brightness can be a blessing to mankind.”

Those intentional good deeds and good habits which are noticed by those around us, are a way to “hang clean curtains in a bruised and darkened world.”

Another blog I ran across this morning echoed that message. “Make Habits, Not Resolutions.”

It was the current lead on The Gospel Coalition Twitter feed, and I actually retweeted it – I think. I tried anyway.

I am never sure how correctly I execute my social media. The author of the article reminded us that “Unlike our resolutions, we actually become our habits.”

That statement got my attention. I have a love/hate relationship with my smart phone.

It has killed my attention span, spawned a sense of unnecessary anxiety if I can’t immediately respond to a text message or read a notification from Facebook, and generally interrupted more important conversations by sending that awful ding at inappropriate times.

It is time to break the ridiculous tyranny of technology. The addiction to it is not an attractive habit to have, but like all addictions, it is not an easy one to break.

Justin Earley, who penned the article, grabbed my heart with these words.

“The fascinating thing about our modern moment is that we’re semiconsciously adopting a new rule of life. But this new rule of life isn’t designed by those who care about our formation in the image of Christ – it’s formed by companies that want to attract our attention and sell it to advertisers.”

He adds, “We don’t need new resolutions – we need a better rule of life.”

That better rule of life involves paying attention to our habits. They do indeed shape our character.

I have thought about that much of today, and I remembered a quote my son learned well when he was in high school.

I am not sure which teacher made him learn it, but I am grateful, and  it was well-learned.  I imagine he could reel off today just as easily as he did 20 years ago. I went searching for it this afternoon.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote. Emerson may have had some real “out there” ideas about some things, but he definitely hit the target right on with this one.

“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”




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