Posts Tagged ‘ideas

23
Aug
22

Afflicting the Comfortable

Thank God for Willis Carrier.

Old time window unit.
Image by By Willem van de Poll

Mr. Carrier, as you may have heard, is widely believed to be the inventor of the modern air conditioning system. According to Wikipedia, while Carrier did indeed develop the first ELECTRICAL air conditioning system in 1901, people as far back as ancient Egypt have been working on ways to dispel the oppressive heat of August… or January if they happened to live in the southern hemisphere.

Carrier’s invention was first installed in a printing and lithographing company in Brooklyn, NY. Its purpose was to help the company maintain uniform paper size and to keep the ink from smudging and smearing. 

In other words, to facilitate WORK

But speaking personally, I can’t imagine doing much of anything at this time of year – working, playing, or sleeping – without the aid of Mr. Carrier’s invention. In fact, my fevered imagination is busily churning away at this very moment on the invention of a flexible, air-conditioned TUBE we can use to walk straight from our air-conditioned HOMES into our air-conditioned CARS, without ever having to experience the reality of that nasty summer HEAT!

Of course, I kid. But it makes me wonder about the lengths to which you and I will go to to avoid even a moment of discomfort in our lives. 

Let’s face it; you and I devote STAGGERING amounts of time and money trying to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of life on planet earth. We condition our air. We repel our insects. We shade our eyes. We cushion our feet. We filter our water. We motorize our transportation. We fence our yards. We watch our neighbors. We domesticate our animals. We defend our borders. We pasteurize our milk…

… ALL of which, by the way, I vigorously support. 

But I can’t help but wonder if we might occasionally miss out on some of life’s richness when we continually operate in the Discomfort Avoidance mode. For example;

  • In my experience, learning to ride a bike involved a LOT of initial discomfort. 
  • Meeting new people almost always feels a little awkward at first.
  • Encountering a new idea, a new country, a new language, a new food, a new author, or a new piece of music usually – for me – always begins with some measure of discomfort.

Back when I was in seminary, I recoiled at the suggestion that I should take a class called, “Black Womanist Theology”. As a white, middle-aged male, I didn’t see the relevance. I am not proud to admit it, but I even went so far as to ask my advisor, “Do I really have to?” 

Yes, I had to. And yes, it was uncomfortable. And yes, it was one of the richest, most humbling, most meaningful educational encounters of my life. Thank you bell hooks, thank you Emily Townes, thank you Renita Weems, thank you Delores S. Williams and many others.

So no, I am not saying I am going to take the roof off my home, disconnect my air conditioner, or dramatically backtrack on any of the essential creature comforts I enjoy today. I AM saying, however, that I will take the occasion of these so-called “dog days of summer” to be reminded of those wise words spoken to me many years ago. When I asked my pastor what he considered the church’s main job to be, he turned to me and said, “The church is here to try to do what Jesus did in his lifetime: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

Happy squirming.

Abundant blessings;

27
Mar
21

Getting Uncomfortable

Germany, Young man lying in hammock and reading a magazine

Before Word #1 appears on this page, I have to settle in at my desk and get nice and comfortable.

Before my car’s engine roars (politely) to life, I make sure I am quite comfortable there in the driver’s seat.

TV viewing in the evening for me is always preceded by strict attention to the comfort of my position on the couch. 

And then, at the end of the day, when it comes to that most essential human activity, SLEEPING!, I devote a great deal of attention to seeking out a position of maximum possible personal comfort. 

In fact, I would be willing to wager that if someone showed me a scientific study of the amount of energy I devote daily to comfort-seeking, that number would make my eyes bug right out of my head. 

And what about you, friend? Are you likewise afflicted with CCSS (Compulsive Comfort Seeking Syndrome)?

I think we can all agree that no one will win a Nobel Prize in sociology for announcing the discovery that, “Comfort-seeking seems to be a universal human pursuit.” Cave people didn’t come up with the idea of fire just so they’d have a way to cook their brontosaurus burgers, you know.  

But I wonder… despite its ubiquitousness, is it possible we can get a little too carried away with this urge toward comfort seeking? Is the Dr. Scholl’s Company really telling us the truth when they contend that “Comfort is EVERYTHING!*”

In fact, I think there is a good case to be made that runaway, unexamined, “comfort seeking” is at the root of a whole host of human maladies. To wit:

  • Avoiding the difficulty and discomfort of hard, physical work usually leads to flawed, “squishy” solutions. 
  • People who don’t feel “comfortable” in the presence of people of different races, ethnicities, religions, or sexual orientations can very quickly become dangerous bigots. 
  • My aversion to the discomfort of re-examining my core beliefs can keep me permanently locked on to a set of toxic assumptions about the world.

When Jesus talked to the folks gathered around and said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free,” (John 8:32, NRSV), he didn’t add, “And I promise; knowing the truth will be painless and easy-peasy.”

As essential as it seems to be to life on this planet, I am not sure I will EVER be comfortable with discomfort… whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. I have to face the fact that I will continue to be “that guy” who grabs for the footrest and the extra couch pillow to put behind my back. 

I think I can only pray that God will regularly grant me the strength to shove personal comfort aside in favor of some much-needed growth. 

Whew! I’m glad I got that off my chest. 

Now to go find a nice shady spot in the yard where I can lay down, sip an iced tea, and stare at the sky for a while.

Abundant blessings;

  • Not the actual slogan of the Dr. Scholl’s Company, by the way.



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