Significant dirt

Three starting observations:

  • I’ve had two brief conversations in the last couple of days with friends who are struggling with motivation, who are drifting Both have recently finished times of preparation, each have had significant changes in their lives during the past months.
  • I heard that today is the most depressed day of the year, with a convergence of Christmas bills coming due, the weather proving that it is in fact winter (and Groundhog Day itself is still a couple weeks off), and the demise of many of our resolutions, even those made half-heartedly.
  • Many friends, whether I see them online or offline, want to live lives of significance, lives that matter. We look at productivity and time-management and planning as ways to function more more efficiently (doing things right) and effectively (doing the right things). And still, even as we get the methods working right, we still have a deep longing to matter.

The jar in the picture holds dirt. It is, in fact, red clay from Georgia, not unlike the red hills of Georgia dreamed of by Dr. King.

Several years ago, we were passing through Atlanta on our way to Indiana from Florida. We realized that we could stop at the King historical site. We went to the museum, or visitor center, or whatever it was called. We looked at exhibits. We walked across the street to the Ebenezer Baptist Church (it wasn’t much different from First Missionary Church in Fort Wayne, not much bigger, about the same age, pretty functional). We walked to the library, looked at the fountain, bought a t-shirt. And then we walked back to the car to start driving again.

As we got near the car, we walked past a couple construction sawhorses, protecting us from a sidewalk construction site. Next to the hole was a pile of dirt. Red dirt. Red clay of Georgia.

(And so I now confess to the world that I stole three clods of red Georgia clay from a National Park system-operated visitor center parking area.)

The pickle jar of dirt sits in my office to remind me that significance lies not in the substance. This jar of clay means nothing by itself. However, when it reminds me of the words

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

this jar reminds me that I am in the same battle, the same challenge, the same dream. My life, my passion, my dream is about that reconciliation, the bringing people together with each other and with God.

What it also reminds me, however, is that there are parts of that process that are not covered in the visitor center, in the carefully curated version of biography. Dr. King’s life is only partially captured in the pictures and words we see in the displays. A walk through the church doesn’t show the hours he spent in study, in prayer, in wrestling with God and with himself. The”Letter from Birmingham Jail” shows only the fruit, not the drudgery and ridicule. The crew building the sidewalk was made up of individual people who were working together to help bring people safely to the visitor center, but they have no plaque.

The hours we spend drifting, the days we spend wondering what we are supposed to do, the years we spend on significance, are, in fact, significant. HOW we spend that time, how we talk with others, whether we talk with God, how quickly we respond when we know clearly what to do, how often we deaden our senses rather than using them, how much time we justify rather than redeem, I think these things matter.

As soon as I finish this post, I’m turning to that evaluation. I’m planning to look at how much time I spent here in my office last week, and then to turn to the question of how much of that time was invested…not in productivity but in purpose. I may tell you the result, I may not. What I will tell you is this: since my body will one day return to dust, like this red clay, I want my life to remind people of my dream, of God’s desire, of reconciliation to Himself.

I want to be significant dirt.


13 responses to “Significant dirt

  1. “Significant dirt”–I like that.

  2. I have been searching for inspiration lately. I found some in a very thoughtful, long-lasting holiday gift (an adventure) and now I found some here. A great entry – thank you.

    Someone Twittered about your post; I’m glad that I clicked. I think “significant dirt” will forever ring in my head as I struggle to live a life far from ordinary.

  3. Thanks for being the confirmation of what I’ve been wrestling with myself.

  4. And yet again, I find myself crying at one of your posts.

  5. Amy and Becky, thanks you two. You would enjoy talking with each other, I think.

    Christine – your own post for today is wonderful, capturing the point that the starting point for many of us in changing the world is to pour into our children.

    Thank you, Jennifer.

  6. Thanks for the inspiring post, Jon. I’ve always felt kinship with MLK because we share the same date of birth (January 15th). Since I’ve always loved the “red hills of Georgia” phrase from the Dream speech, but have never been to GA, I’m thinking. if it is okay to borrow your idea and tweak it a bit, I just might gather some dirt from my own yard to remind myself to strive to be “significant dirt”.

    Oh, and if my vote counts, you and your inspirational words are already significant dirt in my world:)

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  8. All women commented on this post, except you, Jon.

    I had to cast my vote, from the male side, that this was a great reminder of the reason for this holiday!!

  9. I really appreciate your writing style Jon. It will never be mine, but I love it. And I love the impact you have on those you touch, even those you only touch across the ether.


  10. Jon, I loved it too. And the photo is just stunning.



  11. Erica – sorry for the slow response on my part. Thanks. Feel free to gather your own dirt. 🙂

    Paul, thanks for the male vote (you too phillymac).

    And Phillip, the point, as Joanna reminds us often, is finding and then using our own voices. Which is what Dr King did. which is what you do.

  12. My favorite memory of the place–which in some ways seemed kind of tacky and run-down–was sitting in the pews of the old Ebenezer Baptist listening to the taped sermons of Dr. King–that’s what I carried away.

    But if I’d seen some dirt, I would have taken it too.


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