There’s a good chance that in the vast majority of cases, laziness is in the eye of
the beholder–whether the beholder thinks of herself or himself as the slouch or of
someone else as the slacker. For how many years did large percentages of teachers
accuse learning disabled students of being goof-offs when, in reality, we have begun
to catch on to the fact that most of them simply couldn’t learn using methods
developed for the rank and file, “more traditional,” learner? Alexis de Tocqueville
couldn’t have been more off base than when in his ignorance he wrote, “The Indians
of North America view labor as not only an evil but also a disgrace, and their pride
combats civilization as obstinately as their indolence.”
I heard all my growing up years in the racist South that people of color were lazy,
were naturally lazy, born lazy. Once I was able observe enough of life to draw my
own conclusions, I was perplexed. The work I saw Black people doing was, across the
board, manual labor. We can be sure that the persons of color who worked as slaves
on the plantations were anything but lazy; their masters would’ve beaten them if
they’d begun to fall into such habits. I have most recently been reminded of how
difficult the work and life in general were for plantation slaves as I finally got
around to watching the opening scenes of the film, Lee Daniels’s, The Butler.
So, still quite young, I couldn’t understood how anybody would draw the conclusion of
congenital laziness of persons of color; it had to have been based on
misunderstanding and lack of information, which racism permits.
In mid-December this past year, the Sun newspaper in London put out a list of the
laziest politicians in its nation. I wonder when somebody will do that for us here.
Unfortunately, the research, if you will, was compiled by someone who simply counted
how frequently politicians had shown up to vote in the months leading up to the
article. We all know there’s much more to being a politician than voting although we
certainly do expect our elected officials to be present as much possible to vote.
That’s a big part of what we sent them there to do. Back to Britain.
A Member of Parliament by the name of Lucy Powell had been absent for a couple of
months late in 2013 and therefore had not been in attendance at several voting
opportunities. The Sun reporter or reporters did not take into account
that she had been on maternity leave and named her, as I described, one of the
laziest politicians in the country. Her staff naturally responded with protests; she
also responded in protest and reminded them of her maternity leave, also informing
them that some others on the list had been absent recently because they were dealing
with very serious illnesses, which the paper had taken no time to investigate. Had
the person or persons preparing the article been writing on who had voted less often
in the past several months without trying to give reasons why then there would’ve
some suitable data on hand, but without interpretation beyond mere numbers the data
was useless. Once again it is likely that in many instances laziness is in the eye
of the beholder.
That said, laziness is a reality; there really are people who are
lazy, but laziness isn’t an ethnic or cultural trait, passed along from generation
to generation. One of my students knew I had this sermon topic coming up, and she
shared with me a report by Christopher Hudspeth called, “25-ish Signs That You’re Really Lazy.” Of
course I’m not going to share the whole list with you; that would take too much
energy. But some few of the items on the list I must share with you.
1. Your clean clothes are at this very moment in your dryer where they will remain
for the next several days or weeks, being removed piece by piece, as they are
2. You’ve sat through movies that didn’t do a thing for you and television shows
that turned your stomach only because the remote was on a table across the room.
3. You’re perfectly capable of walking, thank goodness, but you drive around a
parking lot for 20 minutes just to be a few steps closer to an entrance.
19. You hope karma is for real because you don’t have the energy to get revenge on
people who have done you wrong.
20. On cleaning days you help out by lifting your feet so someone can vacuum under
21-25. You use stale tactics and lame shortcuts to finish things.
“Lord o’ mercy, Mary, get yourself up out of that bed, and help me get this lunch
fixed so we can be on time for church. You know good and well the Evangelist’s coming
home to eat with us after services,” Martha yelled through the bedroom door at her
sister. “This chicken ain’t gonna fry itself. Already wrung its neck, plucked it,
cleaned it out, and cut into the pieces. You think it would be too much for you,
Madame, to coat it and fry it? No way we’d have a preacher to eat without fried
chicken on the table. We’ll cook it now and then just heat it up right before we
serve it. Mary? Do you hear me? Brother is out chopping wood for the stove and
milking the cows so we’ll have fresh milk. Only you are still in bed, Sleeping
Mary had heard every word her sister yelled, but she refused to respond partly in
rebellion to her sister’s bossiness and partly to aggravate Martha. Mary and Martha
had been roommates all of their adult lives. They were sisters who loved each other
without question, but some level of sparring was nonetheless always going on,
especially as initiated by Martha.
The Bethany sisters were as different as night and day, but their differences were
typically kept from upsetting the household apple cart by the presence of the third
person in the household, their bachelor baby brother, Lazarus, whom they spoiled
rotten as their late parents had done before them. As a family, they loved the itinerant
evangelist they would soon hear, a frequent visitor to their church, and each
individually had a treasured one to one friendship with him. The
Evangelist, the Reverend Jesus José, could not officially play favorites in the
congregation, but the Bethany family knew just the same, as the good Reverend knew,
that they were the best friends he had in the world and that whenever needed they
had his back. Others in the congregation knew about the Bethany family’s absolute
loyalty to Preacher José; some had learned of it quietly while some few others had
learned it the hard way by saying something critical of this frequent visitor in front of one
or more members of the Bethany clan.
When Mary came out of her room, more or less on her own timetable, she was already
dressed for church, her long black hair beautiful combed and free flowing (unlike her
sister’s every-Saturday-shampoo-and-set-every-hair-in-place-do), Bible in hand
ready for Sunday school and the preaching service to follow. Mary always dressed to
the nines, and this particular Sunday was no exception. She went into the kitchen to face the scowl of
her sister and slipped a full apron over her favorite church dress so that she could
do her sister’s bidding and coat and fry the chicken. Though no one could figure how
from the outside, the truth is that together, sparring all the while, the
sisters made the best fried chicken in El Paso, Texas.
As much was done as could be done right up until it was time to leave for church,
and the family went together; the three of them as usual found their ways into their
Sunday school classes and then to their favor pew in the sanctuary where the Rev.
Jesus José, in the absence of their pastor, preached a thoughtful sermon that somehow
spoke to each of them. The sermon text was from the book of Proverbs, and of all things
Preacher Jesus focused on ants.
He pointed out how the writer of Proverbs used an ant an example of someone who
was always prepared, working hard, anticipating, doing more than her or his share. Martha
nodded in agreement throughout the sermon because she, anything but lazy,
surely was right down the line everything the ant was. She ran through in her mind,
while listening attentively to the sermon, the countless tasks she’d already completely
since she had arisen with the rooster that morning and how many more tasks she
would undertake before she rested that night.
Mary heard the sermon very differently and took the admonitions of her favorite
preacher to challenge her to prepare herself spiritually for life’s challenges
rather than to be so concerned about the toil of daily life, not that necessary chores were
omitted from the sermon’s concerns but that those who are lazy about tending to their
spiritual well-being, which is probably the easiest thing in the world to ignore,
may not do as well as they might with other aspects of life.
The sisters hurried home–each one thinking how inspired she had been by the sermon
and how Preacher Jesus had been trying to preach in particular to her sister.
Martha hoped Mary heard the sermon that day and would in the future be more diligent
about her chores around the farm. Mary hoped Martha had heard the sermon that day
and would make a moment for prayer here and there.
Lazarus’ was to walk Jesus from the church to the house after he had greeted all of
the congregants and had a cup of chicory coffee with the socially-minded ones in
the fellowship hall. Lazarus knew he was supposed to delay as long as possible home
arrival with the Preacher in tow to give his sisters time to add the final touches
to the feast for four.
The instant Martha and Mary had flown into to their kitchen, they donned their aprons
and scurried around madly to make things perfect before their evangelist friend came
for yet another cherished visit. They never took his visits for granted, carefully
treating each one as if it were the first and most special of all.
About that time, Lazarus and Jesus walked through the front door and, without
lingering in the parlor, were called to the beautifully set table where the Preacher Jesus,
of course, was asked to say the blessing before they all dug into a fine meal–
fried chicken; mashed potatoes with gravy; deviled eggs; collard greens flavored
with bacon grease; corn on the cob; sweet tea and yeast rolls. Yum yum! Of course, there
were homemade salsa and tobacco sauce for the use of the Mexican evangelist in their midst.
The meal was topped off with rhubarb pie under a big ole scoop of homemade ice cream.
Everybody was full. Martha naturally started cleaning up and prevailed upon her
brother to assist.
Mary followed Jesus out to the rocking chairs on the side porch. She began to talk to him
about what she had heard in his sermon that day in regard to not letting tasks and chores cause
one to be lazy about spiritual matters. Right in the middle of that rocking chair conversation,
Martha stomped onto the porch and began scolding her sister right in front of company.
Could she pick another day to be lazy, Martha wanted to know. She, Martha, reminded
Mary exactly who had done most of the early morning work and who had already done a great deal
of the clean up as well.
Mary told Martha to leave what she didn’t want to do, and she, Mary, would happily
finish up in a little while. That didn’t shut Martha up, though. She ranted on and
eventually apologized to Jesus for drawing him into family business.
The Preacher told her he was used to hearing the sisters spar and normally kept his
nose out of it, but in this case he said, “Mary made the right choice today. We’ll
both be in there to help you and Lazarus in a few minutes, before I head back over
to the church for a healing service. But for now let us finish our
conversation about how not to be spiritually lazy.”
The minute Mary made it to the kitchen, bossy Martha gave her another job: “Go ahead
and pour the after lunch wine.”
Mary said, “OK, I will, but I still feel funny serving wine to a preacher…just
how we were raised, as you know.”
“Pour the wine and hush that nonsense,” Martha barked. “That’s why we left those
crazy Southern Baptists and switched to the Presbyterian church–so we could have wine without
being told we were going to burn in hell for imbibing. Besides, Preacher Jesus
likes wine; I’ve even heard he makes his own.”
In my early days as a preaching professor in Louisville, we used a textbook in our
intro to preaching courses to which I have made reference from time to time,
Preaching the Good News by Princeton homiletician, George Sweazey. In that book, Dr.
Sweazey writes about the many facets preaching, which is the purpose of the book,
but also tosses in a lot of handy advice for pastors since most preachers preach in
a pastoral context and the whole process of preparing and delivering a sermon is
done within that context–something very different than an itinerant preacher
experiences. One of the things that stood out early on for me was Sweazey’s
definition of “laziness” for the preacher, which was doing an easier or less taxing
task while putting off the more demanding, more difficult task.
It is not impossible to find a lazy preacher, but most preachers today have the
opposite problem of workaholism whether or not they’re congregants happen to know
it. For the lazy preacher, however, if you can find one, and for the preacher who
wants to avoid falling into that habit to use Swayze’s advice is to require of
oneself that the more difficult task not routinely be put off until the easier tasks
If that is a suitable definition of “laziness” or of one kind of laziness, I’m sure
there must be several types, then I wonder how that principle might apply to the
congregation at large instead of just to the minister: doing the easier things
first or always, while putting off the more difficult tasks or perhaps concentrating
on the easier duties as a way of avoiding having to deal with the more difficult
stuff. For example, planning, spewing forth ideas, letting creativity flow are much,
much easier and for many people much more fun than doing the nitty-gritty work of
implementing the ideas that have come forth from creative planning sessions.
Not everybody in the church family, naturally, is okay with the absence of
implementation, and they become uncomfortable after a while with an abundance, an
overload, a storehouse full of creative ideas about what MIGHT BE while very little
energy is being put into what needs to be or must be done now, what should’ve been
done yesterday. That is not nearly as attainable for many folks. I’m not suggesting
that cranking out creative ideas happens without expending energy, but if Dr.
Sweazey were correct then when coming up with fun ideas gets in the way of
implementation of anything substantive then there is a problem. Some kind of
laziness has won the day.
In all likelihood, laziness as preoccupation is only a part of why congregations put off doing
specific tasks. There is also laziness attached to fear of rejection, fear of failure, angst that the
expected outcome doesn’t come around at all.
Every new or repeat undertaking may either succeed or fail. We have known since the beginning
of human civilizations, however, that unless some effort is made to create a change there is no change.
Also, there must be failures because human beings are imperfect people and because even when
perfect people come up with the ideas and plans, imperfect people, probably lazy–right?, fail to implement
them properly. Regardless, we cannot let laziness caused by either preoccupation or fear of failure keep us
from tackling with full strength the demands of the hour.