My good friend from my grad school years, Mary, did some volunteer work in Houston after graduation, and there met and then married a man named Sam Clark from Longview, Texas. So I would visit the family on a somewhat regular basis. While I was there, I learned a few “East Texas” phrases. One of them was: “That dog won’t hunt,” meaning – bad idea, don’t even think about it. Or its converse: “That dog’ll hunt” – meaning – “Great idea – I love it. Let’s make it happen.” I also learned another phrase: “I’m fixin’ to do it.” That was East Texan short for: “It’s a good idea, and maybe I’ll get around to it, but until then, don’t bug me and don’t count on anything getting done. ‘Cause it could take a while before fixin’ becomes doing…”
It strikes me that the second son in today’s gospel would have made a great East Texan. “Go”, demands the request from the Father. “I’m fixin’ to”, comes the reply. On my terms. When I have time. And in my own way. Translated – don’t lose any sleep waiting for it to happen. “I’m fixin’ to do it,” is not a productive way to live the life of discipleship, much less any kind of long term commitment.
The story that Jesus tells goes to the heart of discipleship. “Which of the two did the father’s will?” It’s not a matter of externals, of saying words that are so easy, as did the first son. It’s a matter of moving from fixin’ to doin’. From speaking about God/Jesus/the kingdom – to DOING the work of the kingdom.
Growing up, I first fought this battle with my parents over the ‘brushing the teeth’ issue. Though I never used the words, my reply was:“I’m fixin’ to.” Then it became the ‘homework’ issue. Then, in the seminary, it became the praying issue. “I’m fixin’ to.” Then in my first assignment, it was about getting over to the grade school to visit classrooms. “I’m fixin’ to.” At the university, it is always about getting over to campus instead of just staying at the Newman Center. Here, it is I’m fixin’ to write the Beyond Sunday thank-you notes. In each place and during each stage of my faith life, there has been an area that “I’m fixin’ to get to’. And I find the gospel today inviting me to stop ‘fixin’ and start doing.
If you know that struggle in your own life, then there is good news in today’s gospel. The kingdom of heaven is full of people who did not start off well in the ‘doing’of the things of the kingdom category. The tax collectors. The public sinners. The prostitutes. All the folks whose lives initially said “NO” to the invitation of the kingdom, but found a way to move from fixin’ to doing.
So the gospel question becomes: What are you “fixin’ to do” that you really just need to be “doing”?
· October is Pro-life Month – volunteer to do sidewalk witness during the 40 Days for Life event underway now. Or, I was at the THRIVE dinner last night and found they have a predictive model on how to help pregnant mothers make the choice to carry their children to term. Just $1,300, invested at the right time on ultrasounds and diapers and supplies gives unwed mothers the courage they need to choose life. Consider helping their efforts.
· The protests which began over the Shocklee verdict continue to remind us of how painfully our city is divided. And reveal that there is still an undercurrent of covert if not overt racism that finds too much of a home in too many people’s lives. There is so much work to be done to stop the sin of racism. Minimally, are you fixin’ to address those prejudices you find in your own heart?
· Spiritually – in theory, we all want to be closer to God, but often times, aside from Saturday/Sunday mass, we’re always just fixin’ to do something about that. For Young Adults in the parish, the UMSL Newman Center has an Awakening retreat from Oct. 13-15 – a chance to move from Fixin’ to Doin’ on the Spiritual side. That Man is You is in its third week. The Enough ministry is on the third Tuesdays for women. Heck, these fall days, treat yourself to a prayer walk at night…
The good news today is that there is room in the kingdom for all sorts of people – anyone who is trying to do the will of the Father, no matter how imperfectly they do it. May this week find us moving from ‘fixin’ to’ to doing…