by DJ Mitchell II
Our Stewardship Minutes have usually lasted more than a minute and this one will surely cover more than sixty seconds. (Sorry about that.) Topics to date have touched on devoting to the church your time, and talents, and treasures; living within your means; being happy with what you have.
Well, I’m not going to follow the path that has been outlined by what has gone before me. I want to tell you a story. But to fully understand it, I need first to put it in context. I’ve gone to church most of my life – even through college. On the other hand, I freely admit that I’ve day dreamed my way through more than a sermon or two, many a time set aside for silent prayer, and even a few anthems – although that was a little harder to do. But things are different from when I was young. Somewhere along the way I began listening and thinking more carefully about what I was hearing. Maybe this happened by accident or by what the two Fr. Mikes in my life would attribute to something else, or simply because life got more complex as I grew older and I needed a little guidance along the way. I’m not always sure.
But anyway, to the story…
I work for the BNSF Railway. I’ve done so for 33 years. Most of that time has been involved with moving people. Before BNSF and the Burlington Northern Railroad prior to merger, I worked in Washington, D.C. and then Chicago for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Urban Mass Transportation Administration. When in Washington, our family lived in Arlington, Virginia and most days I would ride my bicycle to work; down Army/Navy Drive, past the Pentagon and along the Potomac River to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and down the Mall to 7th Street, where I joined the city traffic over to 7th and D Streets. The ride was more than enjoyable. It was beautiful, especially in the spring and fall as I biked along the river and down the Mall. But there came a time when my eyes became fixed on something more. It was the construction of the future Blue Line of the city’s subway system near the Arlington Cemetery. First there was digging; then track construction; third rail installation; test trains; and finally trains carrying people.
And it struck me – what a great way to move people into the city! Fast, clean, quiet, and a lot more orderly and less polluting than the cars I dodged every day along the city’s streets. Slowly though, a larger idea started creeping into my mind. These priests that I’d been listening to for Sunday after Sunday after Sunday talked every once in a while about being good stewards of everything around us. And one day it hit me. I muttered to myself while tooling along my bike — self, this open cut subway line next to the bike trail is really a great example of the community — no, real people — being good stewards of this beautiful little patch of northern Virginia along the Potomac River.
There was also a second thought that I couldn’t shake. These priests I referred to a moment ago also talked about how important it is to serve others. Again over time while riding along on my bike, it dawned on me. My work at the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, as I helped finance the building of subways, or the purchase of buses, or the construction of bus garages, were all good ways to serve lots of people. And so I did, for 10 years in places like Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Oshkosh, Jackson, Madison, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Rome, Miami and Fond du Lac.
Now, let’s jump to the present. I’ve helped build, then operate, and now help lead in what I fondly describe as moving big boxes on wheels, sometimes coupled together, carrying bunches of people in ways that are safer, take a lot less space, and pollute a lot less than when people travel in automobiles.
I’d also say that my understanding of our church and its teachings is deeper and broader than when I moved back to Washington at the age of 23. There’s more to it than being a good steward and serving others. Regardless of that, for the longest time I’ve tried to align my work with my beliefs. Hopefully, that’s a good thing. However, the trouble with alignment is that eventually I started wondering about aligning my beliefs with other parts of my life too. The logic was inescapable. If aligning my work with what I believed was the right thing to do, what about, for example, serving others by giving some time outside of work to things like Boy Scouts, coaching soccer and delivering newspapers with our sons? How about Sunday school teaching, ushering, or serving on the Vestry? How about pledging so many dollars a year to keep the lights on and the church staff paid?
So, here I am at almost 66 years old. I work a lot and enjoy it about 95% of the time. Granted, I could do with fewer emails every day and if and when I retire, I plan, with great ceremony, to smash my Blackberry into a thousand pieces – just for fun.
Alignment has served me well. And so has another idea that I didn’t learn in church but still makes sense to include as part of this Stewardship Minute. It came to me from the TV series called “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” and in particular the episode entitled “London, May 1916”. The words were uttered only twice during the show. But given the story, the wonderfully earnest, always strong-minded, and sometimes playfully romantic bus conductor and how young Indiana Jones was so smitten with her, I’ve never forgotten them. Never. What are they? The phrase is “Deeds, Not Words.”
So, my suggestion to each of you as you every once in a while think about your futures or because of where you find yourself today, consider what I’ve called alignment. Contemplate the phrase “Deeds, Not Words.”