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To Change the Mind

One of the lucky aspects of my job is the leisure to read.  Admittedly, there are times I do not perceive it to be a leisure.  It may well be a tendency to think that if something is part of the job, then it has to be “work.”  And if it is “work,” it must be done.

This reminds me of one of Tom Sawyer’s one-liners in Mark Twain’s book.  Tom had just talked some of his buddies into “volunteering” to whitewash the fence.  However, it took some real attitude-changing for Tom to pull off this switch of perspective in his buddies.  As the story opened, it was a lovely Saturday morning on a fine spring day.  Tom had plans; his elders had other plans.  They won; he was condemned to whitewashing this fence.

Soon his buddies came by the “workplace.”  They laughed at poor Tom as they announced plans to go off and have fun.  The cruelty of the world bit Tom very deeply!  But he was stuck.  There was no alternative to whitewashing. 

He may have been stuck, but he was not helpless.  He had faith that there might be an alternative he could create.  Perhaps, that is a key.  Too often, we assume any alternative available to us has to be already “there.”  Some of us assume we will be stuck if we cannot find the alternative, which is already “there.”  We do not realize that many times we can create alternatives.

This is exactly what Tom did.  He created an alternative.  The clever thing in his alternative is the simplicity of his creation.  He simply changed the way his buddies thought about whitewashing.  The alternative was only in the mind.  Whitewashing is whitewashing.  But how you feel about it depends on how you see it.

Tom figured out how to change work into play.  Tom began to counter his buddies’ jabs at him by “suggesting” to them that he would not share his whitewashing duties for anything.  This planted seeds of doubt in their mind.  They assumed it would be a lousy Saturday duty…and he was claiming somehow it was not only a privilege but, even fun.

This created a curiosity and lure.  One by one Tom hooked every one of his buddies.  They began “paying” him for the privilege of whitewashing.  Tom had re-shaped their thinking and pretty soon they were joyfully doing that which they jeered only minutes before.  Tom not only had the last laugh; he had their loot, to boot!

Let me suggest this is a good parable to understand how God works and what the role of spirituality might be in our lives.  It would be easy to see the embrace of a spiritual journey as something like being condemned to whitewash the fence.  Who would want to work like that?  I would rather have fun doing what I want to do! 

I won’t go so far as to suggest Tom Sawyer is a symbol of Jesus, but I do think Jesus often worked paradoxically like Tom.  Jesus was a mind-changer.  He re-shaped peoples’ attitudes.  He changed the way they looked at the world and what we should do in our world.

Jesus had some crazy ideas.  If you want to be first, then agree to be last.  If you want to be great, then choose a servant role.  What all this crazy teaching does to me is cause me to be less sure I know exactly how things work.  It causes me to pause and wonder.  It gracefully opens me up to looking at things differently.

And there precisely, is the opening to the transformation.  Maybe with a new view there are new possibilities. Work can become play.  Duty can become privilege.  I have a sneaking suspicion this is a little like the kingdom which is a mustard seed.  Something big could happen here!

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