Invasive Species

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. ~ Thomas Merton

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I’m unable to be simultaneously perturbed and in a state of grace. I’m increasingly aware that when I choose to be annoyed, I take a step away from grace and open myself to invasion.

In ecology, invasive species are generally non-native plants or animals that harm the environments they invade. Removed from their natural habitat, you would think these transplants might struggle to survive, but in fact, they thrive. Imported, invasive species are largely without natural enemies, leaving them free to multiply and overwhelm their environments.

In the spiritual realm, the soul is like loamy soil, able to sustain most anything planted in it. Sacred spaces, our souls are designed to be nourished by wisdom and love and grace.

But soul health has its own delicate ecosystem. One of the most common invasive soul species are pet peeves. Here are a few of the things I often hear mentioned:

People who don’t use turn signals/ tailgate/ take up 2 parking spaces
People who intimidate/ humiliate/ ridicule others
People who let their dogs bark/ children scream/ babies cry incessantly
People who act superior/ arrogant/ patronizing
People who throw trash out the car window/ on the beach/ on the sidewalk
People who text/ read a book/ shave/ apply make-up while driving
People who leave shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot
People who are self-righteous/ defensive/ argumentative
People who rant about political/ religious views that differ from your own
People with a full cart of groceries in the express line
People who allow their children to yell/ fight/ run in restaurants
People who lie/ gossip/ back-stab/ stir-the-pot
People who make excuses for their mistakes/ their children/ their habits
People who continually criticize/ correct/ find fault
People who ask for advice and then do the opposite of what you suggest
People who talk on their cell phone/ to each other/ walk around at movies
People who are prejudiced/ judgmental/ bigoted/ racist                               People who whine/ complain/ feel sorry for themselves
People who are always negative

If you’re like most folks, there’s something that consistently bugs you. My personal peeves are comprised more of attitudes than actions, which makes it easy for me to justify maintaining them. It isn’t hard for me to make a case against arrogance or bigotry or cruelty. If I start down that path, my mind rolls those peeves over and over until they’ve taken root in my all too accommodating loam.

Most invasive species do not spread randomly, but move along corridors through suitable habitats. ~ Indiana University Pub

My heart’s desire is to be peeve-less.

I’m trying to be diligent about what I plant in the corridors of my soul. Pet peeves thrive because they aren’t native and don’t belong there. Unchecked, they choke out the love and compassion and kindness I’m called to offer.

Plant a peeve and it will grow. When Grace is the gardener, peeves get plucked. But when we lose sight of Grace and instead, begin petting our peeves, they will most certainly flourish, causing real harm to our souls.

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.

Level Ground

Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace. ~ Philip Yancey 

I was slow to believe in the level ground concept.

For most of my life my thinking was something like this: I’m not perfect but at least I’m not like ______. I may sin (you know, just the small stuff) but I would never ______.

I lived a fill-in-the-blank spirituality. As long as I could find a sin worse than my sin, my sin didn’t really need grace, it just needed a good excuse.

Mixed in with my self-righteousness were days of self-recrimination when I felt hopelessly less than. That was equally un-level ground sloping in the opposite direction.

Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.

When I finally found my footing, grace became both my comfort and my counsel.

I learned that I need grace.

And I learned that no one has ever needed it more than me.

That’s level ground.

99 Bottles of Beer

He straightened up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone.’ Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one accused you?’ “No one, Sir”, she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you’, Jesus said. ‘Go now and stop sinning.’ ~ John 8: 7-11

Do you remember the song 99 Bottles of Beef on the Wall? It was one of those songs we used to sing on the bus on field trips, long before any of us (or at least most of us) had ever tasted a beer. Funny how, after all these years, that particular song came to mind tonight as I was reading John.

Take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall. Starting at 99, passing the bottle and reaching for another, it took a long time to run out of beer. I don’t remember that we ever sang it all the way through.

It’s sort of the same way with stone throwing. Pick one up, pass it around and there’s still an endless supply of stones on the ground. Wrong denomination, take one down; wrong Bible version, take one down; wrong choice of movies, take one down; wrong life style, take one down; wrong political party, take one down; wrong beverage, take one down; wrong taste in music, take one down; wrong eating habits, take one down; wrong hobbies, take one down; wrong habits, take one down …

Pick up a stone, pass it around. Ashes, ashes we all fall down.