Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Making Sacrifices

"Olive Branches"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Today is Veteran's Day in America, and the media is flooded with stories about the "sacrifices" of those men and women who have proudly served their country. 

As I read through some of these Veteran's Day stories in this morning's paper, it struck me that I barely ever hear the word "sacrifice" used in everyday conversation nowadays. It's a word that gets taken off the shelf, dusted off, and put into use on a day like today, and then it's put back in place until this time again next year.

I actually find it somewhat troubling that we don't talk much about "sacrifices."  I think it's a word that needs to be used much more in our own everyday lives. 

The word "sacrifice" essentially means "to give away something that you might like to keep for yourself, to act on behalf of another's welfare." My guess is that in a consumer oriented, individualistic culture of personal gratification, the idea of making a sacrifices on behalf of someone else is a somewhat foreign concept.

A few years back I was sitting at a local coffee shop in Hollywood writing my Sunday sermon. In the sermon I quoted law professor Stephen Carter's observation of what constituted a civilized society. Dr. Carter suggested that civilization is measured by the "sum of the many sacrifices individuals make for the common good." A society in which individuals ignore the common good and concentrate only on self-satisfaction is "barbarian," not civilized.

As I wrote my sermon about "making sacrifices," I noticed a group of young Hollywood writers at the table next to me working on a script for a TV show. I also noticed that they kept looking over at me, perhaps wondering if I was also writing some sort of screenplay - maybe I was their competition? Eventually one of the guys at that table asked me, "So what are you working on?" When I told them I was writing a sermon, they all stopped what they were doing and surprisingly wanted to know what the sermon was about?  I told them it was about "making sacrifices" and I quoted from Dr. Carter's analysis about what constituted a "civilized people."

At first these young Hollywood writers looked at me with blank stares.  I figured that they thought the idea of "making sacrifices" was probably a bunch of "pie in the sky" rhetoric with no application to the real world of "dog-eat-dog." But I was quite wrong. They were looking at me with those blank expressions because they had never really thought much about this idea of "sacrifice" before - astonishingly it was sort of a new concept for them. 

We then had a very fascinating conversation about the difference between a society of civilized people and a society of barbarians. They concluded they certainly lived and worked in a culture of barbarians,  and weren't at all sure that was such a good idea.

I think that Veteran's Day is a perfect time to lift up the word "sacrifice" and keep it out all year long as a guiding beacon for everyday living. Sacrificial living is not only at the heart of what it means to be civilized but it is at the heart of what it means to be on a spiritual journey. If I am awake to the truth that  everything and everyone belong to one another - all dynamically interconnected, then I am compelled to act accordingly. 

Spiritual awareness carries a moral imperative: tend to the needs of others, sacrifice self-interests on behalf of the common good.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable..
Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice and struggle,
the tireless exertions and passionate concerns of dedicated individuals 
who offer themselves for the good of others.
(Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr.)

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