This isn’t the column I’d intended to write.
That column was about the coarsening of our public discourse.
It was about Gov. Matt Bevin’s recent embarrassing tirade against Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, and about President Donald Trump’s insulting Tweets against, well, anyone who’s ever disagreed with him, and about the belligerent Pittsburg Steelers fans I sat among at an NFL game last fall in Cincinnati.
Rowdy pro football fans aside, I sometimes wonder what’s happening to us when even those in state and national leadership — who should be setting examples of decorum and self-awareness — imagine it’s good form to rant like petulant teenagers. Any competent schoolteacher would forbid her 9th graders from speaking the way our elected officials now routinely do.
But a funny thing happened on my way to the keyboard.
I ended up at a parishioner’s 30th birthday party.
Usually, I write my columns for the coming week on Sunday afternoons. I preach in the morning, grab some lunch, then go home and open my laptop.
This particular Sunday, however, my wife Liz and I had been invited to a party. I knew I’d be getting a late start on my column.
The party’s attendees ranged from retirees to toddlers.
Liz and I had a lovely time. Most of the people were our long-time friends. Toddlers ripped and romped. Adults ate bratwurst. Everyone had cake. We made relaxed small talk in the way old friends can. At some point the guest of honor opened his gifts.
My son, daughter-in-law and five grandchildren were there, too.
As the festivities gradually wound down, my granddaughter Harper, 9, climbed on my knee to tell me about the ankle she’d strained on a sliding board. Then she decided to stay a while.
Granddaughter Hadley, 8, came over and plopped down on my other knee.
For 30 minutes, the three of us giggled and told family stories. Liz said later that both the girls kept patting me affectionately and playing with my hair. I hadn’t noticed that because I was caught up in our conversation.
“They love you so much,” she said.
I discovered she and our daughter-in-law had been quietly taking pictures of us.
Here’s something I did notice on my own.
By the time Liz and I got home, around 3 p.m., I didn’t care about Bevin or Trump anymore. I didn’t care about obnoxious football fans. I didn’t even care about writing a newspaper column.
None of it mattered. I felt perfectly content, at peace with God and the world. I’d tapped into something sublime.
I just couldn’t gin up a load of mad for the governor, the president or anyone else.
Please don’t misunderstand. What our leaders say — and how they say it — matters. And what they do, good or bad, matters more.
I believe in being actively involved in democracy. I vote. Right here in this space, I speak my mind every week on all types of issues: political, religious and personal.
I’m not a pacifist or a fatalist.
But in the end, our efforts to change ourselves, others or the world usually don’t bring us much real satisfaction. Such efforts mainly serve to keep us stirred up and ulcerated and sleepless and disappointed.
Among my favorite biblical books is Ecclesiastes, ascribed by tradition to King Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived.
Whoever the author was, he talks about all the avenues by which he and others sought fulfillment —through education, through wealth, through political power, through what today we might call activism.
Turned out, all of it was vanity and striving after wind, the writer concludes.
He came to recognize that no matter what he did, he would only die and be forgotten, and wouldn’t have much changed himself or the earth.
What, then, does satisfy the soul?
He tells us in chapter 9: “Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart ... Let your clothes be (nice), and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which God has given to you under the sun.”
Or, in contemporary terms: Find the grace in life’s simplest acts.
Turn off your incendiary Twitter account. Take a break from the cable news channel. Let go of the “important” stuff.
Go celebrate a friend’s birthday. Make small talk. Eat cake. Kiss your spouse.
There’ll be plenty of time tomorrow for anger or ambition or worry.
Right now, welcome your grandchildren onto your lap, clutch them to you and listen as they cackle with laughter. In that magnificent moment, hang on for dear life.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at email@example.com.