These are the first three maladies I might normally diagnose when examining the patient that is metro-Memphis. I’m tempted to name any one of these as the most significant sickness facing our cities.
But upon further reflection, I think another disease demands need greater attention. The disease of distraction.
To clarify, I’m not certain distraction is a worse syndrome here than elsewhere. But it is certainly as prevalent here as elsewhere. Richard Foster, bestselling Christian author and speaker on spiritual formation, was asked last year, “What’s the curse of the postmodern age?” His answer? Distraction.
A close friend once hosted a dinner for Jesus. She got frantic trying to make everything perfect for this ultimate dinner guest (and you think you’ve got it bad when your mother-in-law comes to dinner!) Jesus had to finally stop her and tell her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. Only a few things are important, even just one.” Problem? Distraction. She was distracted from the one truly good thing by a lot of other important things.
Jesus once noticed how people in his day got worked up about having the house they wanted, the clothes they desired, and the meals they wished. Jesus spoke up: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Problem? Distraction. They were distracted by significant issues and had forgotten the supreme issue.
A long-time and beloved elder in my congregation had a saying: “The main thing is the keep the main thing the main thing.” These words connected so deeply with us that upon his death we had the words painted and hung in our building. With great wisdom, he saw how even us religious people (perhaps especially us religious people) get distracted from the main thing.
This was certainly true in Jesus’ day. The trained clergy in his time used to debate which of the over 600 commands in the Bible were the most important. Each could make a case for why he felt this command or that command was superior. They finally drew Jesus into the debate. “What’s the most important command?” they asked. Jesus simply said, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Problem? Distraction. They had gotten distracted by all their scholarship, theology and tradition. Only a few things were truly important. Actually, just one.
We’re distracted today by smart phones which won’t shut up, televisions we won’t turn off, and schedules that won’t let up. We’re distracted by the squeaky wheels in our organizations. We’re distracted by the very serious sicknesses which plague our metropolis. We’re distracted by the religious experts urging us to “give this” or “read this” or “do this.” There’s a lot to be worried and troubled over. But only a few things are important. Actually, just one.