by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
From 1915 to 1921, the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor was the place to be on Sunday mornings. Professors and students from the University of Michigan, and people from the larger community, arrived for worship in such numbers that the leaders of the congregation started a fund drive to enlarge the building. The ushers kept having to turn people away. And, of course, there was a reason for this: the preaching of Lloyd C. Douglas.
The thing that people found most compelling about him was his relevance. He understood their daily lives. He knew what was on their minds. He didn’t drone on about age-0ld doctrines that they couldn’t relate to; he told them why the gospel mattered to them here and now.
He was still learning. His distinctive message didn’t come into focus until 1921, but there is one subject in particular that he preached on as early as 1915, and he spent the rest of his life talking about it: “Poise.”
“We are racing through our lives at top speed,” he said. “As in no preceding epoch of the world’s life, the sense of the necessity of hurry has become an obsession. We are going too fast for our own good; but we dare not slow up…. May one live a life of poise, then, in our day? If so, one must arrange to achieve that poise while on the run, in the ruck, in the racket, in the thick of the scramble.”
He offered prescriptions. For example: Control the things you can control. He told about a man “whose office chair was so near the edge of his rug that whenever he moved to his desk the leg of the chair ploughed up the rug, compelling him to arise and extricate the thing with a scowl and a smothered imprecation. The hinges on his door squeaked abominably. His office windows were so nearly immovable that they had to be jimmied up in the morning and struggled down again at night by brute force. He was forever looking for a blotter, or a pin, or a rubber band, and nothing ever seemed to be where he was searching. If he had a life program, it was to see how much nerve force he could waste.” Douglas listed these annoyances as things that could be brought under control.
“Then there are things… over which we have no control. The weather, for example. It’s amazing what a deal of talking and worrying we do about the weather. If it’s cold, we go about telling everybody that it is cold, as if other people did not know it. If it’s hot, we make it still hotter by commenting upon it. If it rains every other day for two months, we just open the windows of our spirits and let it rain in all over us. It saturates us. It deluges us without and within.”
We also deprive ourselves of poise by the way we review our life histories. “If you will take the time to leaf through your ‘memory book,’ you will observe that it is not arranged in chronological order, but classified under topics. Some of these chapters show signs of having been much thumbed; printed in black face 12-point, underscored with heavy line-rule. Other chapters seem hardly to have been touched; set up in such tiny type as to be almost illegible.
“Last night, when you couldn’t sleep, you took out the book and turned to the chapter on ‘My Stupid Blunders.’ You read for the ten-thousandth time the history of all the things you have said and done which brought you regret and humiliation. Then you turned to the chapter headed, ‘What Might Have Been’ – and read of all the big chances you have let slip through your fingers, chances which might have made you rich, which might have brought you fame (and which might have put you in your grave by now, though no hint of that occurs anywhere in the chapter)….
“You must rewrite this book. Begin by classifying your blunders into ‘Blunders Irremediable’ and ‘Blunders I May Repair.’ Reset the former in small type and put it in an obscure corner of the new volume. Then set yourself to the task of writing those long-deferred letters of apology and paying those visits which will clear up so many of these blunders.
“After having done that, you may begin to take an interest in the ‘Joy’ chapters which you so seldom read. Even the memories of childish delights will become interesting again – the first visit, alone, to your uncle’s farm; your first sight of the sea; the ecstasies of those crisp, snowy Christmases; the exultant glee of meeting returning brothers and sisters, coming home for the holidays with their arms laden with mysterious packages. Do you know why you do not often read these ‘Joy’ chapters now? Surely you know! Too much serious business needing attention, needing repair!”
The article continues: “Mr. Douglas also suggested a revision of ‘Convictions,’ holding that many people are unable to secure ‘personal peace’ because they pretended to advocate principles in which they had no personal interest. ‘Be sincere. Be what you are. Not by lowering your reputation to fit your character, but by bringing your character up to meet your reputation.’ Examples were cited of the man who is zealous to see foreign missionary operations going forward but refuses to speak to representatives of these great nations who reside here. ‘The very flower and pick of these greater nations you want saved pass your door every day!’ declared the speaker. ‘And are you, who are interested in China, Korea, Japan, and India offering them your personal friendship and hospitality?’
“Then there is the man who makes fervent petitions in the church prayer meeting that God will clean up the city’s politics on the night the primaries are held [so presumably he’s at church instead of the voting booth], and the man who volubly discusses international peace but refuses to keep his chickens out of his neighbor’s flower-beds.”
Douglas’s sermons were filled with these kinds of practical applications. That, along with his sense of humor, made him a popular preacher and speaker. But speaking of international peace, there was already a war going on in Europe, and it would soon be impossible for Americans to ignore it.
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