Friday, November 29, 2013

Confronting the abominable scowl

Last week Hal and I enjoyed prowling around in the archives of Southwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, hot on the trail of the puzzle pieces as we research the history of the Bolivian Friends Church. One of the occupational hazards of archival research is the temptation to scamper off on any of the fascinating rabbit trails that frequently pop up. Because of the limited time we had, we managed to resist many of these tempting trails. But not all of them.
The rabbit trail I’m about to lead you down appeared in the lower right hand corner of page 8 of the magazine Christian Workman, from “first month” 1905. (The Christian Workman was the early printed voice of California Yearly Meeting.) It’s a short trail, essentially a list of the characteristics of an effective “junior worker.” A“junior worker” might be what we would today call a youth pastor.
Some of these characteristics, while timeless, reflect a different age. The junior worker...
--Is gentle.
--Cultivates simplicity.
--Speaks a kind word often.
--Lays stress on small duties.
(Perhaps we would describe youth pastors today in more dynamic terms?)
Some of the characteristics definitely root in the early 20th century:
--Uses blackboard.  (A what?)
--Wears junior badge. (This congers up memories of my brownie button, which I wore with pride. But I somehow can’t picture a youth-pastor-badge, or anyone today wearing such a thing.)
My favorite characteristic from the list stands out in its quaintness. I learned that an effective junior worker…
--Thinks scowling abominable.
Abominable. That’s a strong word. In other words, the junior worker is not only someone who scowls at a scowl, he or she wholeheartedly opposes it.
I’ve been chewing on the term awhile, and I’m sensing more and more its appropriateness. However quaint the expression, the common sense therein applies as much to us as it did to those 1905 junior leaders.
Scowling people are still, if not totally abominable, at least irritating.
I offer my own grandkids as an example. Normally these young people are adorable, but on that rare occasion when one of them wakes up grumpy, “abominable” may not be too wild a term to use.
Please observe these photos of the grandkids scowling abominably. You’ll quickly discern that they are posing for instructional purposes. These are not their normal expressions. But I wanted to illustrate what a scowl looks like, and rather than the blackboard, I’m using digital photography, this being 2013.
Of course, the really abominable scowl is the inward one. I must confess that I sometimes bear one, carefully disguising its outward manifestation if other people are present. I have days when a black cloud hangs over my spirit and I can see no good in the world around me, including the people who inhabit it. Abominable is exactly the right word in this case. Some would call it sin (a word that fits better in a document from 1905, but applies today).
The antidote is thankfulness, I think. On dark days, deliberate thankfulness is an offering we make to God. An unnatural offering, but a real one. An old hymn tells us to “count your many blessings, count them one by one.” 
It’s hard to do that and scowl at the same time.

1 comment:

  1. Priceless. The abominable scowl hides behind cynicism at the moment. It takes more than gratitude to get rid of "it".