America, Be Not Cumbered

This has been the kind of where Spring shows its range and isn’t quite on the same page as itself yet.  Two days ago was cloudy, and I was stuck in an office.  With the air conditioning inside, this made it seem like a cold and cozy day even though outside it was warm outside and the air was heavy with waiting rain.

Yesterday, I was only in the office part of the day, with the rest being home visits.  This means I get to be in the sunshine, and it was brilliant bright.  It warmed my skin like summer, and I wonder what happened to the winter we never saw.  I heard it went to Italy, which was a surprise for Italy.

Spring is here, with buds and blossoms and blooming flowers, but the air is already warmer than Spring.

I am grateful the breeze does not yet carry the humid heat of summer.

Unless you are in the part of town where windows are nailed shut with bars over them, and there is no air conditioning.  In those homes, the heat is already stifling.  They don’t mind yet, because they have fans and at night the air cools off again.  They won’t mind until the night stops bringing relief.  But it is warm enough already that even the roaches just sit there instead of crawling on the walls, knowing that they might get cooked if they exert too much energy.  I like it better when they sit still, so that I know where they are, than when I have to work at not tracking them so that I can be a good listener.

We cannot be good listeners when we are “cumbered” with paying attention to other things.  I studied “cumbered” all week this week.  It started when I read it in D&C 66 during one of my morning studies, where it said “Seek not to be cumbered”, and cross-referenced to Luke 10 where Martha was cumbered while Mary was spending time with the Savior.  I looked up the definitions for “cumbered”, and got these:

  • To weigh down; burden: was cumbered with many duties
  • To hamper or hinder, as by being in the way: was cumbered with a long poncho
  • To litter; clutter up: Weeds cumbered the garden paths
  • To bother; distress
  • To clutter up
  • To burden in a troublesome way
  • To perplex or distress
  • To make idle (perispaomai) (to be idle by default because there is too much distracting from what needs to get done, so that nothing gets done)
  • To be drawn about in mind
  • To be distracted
  • To block up
  • To make unproductive
  • To be over-occupied with cares or business
  • To be burdened by cares and worries
  • To be troubled

When I think about all those meanings, and read “seek not to be cumbered”, then I kind of snort and sit back and wonder who on earth would want to be cumbered on purpose?

But then my phone vibrates with a message, my fifty morning work emails start to download, it’s time to let the dogs out, the bird wants more food, it’s time to switch out my winter clothes (since winter never came, so I am tired of wearing my fall clothes), I wonder about my mom (even though she is her own grown-up) who is at a job interview, there is a four year old to take care of who doesn’t even live here, there are session notes to type from three offices, treatment plans to type for people who are “ordered” to therapy even though they don’t want it, skype pops up with three new mission assignments, there are nine speeches to write in the next two weeks, and all I want to do is go run at the river.

Or maybe just burrow under the covers, because I am “cumbered”.

The problem with being cumbered isn’t the pressure, because cumbered people are desensitized to the pressure.  The problem with being cumbered is that it is self-inflicted.

Being busy and being productive are not the same as being cumbered.

Work itself is not bad.  Work is part of the Order that provides the temporal sustaining of our lives, the physical provisions and protections for ourselves and our families.  Work is how we create, whatever it is we are creating.  Our spirits need the rhythm of this creative work as much as our bodies and spouses and parents and children need the benefits that come from our work.  Work is a part of normal and healthy functioning.

Work is only out of balance when it interferes with our functioning, with our families, or with the rhythms of our lives.  Being productive is not cumbersome, but being busy without being productive is.

When we are cumbered, there is an illusion of work but nothing is getting done.  Or, lots may be getting done but the cost is too high (i.e., too much time away from the family), and so the purpose of work is hindered.  Or, we forget why we work and become distracted by the work itself, thinking it is only a means to an end.

Then we become robots instead of humans.

When we forget to be human, we forget to feel and to notice.

When we are cumbered, we are asleep instead of alive, only going through the motions instead of enjoying the process.

This is risky for ourselves, stealing motivation and enthusiasm; it is dangerous to others, stealing our devotion and dedication.  It sucks us of our ability to be awake and alert, and that is how we surrender our agency.

I think it’s an epidemic here, even beyond just the effect on ourselves or our families.

It shows up in the “illusion of superiority that comes with incompetence”.  That is a phrase I picked up in  THIS ARTICLE, that says research now proves Americans are too dumb for democracy.  While I am not sure I agree entirely with that statement, I do agree – and the research shows – that to choose better presidents we really have to be awake and alert and paying attention and participating.  As one friend said, we can’t just vote based on one or two issues that the media convinces us are important (which implies also, that first we must not be lulled to sleep so that we are so easily influenced).  It is really important to vote responsibly – whether it is the small county elections like last week, or whether it is for president-ness.

If we are cumbered – distracted or overwhelmed by daily life – so much that we cannot develop the wisdom to look ahead and to see the consequences of our choices, then we lose – forfeit, surrender – our ability to choose well.

The article says that this is not an issue of un-informed people who need to study more.  This issue is a nation of people who think they know, without having studied, and who refuse to be held accountable.

The author says the problem isn’t “stupid people”, but “stupid people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.

This stupidity, the article says, is the kind of ignorance that is chosen.  People who are asleep and not paying attention.  People who do not want to be awake.  People who do not want to do the hard work of participating in their own freedom.  People who think they know better, and so reject what they do not understand.  People who “have no idea the extent of their inadequacy”, and so are “incapable of recognizing wisdom”.

Here is the killer line from the article:

The scientists do say that the incompetent can be trained to improve, but only if they acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, which would seem to be a catch-22 since they are too ignorant to do so on their own.

We cannot improve if we do not acknowledge our own lack of skill.

We cannot improve (repent) if we do not acknowledge (confess) our own lack of skill (humility before God).

We are too ignorant to do so on our own.

We need God.

In 1968, Mark Petersen gave a talk in April General Conference (pages 59-63) called “America and God”.  The truths of it cannot be refuted, and so they were instead labeled so the truth could be explained away.  The concepts seem foreign and ancient, already dismissed by a sleeping people who stir only to silence prophets.  Here are some excerpts:

Most people do not realize it, but this nation is different from all other nations. It has a divine destiny not shared by other countries, and was set up as an independent power by a deliberate act of God to fulfill that destiny.

Because our nation is a creation of heaven, and because it has a divine destiny, we Americans must learn that it can continue to exist only as it aligns itself with the powers of heaven. If we turn our back upon the Almighty, even by ignoring him, we jeopardize our national future. If we deliberately oppose his purposes, we place ourselves in danger of destruction.

These stern facts have been taught to Americans from the beginning of our national history, starting with our first President, George Washington. He realized and he publicly announced that we obtained our independence through an act of Providence, since we were far too weak to gain it by ourselves. Knowing this, he warned that if we are to survive as a free and independent nation, we must obey the Almighty God who brought us into being.

Abraham Lincoln, another inspired President, said virtually the same thing, warning that if we fail to obey the commandments of God, we shall go down to ruin.

We have reached a point in our national history as crucial as the time of the Civil War. Our present dangers are quite as great. Threats to our future seem even greater. And yet, as a people, we have failed to turn to the divine power that created us… Because of our love of wealth and prestige and our insatiable passion for ease and pleasure, we fail to take the essential spiritual steps which could and would preserve us. Everyone—every man on the street—knows that we cannot continue with present conditions as they are, and yet we seem not to have the desire or the courage to alter our course.

Whether we are willing to admit it or not, our one great need is to turn to God. Our human efforts have failed and seem almost to lead us into ever more difficult entanglements. We need more than human wisdom. We need divine help.

Lincoln said that if we as a people do not turn to God and serve him, our nation will drift into destruction. He expressed his meaning in these words: “If we do not do right, God will let us go our own way to ruin. If we do right, he will lead us safely out of this wilderness and crown our arms with victory.” Thereupon he summoned America to turn to God as the only means of survival.

Woodrow Wilson said: “The sum of the whole matter is this: Our civilization cannot survive materially unless it be redeemed spiritually. It can be saved only by becoming permeated with the Spirit of Christ.”

Calvin Coolidge said: “The strength of our country is the strength of its religious convictions.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “No greater thing could come to our land than a revival of the spirit of religion—to stir the hearts of men and women of all faiths to a reassertion of their belief in God and their dedication to his will. I doubt if there is any problem—social, political, or economic—that would not melt away before the fire of such a spiritual reawakening.”

President Eisenhower constantly reminded us of our spiritual obligation.

But as mentioned in an editorial in the U. S. News and World Report… “A spiritual revival would waken America and purify her whole national life. It is not, however, to be attained by mere expression of purpose… It requires action throughout our waking hours. Not until each and every one of us feels the impact of spiritual achievement, not until the eagerness to serve God is stronger than the eagerness to serve ourselves, not until we are ready to make sacrifices of time and money and power and pride for the sake of others who need our help and our guidance will we begin to understand the elemental transformation which is prerequisite to the spiritual rebirth of the nation.”

… We are confronted with the choice of whether or not we as a nation will return to God in spirit and in truth as a means of actual survival. We must choose whether we will become fully converted to him or not. To put it plainly, it is largely a case of obedience versus lip service.

The Almighty is a God of war as well as of peace. The Bible clearly teaches that. And he is a power to be dealt with in this present crisis. He can be our literal Savior here and now. He can protect and preserve our nation. He has done it in the past; he can do it again today….  He can save us from criminality and from all the other inhumanities which now impale us on a cross of suicidal selfishness.

He is a God of action—a God of works as well as of faith. He demands obedience to him if we are to receive help from him. Are we ready to thus obey him? We cannot deal in half-way measures—not with God—and neither can we serve two masters. (Matt. 6:24)

I ask you: Is every one of us willing to do unto others as we would be done by? Are we willing to be merciful (Matt. 5:7), kind, and pure in heart (Matt. 5:8); to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39); to go the extra mile (Matt. 5:41)? Is every one of us willing to be sufficiently Christlike to accept his precept that says: “Blessed are the peace makers: for they shall be called the children of God”? (Matt. 5:9)

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


America, Be Not Cumbered — 2 Comments

  1. I read that article, because I remember telling Brian that we are all too stupid to know that we are too stupid :) And it reminded me of one of my first facebook statuses, which said, “At least I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough.” Anyway, great post! Truth. Plain and simple.