I hopped in a truck this evening amid 500 acres of ranchland in central North Dakota. As we avoided rocks and hills and rocky hills my host pointed out a dozen deer we disturbed along the way.
A couple of minutes later we happened upon a clearing that holds a log cabin. It has no electricity or plumbing, although there is an outhouse nearby. Inside are a few trophies from previous hunts, a bunk bed that sleeps three, an old couch, and a wood stove. He told me he always wanted a log cabin and by providence befriended someone a while back who could build a log cabin with the help of just two other people.
I could imagine enjoying this cabin. In the Summer the days are long, the humidity is low, and the nights are cool. In the Winter I could pretend I was Rocky training in Siberia.
My host doesn’t use the cabin as much as he’d like. He wishes he were riding horse more and fishing more. But 50 head of cattle demand plenty of attention, even if he’s somewhat retired. He stopped working as a rural mail carrier several years ago, but he’s still the chaplain for the North Dakota mail carriers. He said he’d remain chaplain until someone else would take his place. Someone younger. That hasn’t happened yet. He’s not sure it ever will.
He also talked about the Gideon’s. They distribute Bibles all over the world. But in his area the Gideon’s are all old. “I’m the youngest one in my camp, and I’m seventy. The younger people just don’t want to commit.”
He has a point that “younger people,” which in the Dakotas usually means anyone under 55, aren’t as committed to things that previous generations were. In the church realm that includes church involvement and affects parachurch groups like the Gideon’s and perhaps even mail carrier chaplains. In the non-church realm that means no young person can name Ms. America and fewer people have cable television subscriptions, among other things. But younger people are as committed as ever today to things that capture their hearts and imaginations.
While driving to central North Dakota from Missouri this weekend I listened to a lot of radio. One story was about the video game Fortnite. I’d only heard of it because my son plays it. What I didn’t know is that the game is barely two months old and averages one million dollars in revenue per day. People who previously didn’t have time and money for so many things, have in eight weeks freed up two to three hours a day to play a new game. That’s commitment.
I also heard on the radio that in Delaware the average pet owner spends $300 per month on their pets. That’s the highest average among the States, but not much higher than the national average. One refugee who was new to America said what surprised them most about their new country was that when people in America say “baby,” sometimes they mean dog. That’s commitment.
I went to one of my favorite places in South Dakota yesterday, Falls Park. While there I noticed one person who was nicely dressed and posed for what seemed to be thirty selfies or so in a few minutes. Then they left. I imagine they market their life more than they live it. Our smartphones don’t addict us. They’re just the delivery mechanism for our drug of choice, the desire for feedback. We’ll often do whatever we can, even if it means ignoring what’s right in front of us, for that feedback. The radio said we check our phone roughly 150 times a day. That’s commitment.
I’m not immune to committing myself to things that don’t matter much. I’m ashamed at how much I’ve spent on food the past several months, and my waistline shows it. I’ve not read the books I’ve meant to read now that I have the time to read them. I’m behind on my Portuguese studies. My time and resources have frittered away without playing one minute of Fortnite, caring for a single pet, or striving to become a social media influencer with selfies.
Yet my host’s comment about commitment has stuck with me. Commitment is waning. We are all independent consumers, waiting to be catered to or we will take our business elsewhere.
When we take this mindset to our relationships—including family, friends, neighbors, and churches—the results can be disastrous. We enter into an exchange of debits and credits with everyone as if we’re doing business with them instead of communing with them.
I think of Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. When a man was half-dead, the people you’d think would’ve helped him passed him by, not wanting to be inconvenienced. And then the most unlikely of people committed himself to care for this stranger. He scrapped his plans. He sacrificed his resources. He even vouched for unknown future debts that the injured man might incur. That’s commitment.
Arthur McGill liked to preach on the Good Samaritan. He says none of us is the kind of neighbor that Jesus’ story portrays, and that’s the point. We are the injured man and Jesus is our neighbor. We must learn to receive grace from someone we struggle to embrace before we can extend that same grace we received to others.
Thinking of commitment, we might never commit ourselves to something unless we really grapple with the commitment God has made to us. For he has not treated us like the consumers we act like we are, but has adopted us into his family as the children that we truly are. Paul puts it this way, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Now that’s commitment.