The beauty of life now, the beauty of eternity

What do you want to be remembered for ? I recently experienced the death of a good friend of mine. My friend was very talented and over the course of her life, she worked for a major airline, worked for a city aviation office, and for a prestigious preparatory school. She married a one-time local television news reporter, raised two children, was very active in her church especially the music program and was exceedingly talented as an editor. I’m not surprised that my friend even wrote her own obituary.

David Brooks in his book “ The Road to Character “ talked about the distinction between what he described as resume virtues and eulogy virtues.

Resume virtues would be accomplishments like I saved my company a million dollars in expenses, I ran my family farm or ranch successfully with profit. I was also elected as a state senator. I graduated from college, medical school, joined the military and became a general running military medicine.

These are virtues that you would see someone list on their resume. They are designed to grab the attention of potential employers. The end game, of course, is to climb higher on the ladder of temporal success.

Then there are the eulogy virtues. He/ She was a good spouse/partner/parent/brother/sister/son/daughter. He/ She was very committed to their church and to their community. He/ She was very generous with their time, talents and money. He/ She even supported public radio and television.

David Brooks highlights that it is the eulogy virtues that underline the significance of a person’s life. It’s the eulogy virtues that speak to the person’s character and to their essence and legacy that they have left after their life has ended.

Now, I will admit that most people are not eager to talk about the eternal reality after our lives have finished. No, we are more prone to agree with Rolling Stone Keith Richards who would say:

Any day above ground is a good day !

Now, Keith can certainly testify to this truth. He relates in his autobiography “Life “ (2010) the fact that he has cheated death several times, including falling out of a coconut tree on the island of Fiji and surviving with a concussion.

Our focus instead usually highlights the resume virtues. What have you done ? What have you achieved ? What have you done for me lately ? The campaign becomes how do I get promoted ? How do I get a bigger house ? How do I get to be totally financially independent with no worries ? How will I be able to get to visit Europe every summer ?

This is the grind, as a lot of people can note, regarding the lure of the resume virtues. You are always moving ahead. There is little-to-no down time and even little to no sacred time.

Critics have addressed the insatiable desire to further acquire more resume virtues.

Joni Mitchell observed:

“ You could have been more

than the name on the door,

of the 33Rd floor

in the sky,

more than a credit card

swimming pool in the backyard. “

It’s not that I don’t appreciate credit cards, I do, and I really appreciate swimming pools especially on hot Texas days.

Again, scripture asks the reader to consider questions regarding what it means to be human and moral.

The writer of Amos delivers some strong invective against those who would cheat and those who are needy. The writer declares against those who would buy the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals ( Amos 8: 6 ). The minor prophet indicates that one cannot be moral and just when they continue to evade the truth.

Matthew Desmond is his book: “ Evicted: Poverty and Profit in The American City “ ( 2016 ) chronicles eight families in the Milwaukee, WI area who are affected by the national crisis of eviction. Professor Desmond, a Princeton Sociologist, looks at this problem not only through the lens of the tenants but also through the perspective of the landlords and the police. What emerges is a disturbing picture where poor families, primarily minority families , usually single parent female households are paying 70% of their income per month on housing. When repairs need to be made the landlords are notorious about delaying improvements and the tenants are left with living in substandard housing. When evictions do occur, the education of children is disrupted which puts them at a greater disadvantage and more at risk regarding negative outcomes including health.

The parable of the dishonest steward that we have presented to us in Luke’s Gospel presents an interesting dilemma. The manager is concerned that he will not be able to keep his job for fear of dis-pleasure by his master. He asks two of his master’s debtors how much they owe. The debtors inform the manager the amount they owe. The manager responds to them “ Here rewrite your bill and he gives them a substantial discount “. This is a not so subtle way of cooking the books.

But what is significant is when the master learns of this he doesn’t berate the manager, instead he commends the dishonest manager for acting shrewdly ((Luke 16:8 ).

Instead of firing the dishonest manager, much like the hired gun human relations manager in the movie “ Up in The Air “, the master retains the dishonest steward, perhaps even rewards him for his malfeasance in behavior. The following verse is equally curious:

Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so that when it is gone you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. ( Luke 16: 9 ).

The Gospel writer then adds:

“ Whoever cannot be trusted in handling worldly wealth, who will trust them with true riches ? “

Which brings us back to the original question:

“ What do you want to be remembered for ? “

Do you want to be remembered for accumulating a lot of financial wealth and a lot of possessions or would you want to be remembered for positively effecting the lives of others and for changing one’s community ?

As Emerson said:

“ “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — that is to have succeeded.

Psychologist Erik Erikson talked about the stage of ego integrity where someone looks back at their life to determine as to whether their life has been worthwhile.

The Christian Gospel asserts that meaning in life is grounded in the revelation of Jesus that is manifest in our life, in our death and in our life beyond death.

The temporal can inform the eternal and the eternal can inform and enrich our temporal lives.

May we be remembered for who we are, for who we loved and for what we valued and worked and advocated for now and always.

May it be so.

The Rev. Peter E. Bauer is a longtime licensed clinical social worker and minister for the United Church of Christ. A LCL, he is also an Army and Navy veteran.