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Positive Thinking

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." - Philippians 4:8

There is an ancient parable that goes like this:  

There was once a village that rested along a path where many travelers came by.  At the edge of the village they hired gatekeepers to welcome travelers who wished to move into the city.  A new gatekeeper was hired, and on his first day a traveler came by, stopped at the gate, and asked the gatekeepers what the town was like.  

The senior gatekeeper thought for a moment, placed his hand to his chin, and then replied with a question. "What was the village that you have come from like?"

The Traveler responded "Oh, it was terrible! People were so mean to each other, they took advantage of each other, and they bickered all the time.  It was so dirty and it smelled funny too.  This is why I am traveling, I wish to find a better place to live.  Surely this place must be better than where I came from, right?"

The senior gatekeeper looked at the traveler with a deep sadness, shook his head and said "Oh, I am sorry to tell you, but this place is just like that.  People here can be mean, exploitative, and argumentative.  The alleys are unkempt, full of trash, and it smells of fish most of the time.  You should carry on, I can't imagine you will like it here."

The traveler was sad to hear this news, but it was early in the day still, so they carried on down the road.  Another traveler came by later, stopped at the gate and asked the keepers: "Good day to you! I am travelling along looking for a new place to call home.  This place looks nice, can you tell me what it is like to live here?"  

The senior gatekeeper thought for a moment, placed his hand to his chin, and then replied with a question. "What was the village that you have come from like?"

The traveler was excited by this question and answered "Oh, it was so lovely!  The people were friendly to everyone, we all knew each other and took care of each other.  We had wonderful parties in the streets and the whole place was full of excitement.  It even had quiet places where you could get away from it all.  Is this place anything like that?"

The senior gatekeeper smiled and said "Come in, I think you have found your new home!  This place is just like that.  Everyone is friendly and welcoming.  We love visitors and new people.  We have parties and parades that go down the main street, and we have the best market for 100 miles.  You can smell the ocean in the air and there are many little nooks where you can get away from it all for a little quiet."

They welcomed the traveler in and as the end of the day grew near the new gatekeeper thought about all he had seen.  He asked the senior gatekeeper why he told the two travelers such different stories.  The senior gatekeeper smiled and said "I have come to realize that people will find whatever it is they focus on.  The first traveler found bad things in his old village, so he was bound to find the same here.  The second traveler found good things in his old village, so he was bound to notice them here too."

We do tend to get more of whatever it is that we focus on don't we?  I think that is why Paul tells the Philippians to focus on the good things, the noble things, and the beautiful things.  Paul wrote these words from prison, with his execution coming closer each day.  The Philippians knew great suffering too, the church was being persecuted for their beliefs and was struggling with internal division at the same time.  Paul was not telling them to go into denial about the existence of evil, the evil was clear and present, but instead to make a conscious choice to focus on the good.  We do a lot more to heal the world when we focus on the right thing.  

Mr. Rogers encouraged us to look for the good in bad situations when he said “Look for the helpers. You can always find people who are helping.”  He then added "If you look for the helpers, you'll know that there's hope".  Remember, Mr. Rogers was not denying the evil, he was actually particularly addressing the negativity found in news programs when he said this.

Mother Theresa was surrounded by deep suffering for the duration of her ministry and yet she said this: “I will never attend an anti-war rally. If you have a peace rally, invite me”.

In today's world we cannot ignore the violence, the racism, or the hate, our faith demands that we be peacemakers and justice-seekers, but we can make a conscious choice to focus on what is good.  Think about what you might rally for, rather than what you might rally against.  And I will leave you with this quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King.

God help us to focus on what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, short, help us to focus on you in the midst of a broken world.  Amen.  


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