Monday, July 06, 2015

"Résumé Virtues" and "Eulogy Virtues"

The River Raisin, in my backyard

If you are looking for summer reading I recommend The Road to Character, by David Brooks. I've read a number of reviews on the book, and picked it up for my Kindle yesterday. Linda and I went to Grand Haven State Park, set up our beach chairs where Lake Michigan touches the shoreline, and began to read. I love this book so far! It's well-written and deeply self-reflective. 

Brooks's book is about the distinction between "résumé virtues" and "eulogy virtues." He writes:

"The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being— whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed." (K63)

A eulogy-virtuous person has been freed from Facebook self-promotion. "Sometimes you don’t even notice these people, because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved. They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline." (K160-162)

Whole reading Brooks I began thinking of the many funeral eulogies I have given. My mind went to a man in our church whose name was Floyd. Floyd died several years ago, and it was my privilege to do his funeral. When I met with Floyd's wife Grace she shared something that I'd never heard before. Floyd, she said, was a thankful person who was always thanking God for what he had been given. Floyd had not come from a wealthy family. As I heard about Floyd and his thankful heart it reminded me of my mother who, as a young girl, sometimes got only an orange for a Christmas present, and cherished it and savored it and was thankful.

Here's how deep Floyd's heart of thanks ran. "Whenever we had snacks, like potato chips," said Grace, "Floyd would stop, bow his head, and thank God as the bag of chips was passed to him."

"You're kidding me, right?" I said. "Floyd would give thanks, in front of everyone, for potato chips?!!"

"Yes. He was grateful to God for anything that came his way."

I thought: I'm not that thankful. I take way too many things for granted.

"For granted" - to expect someone or something to be always available to serve you in some way without thanks or recognition; to value someone or something too lightly.

To "take something for granted" - to expect something to be available all the time and forget that you are fortunate to have it.

A "for granted" attitude presumes. A "for granted" attitude has a sense of entitlement. Like: "I am entitled to these potato chips."

"For granted" - to fail to appreciate the value of something.

"Entitlement" - the belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges. Like: "I deserve these potato chips."

Floyd, it seems, had no sense of entitlement, as if God owed him something. He didn't take provision, in any form, for granted. From that framework giving thanks logically follows. And, in yet another "great reversal," God is deserving of and entitled to our praise and thanksgiving. God, for Floyd, was not some cosmic butler whose task was to wait on him and make sure he was satisfied with the service.

The apostle Paul wrote: Always give thanks for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20). "For everything" is all-inclusive. Nothing exists outside the realm of "for everything." Everything is a gift from God, even our very life, even your eyes as you read this and your breath as you now breathe. If we gave thanks for everything we'd be stopping in front of people all the time and saying, "Thank you God, for this..."

If we realized how God-dependent we actually are we'd stop now and say "Thank you." And then, a few moments later, we'd say it again.

Brooks writes:

"Humility is freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time, but egotism is a ravenous hunger in a small space— self-concerned, competitive, and distinction-hungry. Humility is infused with lovely emotions like admiration, companionship, and gratitude. “Thankfulness,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, said, “is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.”" (K 287-290)