Isn't it strange, that princes and kings,
and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common-folk like you and me,
are builders for eternity?
To each is given a bag of tools,
a shapeless mass and a Book of Rules;
and each must make 'ere time has flown,
a stumbling block or a stepping stone.
R.L. Sharpe, "A bag of tools," circa 1809
Sometimes what is old becomes new again. I first heard this inspirational poem recited by my brother, who had used it in a speech he gave to win a national public speaking contest in New York in 1959. Upon request, he gave me a copy of the speech, which I have long since lost, but the poem made such an impression on me that I memorized it almost immediately and have never forgotten it. Over the years it has become for me like a cherished keepsake that I keep tucked away in the recesses of my mind to be brought out from time to time to reflect on its insight and understanding.
As we enter the time of year that the Christian church sets aside for inward reflection and introspection, it seems to me that this might also be a good time to bring this poem out once again to consider its words and how they affect us and those around us. While the tense of the poem speaks to each one of us individually, it also speaks collectively to our church, our communities and our world. We are all given “tools” with which to work, and we have an allotted time in which to use them. It is how we use those tools that will determine both our individual and collective fates. The question therefore for each of us to ponder during this Lenten season is whether or not our tools are stumbling blocks or stepping stones. Both have a time and place. How are you using your tools?
Sam Dorr, a life long Episcopalian lives in Louisville, Ky. with his spouse, Charles Raith. Retiring in 2008 as the Director of Operations at Christ Church Cathedral, Louisville, he now spends much of his time volunteering as a member of the board of directors of several local and national entities including The Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism of the Episcopal Church and AIDS Interfaith Ministries. He was elected in 2011 to the Board of Directors of The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition.