Philadelphia. 7 June. 1753. Benjamin Franklin sat down to write a letter to George Whitefield, an English clergyman who was taking America by storm. Billed as the ‘Grand Itinerant’, he called no church home, preferring to travel around the colonies preaching to the masses. For more than 30 years, he held his audiences in the palm of his hand, leading them to penitence and reigniting their souls with a passion for God in what was known as the Great Awakening.
I came across an excerpt from this letter recently and went in search of the full text. The more I read, the more I realised that BJ could have been writing today. June 2017. And I wondered how much better the world might be, were we to heed his words. I read it through a number of times and the same line kept jumping out at me.
I wish [faith] were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works; works of kindness, charity, mercy and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers filled with flatteries and compliments…
How relevant this is. My mind began to draw all sorts of connections between dots that weren’t there back in the 1700s. We have so many friends today. Thanks to social media, many of us have friends we’ve never met, people with whom we might interact on a daily basis through a litany of likes and hashtags but couldn’t pick out of a crowd. Have we reduced active support to sharing posts and reacting to photos? Are we drowning in a sea of good intentions, blaming our shortcomings as friends and neighbours on a lack of time? Are our leaders more intent on replaying their soundbites than actually getting anything done, building foundations for the future on shaky rhetoric?
In sharp contrast to city life, in the village if you need something done, you simply ask. We needed to borrow scaffolding from friends in the village. 1 km door to door. It was too heavy to hand carry and too heavy for a roof-rack. But a neighbour two doors up, to whom we’ve spoken to maybe three times, has a trailer and his wife has a car with a trailer hitch. We asked, he delivered.
My néni-next-door popped her head through the trees to say hi. She was curious to know what laundry detergent I was using, as the sheets I had air drying outside smelled wonderful. I had doubts at first that I was understanding her correctly but yes, I was. She disappeared and came back with money, asking me to bring some for her from Budapest next time I was down. She asked, I’ll deliver.
There’s hardly a day that goes buy without some ask being delivered on, in some form, shape, or fashion. Perhaps it’s still a few decades behind the times. Perhaps its the absence of distractions. Perhaps its simply a community at work. It feels good though. And is nice to be part of it. I’m grateful.
BJ captured it nicely in his letter to Whitefield…
For I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can discharge our real obligations to each other …
We ask, they do, and we do in return. Practical living at its best.