Dear Inspiration Seekers,
I grew up in the 1960’s, hearing that “Any child can grow up to become president”. I could achieve any horizon and ambition I set myself too. Maybe this was civil rights and flower-power era rhetoric against the prejudices of the decades and centuries past, but on a person level, even in grammar school I thought this was a pile of manure. I could not pass a spelling test or get chosen on a sports team. I think Paul shared my cynicism when I described the church as having many parts, each with a different functions. He recognized that God doled out gifts in different quantities and not to everyone. Right there in Romans 12 verse 3 he refers to “the measure of faith God has given you”. We do not even start with the same amount of faith, but have to work with the “measure” that God decided that we could have. Become president, my foot!
Paul then lists a number of gifts, or talents, along with how someone could use these for good: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading, showing mercy. The point is that everyone does not need to aspire to become president, but everyone should become aware of his or her talents and then use them in a good manner. This leads us in a couple of directions: how does God “give” such talents, and how might these be used for good or evil. Our prior discussions about neuroscience and virtues misused might provide answers.
I prefer the word “talents” to “gifts”. Maybe this is my ambivalence about the idea that God has a personal stake in individuals, thus giving gifts suggests selecting something for that person. Maybe it is my repressed memories about asking for a TR-7 sports car for Christmas and getting an office chair instead (yes, it had 4 wheels!). Guess those memories are not so repressed. So, if our talents are something that we possess, how might God give these to us? Accepting certain premises, I would suggest that our bodies and brains hold the clue. If God is a creative force and has some say in who we might become, then DNA is the source. We all start out with combinations of our parent’s DNA, which provide the foundations for all of our bodily structures. Once the process starts, our life experiences guide the rest.
Back to spelling and sports, I do not have the talents of being able to organize letters consistently, nor have I ever had the stature or strength to join in competitions. These are not my talents. As you might have gathered, I do have talents for telling stories and laboring endlessly around the mountain. These are my talents, along with some others. Regarding my lack of spellicity and abundance of yarning, these are different brain functions. I have already talked about the frontal lobe and story telling. Yes, you can say that I have a fat-head there.
My spelling issue come from my temporal and occipital lobes, which process auditory and visual information respectively. I do not distinguish between similar sounds, nor can I visualize the letters in order. I remember struggling in 2nd grade with understanding how to use the words “are” and “our”, for they sound the same to me. Even today, when someone calls and says “Hi, it’s me” or just starts into a conversation, I might politely talk for several minutes before I know to whom I am speaking, based on the comments that she or he makes. I went through school in the era before learning disabilities developed names, but I suspect that I would have been diagnosed with dyslexia had such a thing been identified. By the way, the method I discovered for improving my vocabulary, though not spelling skills, was to read out loud. In high school, I read a lot of the Bible this way and in college I started reading the Smithsonian magazine to myself. Spell check just points out my errors more often, now, except when I substitute “are” for “our” and spell the wrong word correctly.
Though Paul does not address this concept directly, part of what I see him getting at is that we first need to do a personal inventory to identify our abilities as well as our vulnerabilities. Rather than all being presidents, we should figure our whether we have the talents to lead, serve, teach, etc. The other side of this is that we should inventory what we do not do well, and accept that we should not try to pursue talents we do not possess. For instance, I may tell a quality story, but I do this best in certain situations, such as is writing or to small groups. I am vulnerable in large crowds. I do not use my talents well at parties, with lots of people whom I do not know. I even get the heibbie-geibbies when my blog stats indicate that lots of people “viewed” what I wrote on a specific day.
This brings us to the question about how we use our talents, for good or evil? Again, Paul addresses using God’s gifts for good purposes within the body of the church. But, this suggests that these talents could be use for less desirable purposes, if not outright evil purposes. How often do we observe that people with a talent for leadership become presidents, only to become tyrants, dictators, despots? How often do they use their power to amass wealth, fame, and sexual partners for themselves and their associates. They have discovered their talent for leading, but not recognized their vulnerability to becoming corrupted. Maybe this is why Paul concludes this section with the admonition, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Go, discover your talents, inventory your vulnerabilities, and walk the line between the two. Meanwhile, I will run spell check and edit this blog by reading it out loud to myself…
Until next time, Inspiration Seekers