Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's All Small Stuff

Sermon preached July 24, 2011

Text: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46

A few years ago, driving in the car, I heard a woman named Loretta LaRouche being interviewed. Loretta LaRouche is an author and speaker, and when I heard her, she was talking about our remarkable ability as human beings to “awfulize” and “catastrophize” - - - and as she spoke I knew just what she was talking about.
I don’t like to be late, though like most people I am sometimes. There are those times, however, when a relatively minor event becomes like some kind of state dinner with the President, when my anxiety about being late gets overblown and I am less than gracious with my family in hurrying them along. Being five minutes late to a picnic probably does not deserve the reaction I have given it.
My golf game is a great venue for awfulizing and catastrophizing. In two holes I can go from: “maybe I can get better at this game” to “I wonder how much these clubs would fetch at a garage sale?”
Human beings are particularly good at awfulizing and catastrophizing in their relationships. When I work with couples preparing for marriage I tell them that two words should be avoided in a disagreement – “always” and “never.” You never put the your laundry in the hamper. You always squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle even though you know it bothers me. You never put a new roll on the spool.
This week on Facebook, I read a wonderful example of awfulizing. “Playing musical chairs with my multiple personalities today. Not much fun because I keep taunting myself when I lose, the music is horrible, and I’m short a couple of chairs.” This was posted by a relative of mine who does not have any diagnosable mental illnesses.
We can be wonderfully adept at awfulizing, catastrophizing, sweating the small stuff, making mountains out of molehills.

Because of this ability we are often told: “don’t sweat the small stuff” or “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” When you look at a picture, you can clearly see the difference.

There is wisdom in this advice. Richard Carlson was the author who made a franchise out of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” : Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff- at work, with your family, about money, with love, for men, for teens. The initial book was simply: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: and its all small stuff. There is wisdom in this advice. When we awfulize and catastrophize we are forgetting that many of this things we get worked up about are small stuff.
There is wisdom in this advice, but like much wisdom it has its limits. Richard Carlson later would write a book called What About the Big Stuff. So I guess it is not all small stuff. Tragically for Richard Carlson’s family, he died in 2006 at the age of 45. Big stuff. Wisdom tells us that it is not all small stuff.
But we need to go even further, sometimes the seemingly small stuff is big, is important, matters. Here is someone to whom a molehill matters:

Molehills matter if you are a mole.
The parables of Jesus often communicate this same wisdom – that it’s not all small stuff, even more that sometimes the small stuff is big stuff. What’s the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God like? What’s it like when God is at work in the world? Where do we look for God? You might expect Jesus to answer with images of pomp and power. Kingdom’s are represented by parades and glorious military conquests. Did any of you watch the royal wedding - William and Kate? Now that’s kingdom stuff, isn’t it? Instead Jesus offers up different images. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of God is like yeast, like leaven. The kingdom of God is like something hidden, a buried treasure, or a pearl to someone enamored with pearls. O.k., so the treasure and pearl images are more exotic, but the story never tells us whether the treasure is worth more than the purchase price of the land, only that the person who found it was filled with joy. The parable of the pearl says it was of great value, but remember that it is a person searching for pearls who judges it so.
The kingdom of God, God’s way in and with the world is like ordinary things – mustard seeds and yeast. The kingdom of God, God’s way in and with the world is like things hidden and found, looked for and discovered – and in the finding and discovery there is joy. The kingdom of God, God’s way in and with the world is like little things that create change, ripple effects – the tiny mustard seed that grows, the yeast the leavens the loaf. The kingdom of God, God’s way in and with the world is like the joy in finding something you had been looking for. When I hear that last parable I think of the eleven year old boy I was, buying baseball cards a dime a pack, searching for the Tony Oliva or Rod Carew or Harmon Killebrew, and the joy in finding them.
These parables of Jesus tell us that small stuff can matter, that God’s way with and in the world is often quiet, a little hidden, a little mysterious, but having effects that ripple widely. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead argued that Christianity got confused when it took the imperial images of the Roman Caesars into its theology, its thinking about God. He argues that there is this other strand in our faith tradition which “dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love” (Process and Reality, Part V, ch. 2). For Whitehead God is “the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by [God’s] vision of truth, beauty, and goodness” (Process and Reality, Part V, ch. 2). God’s way in and with the world is like a mustard seed or yeast.
Jesus tells us that the small stuff matters because God is often at work in the small stuff. He tells us this not so we will sweat the small stuff. There is still a lot of small stuff that should not be sweated. He doesn’t tell us this so we will ignore the big stuff – birth, marriage, love, illness, catastrophe, death. He tells us this so we will be more attentive, pay attention to the quiet, the small, the hidden.
Jesus parables pose this question to each of us: “If God touches our lives in small ways, where might God be touching my life?” What is rippling in your life that might have the touch of God in it? Where are you finding some unexpected joy? I admit to you that I am a little uncomfortable with language that unequivocally identifies God with some moment in my life. I don’t want God to be blamed for something that was more the result of a bad burrito. But Jesus is telling us that God is at work in our lives and in the world. Jesus encourages us to pay attention and ask the question. For me, I can say, “I think maybe God….” Then I continue to pay attention, to ask questions, to discern.
Jesus parables also pose another question to us. If God often touches the world in small, quiet ways, how might I be part of God’s quiet, tender, loving touch in the world? There are mountain issues out there – big stuff. Somalia is experiencing an enormous hunger crisis. We have managed in our country to paint ourselves into rhetorical corners that make working together and compromising for the common good politically difficult. Wars drag on. Hatreds simmer, as we see in this week’s horrific bombing/shootings in Norway. Mistreatment of the planet continues. What are we to do? Maybe we cannot take it all on at once, and certainly no one of us can solve all these issues, but Jesus wants to remind us of the power of a simple prayer, the ripple effect of a kind word or smile, the leaven of a small gift, the importance of the single act of compassion.
A favorite story of mine takes place on a beach. Once upon a time, there was a wise man, who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer, he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?" The young man paused, looked up and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean." "I guess I should have asked, Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" "The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die." "But young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!" The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one!" (Joel Barker, adapted from Loren Eisley, “The Star Thrower” in The Star Thrower)
The kingdom of God, God’s way in and with the world is often in the small stuff. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but pay attention to it, and foster kindness in all kinds of ways. Throw stars into the ocean and bury small treasures of kindness that others can discover with joy. Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gifted or Grifted

Sermon preached July 10, 2011

Text: Genesis 25:19-34

A good story bears repeating. So here goes. When the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the great Rabbi Israel Shem Tov, saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, Maggid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire. I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished. Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire, and I do not know the prayer, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient. For God created humans because God loves stories. (The Spirituality of Imperfection, Kurtz and Ketcham, 7-8)
That story is itself one of my favorites. I enjoy stories for the way they engage and entertain. Stories do more than entertain however. They shape our lives. Psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell writes: We are our stories, our accounts of what has happened to us…. No stories, no self. (Can Love Last?, 145) As Christians, the stories that are intended to shape our understanding of ourselves and our world most are the stories in the Scriptures, particularly the stories of Jesus.
Today we have before us a story from the Scriptures – a wonderful, wild and strange story. How might this story, or these stories, shape our lives? What can we learn? How can our hearts be engaged, shaped, changed?
Let’s begin by admitting that these are a rather strange series of events. There is less here of classical piety than of the afternoon soap opera – an uncomfortable pregnancy, brothers who are very different, parental favoritism, sibling rivalry and trickery, human short-sightedness. It is all very entertaining. So what is here for us? Plenty.
Are you Jacob or Esau? I don’t mean to ask whether you are a hunter, a person of the field, like Esau, or whether you are hairy like Esau. Nor do I mean to ask whether you are like Jacob, a quiet person. The Hebrew can mean quiet, mild-mannered, even innocent and upright. There may be a bit of irony here as neither Jacob nor Esau seems to be completely pure. Jacob holds his brother’s hunger against him. Esau cannot see beyond his hunger pangs. He willingly gives up his important position as the first born son for some bread and stew. While Jacob may not seem completely upright, the story clearly favors him, but why?
Maybe this. Jacob understands and uses the gifts and abilities he has been given. He is not the man’s man his brother is, the wild, hairy hunter. He is quieter, more settled. In the story we see him preparing a stew. He carefully cultivates his skills and talents. Esau, on the other hand, falls short in using his abilities. A good hunter knows how to fix the food he takes. Not to know how to do that is to starve. Esau is depicted as inarticulate. “Let me eat some of this red stuff.” He is in a rush – “He ate and drank, and rose and went his way.” The Hebrew strongly suggests his inability to develop a modicum of human communication. It also suggests that his eating and rushing off is not befitting his status. (Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses). In short, he despised his birthright. A commentator in a Bill Moyers led panel discussion on this story says that Esau “participates in the squandering of himself” (Moyers, Genesis, 259).
Maybe that’s key. Esau participates in the squandering of himself. Jacob understands his gifts, understands that he is gifted. Esau squanders himself, he is grifted by his own action as much as by anything his brother does. Gifted or grifted?
There are countless ways we squander ourselves. One common and insidious way is that we accept partial explanations for our lives – we are consumers, we are the economic human seeking only to maximize our own good, we are bodily creatures seeking physical pleasure, we are really spiritual beings whose bodies are incidental to who we are, we are our DNA, we are our family history. Buying into any of these partial viewpoints as the whole truth about our lives squanders something important and valuable about who we are and the gifts we have to share with others and with the world. We are really the synthesis of our biology, our history – including family history, our choices – including our economic choices, our spirituality, and the stories that help us bring all these together. Esau could not see beyond the red, red stuff. He could not feel beyond his stomach, he could not imagine tomorrow. He squandered himself, despised some important part of who he was.
Maybe that’s enough for one story, but the beauty of stories is that as you live with them, they share new angles, offer new lessons. Are we Jacob or Esau is one great question to ask in this story, but as I have read and re-read and pondered and imagined this story this week, another character came to the foreground, and she offers insights for our lives as well.
Rebekah. Rebekah has within her two struggling children. The struggle is so intense at times that she wonders if this is what life is about, why? Robert Alter translates the passage this way: And the children clashed together within her, and she said, “Then why me?” Life can be a painful struggle within our hearts and bellies – those deep places inside. The struggle may be so intense that we ask why and/or why me?
Rebekah inquires of God and is told she has warring factions within. Not much help, or is it? Sometimes just to be told that life can be difficult, can be a struggle helps us with the struggle. One of the things I have not appreciated about certain religious broadcasts – radio or television, is the stories they tell which seem to say that once you find Jesus, everything is just great. Once you find Jesus, addictions cease. Once you find Jesus, weight loss is a breeze. Once you find Jesus, debt disappears – money finds its way into your mailbox. Now please understand me. I believe Jesus helps. I believe sometimes a powerful encounter with the Spirit of God in Jesus does help someone overcome a powerful addiction. I believe Jesus helps us live better. But I also know that for many of us, in at least some areas of our lives, the struggles continue. Our faith gives us strength and hope to move forward, but struggles don’t just disappear.
Maybe the choice posed in the story is not simply Jacob or Esau, but perhaps like Rebekah, we have both inside of us, and we struggle to let the gifter inside of us – that which helps us recognize and use our gifts well, overcome the grifter inside of us – that in us which would squander who we are.
On-going struggle is not the most hopeful word, and I believe the stories of the Scriptures are ultimately hopeful stories, because the God of the Bible is a God of hope. Is there any here? What gives us hope, even when we struggle?
This - - - God is with us in the struggle and God works in and through our very human lives even amidst the struggle. One commentator on this Genesis passage said that the set-up of the story, where one parent, Isaac, favors one child, Esau, while the other parent, Rebekah, favors the other child, Jacob - - - well that speaks “dysfunction” (New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary). This family set-up would provide fodder for hours of counseling. Psychoanalytic case studies could be written. Family favoritism. Parental disagreement. Brother taking advantage of brother. It’s all there. Yet the message is that God remains at work in this mixed up family. God is with us in the struggle always at work to help the gifter inside of us get the better of the grifter inside of us. In fact, if we are waiting for some magic time in our lives to be a little more loving, to pray a little bit more, to care more about our neighbor, if we are waiting until such time as we have worked through every last issue we have, well we are squandering our lives. God is with us to work with us even now. We steal from ourselves, we sell our selves short, if we wait for some other time for God to be with us and to work in and through us.
God loves stories and so do we. God speaks through stories to form us in the image of the Christ. One good story deserves another. This is an abbreviated version of a story from Martin Bell’s The Way of the Wolf.
The story takes place in a forest. Joggi is a near-sighted porcupine, an exceedingly cautious creature.
Joggi stood before the mystery of his own life much as any other porcupine might have. That is to say, he was exceedingly cautious in the face of it…. Joggi lived and loved, laughed and cried – tentatively.
Joggi was cautious in the face of the mystery. So cautious, in fact, that almost nobody knew his name. Most of the animals in the forest has seen the near-sighted porcupine moving slowly about…. Few had spoken to him…. When asked what his name was, he would answer, “It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter what my name is! Can’t you see? What difference does it make? I won’t tell you what my name is, because it doesn’t matter!”… The result was almost always the same: the other animals avoided him.

Joggi makes one friend however, Gamiel, the raccoon.
Gamiel had only to look at himself in the quiet waters of the forest pond to recognize why no one would come near him anymore. Everything had changed. He did not even look like a raccoon. The whole left side of his head was missing, he had no fur at all around his eyes where one the elegant mask had been, and he could barely pull himself along with his right front leg. Joggi found Gamiel about two days after the pain had stopped, and approximately three hours after the raccoon had given up all hope.
Joggi and Gamiel strike up a conversation. Joggi surmises that Gamiel has been shot, and the conversation continues.
Joggi’s heart beat faster. “Yes, I’m here. I was just wondering what to do now.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do anything! Honestly, I mean that! You don’t have to do anything at all. Just stay with me for a little while. Just be there. Just don’t go away. Please. You don’t have to do anything! Just stay with me. I’m afraid. You won’t go away, will you?”
Joggi swallowed hard. “No… I won’t go away.”….
Joggi was with Gamiel for one full year before the injured raccoon finally died…. “You know, I’ve been expecting this for quite some time now,” Joggi said to the raccoon who lay there on the ground, no longer able to hear him. “I am surprised that you managed to stay alive as long as you did. I knew the day that I found you it couldn’t last. Not for long. You’d been hurt too badly. I never expected you to live this long. And yet… well, I hoped that it might have been a little longer. Do you know what I mean? You see, I never knew anybody very well before. Not that we ever talked much, or anything like that. But I felt like I knew you anyway. Even without talking. I have a really hard time talking to anybody, or getting to know anybody. And nobody ever wants to get very close to me because of all these spines that I have sticking out of me. I don’t suppose you ever knew that I had spines sticking out all over me, did you?... I hope you don’t mind my talking so much. I really don’t know why I’m talking to you now. I suppose it’s just that I had a little more to tell you before you died; I have been wanting to say this for almost a year and never quite found the right time to do it. It’s too late now, I realize, but I’ve been wanting to tell you that it has been an honor to meet you, and that you are indeed a very handsome raccoon, and that I would like to consider you my friend…. Oh, and by the way, I’d like to tell you what my name is. It’s a funny name I suppose. But I’d like you to know what it is…. It’s Joggi.” Without another word, the tiny porcupine turned away from Gamiel’s lifeless form and began to cry.
We all have gifts, prickly as we may be sometimes, conflicted inside as we may be sometimes. When we are unable to recognize and develop our potential and share our gifts, we are self-grifters – stealing from ourselves the joy of life. Failing to recognize and share our gifts we short change others who may just need a friend. We fail to recognize that God works in and through us even now.
God tells a different story about us. We are God’s own people created for love, for doing good, for creating beauty, for relationship, for friendship. Quite a story. Amen.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Restful Restlessness

Sermon preached July 3, 2011

Text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In a celebrated 1936 essay entitled “The Crack Up,” Minnesota-born author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (The Best American Essays of the Century, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, p. 139).
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. I really liked that quote when I first read it as a younger man. I have to say that the intervening years have made me wonder about it a bit. There are days when trying to keep one idea in my head and still be able to function is a task! One of my insights from playing softball on our church team this summer, the first time in twenty years that I have played organized ball, is that as we get to that stage in life when our minds start to forget things more often, our muscles retain a great memory. The day after a game, my muscles remember every stretch and strain of the night before, and they remind me of just what I had done!
Today’s gospel reading suggests that the way of wisdom is something like Fitzgerald’s idea of a first-rate intelligence. The way of wisdom is a paradoxical way, a way of combining ideas, thoughts, actions together when they it seems like perhaps they cannot be combined, a way of functioning with two ideas in our minds, a way of both-and.
Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds, Jesus tells us. Wisdom fits actions and circumstances. Wisdom understands that when there is music, dancing is appropriate. When there is hurt, mourning is appropriate. And because life has both moments of music and moments of pain, we need to be able both to dance and to mourn. Sometimes fasting is appropriate for the spiritual life, as with John. Sometimes feasting is appropriate, as with the disciples of Jesus. Our spiritual lives are enhanced both by disciplined action and joyous action. Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Wisdom knows when to be restrained and when to be exuberant.
The beautiful words that end this passage are also filled with the paradox of wisdom. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. I deeply appreciate Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me, and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
So where’s the paradox here? Isn’t this a beautiful invitation to let go and let Jesus, an invitation to rest and relax? Paradoxically yes and no. Jesus promises rest to the weary, but also invites work. We hear in this an invitation to refreshing work, to restful restlessness.
There are all kinds of places where I have encountered contemporary confirmation of this insight of Jesus that the way of wisdom, the way of the Spirit, is the way of paradox. In his book Leaders Make the Future: Bob Johansen says that one crucial skill for leaders in the future is “dilemma flipping.” “Dilemma flipping is reframing an unsolvable challenge as an opportunity, or perhaps as both a threat and an opportunity” (44). Both/and - - - the paradoxical way of wisdom.
Barry Johnson works in the field of organizational development. One of the insights he has developed is a distinction between a problem to be solved and a polarity to be managed. “Polarities are interdependent pairs of truths that are a natural and integral part of our daily lives” (Oswald and Johnson, Managing Polarities in Congregations, 19). Two common polarities we manage all the time are inhale/exhale and rest/activity. Both are necessary, but at different times. Both/and - - - the paradoxical way of wisdom.
Parker Palmer has become a well-known teacher and author. His very first book, newly re-issued a couple of years ago, was entitled The Promise of Paradox: a celebration of contradictions in the Christian life. Palmer roots his understanding of paradox in this statement: “The opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth” (Neils Bohr, quoted in The Promise of Paradox 2008, p. xxix). “The promise of paradox,” Palmer writes, “ is the promise that apparent opposites – like order and disorder – can cohere in our lives, the promise that if we replace either-or with both-and, our lives will become larger and more filled with light” (xxix). “The capacity to embrace true paradoxes… is a life skill for holding complex experiences” (xxx). The paradoxical way of wisdom.
So the way of wisdom, the way of the Spirit may be the way of paradox, at least often. But here is part of the reality of our lives, we struggle with paradox. Either/or seems to make more sense than both/and; it seems easier for us. So here’s another paradox – Jesus invites us to the way of wisdom, which seems difficult to grab hold of, yet the promise is that this is less ill-fitting for us.
All of this has perhaps been a little abstract. There is value in that – the big picture, the overview, but we also need the concrete, the specific to see if our ideas make any difference. Our concrete experience then shapes our abstract ideas - - - both/and!
The paradoxical way of wisdom is to be lived in our individual lives. At the heart of the Christian faith is the message that we are loved by God in Jesus the Christ. We are loved as we are, valued as we are, given grace just as we are. “Just As I Am” the hymn goes. God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. “Come to me,” Jesus says, “come to me all you who are weary.” The message of grace is that we do nothing to earn God’s love. The calculus of grace is outside the language of earning and deserving. We are loved. At the same time, to know in the depths of our hearts and souls that we are loved should move us to live differently, to live lovingly, to cultivate our best selves and to give the gift of our love to the world. That is the yoke of Jesus. It is work, but it is meant to flow from the depth of who we are. It is not wearying because it fits us. It is dancing to the unforced rhythms of grace. The Christian life is both faith, trusting that we are loved, and works, living this new way in practices that share love and justice and help us cultivate our best selves. The paradoxical way of wisdom.
Here is a slightly different angle on this same paradox in our lives. While we are loved just as we are, we are also sometimes painfully aware that we need to change some things in our lives. In a delightful and insightful book entitled What To Do Between Birth and Death, psychoanalyst Charles Spezzano writes, “Habits form and stick even when they are maladaptive and life-robbing” (148). We do things over and over, and they become habits and we stick with them even when they no longer enhance our lives. Change is needed sometimes. So where to begin, with disgust with ourselves, with the sense that we are unlovable as we are? The gospel insight is that we begin knowing we are deeply loved as we are, loved enough to be worth the effort to change those things that need changing in our lives. Paradoxically, when we feel lousy about ourselves we tend to turn to our familiar habits of behavior to numb the feeling, even when those habits are maladaptive and life-robbing.
The paradoxical way of wisdom is to be lived in our life together as church, as Jesus community. As a congregation we need to celebrate who we are, the good we do, the things we have accomplished that promote the kingdom of God. Sometimes such celebration is not our best thing. We are Northerners, after all, and really worried that we might become too big for our britches. But celebration is vitally important. We do some awesome things here for God and Christ: we help feed people, we are a part of CHUM, we give so others have, we reach into the world through our denomination, we teach children and give them a safe and nurturing space, we cultivate friendships, we sing, we play music, we think together, we are there for each other in joy and grief, we work to overcome barriers. Sometimes we are truly amazing. And there is always more, and we need to be asking, “what’s next, God?” In our life together, there should be a restful restlessness. The paradoxical way of wisdom.
And here is a paradox we have lived with and will continue to live with in our church, the ability to hold well-thought opinions with passion and discuss opposing ideas with respect and care. In the upcoming newsletter I write an article in which I let us know that as a reconciling congregation we need to have times for discussion of the marriage amendment that will be on the ballot in 2012 in Minnesota, that is if the government is up and running by then. I also let you all know that I will be voting against it and working for its defeat. My pledge is this – I will work with you to provide for caring and respectful conversations, even as I have some strong views.
And on this July 4 weekend, I would be remiss if I did not say a word about the paradoxical way of wisdom in our national life. Many of us have heard the phrase, “my country, right or wrong.” Not much paradox there. Do you know the story of Carl Schurz? Schurz was born in Germany, and when Missouri elected him to the U. S. Senate in 1869, he was the first German-American in the Senate. Before moving to Missouri, Schurz spent significant time living in Wisconsin, where he was deeply involved in the anti-slavery movement. Schurz served in the Union Army during the Civil War and after the Senate went on to serve as Interior Secretary. Quite a resume, a July 4 resume! Carl Schurz, in an 1872 speech claimed that the watchword of true patriotism should not be simply “my country, right or wrong,” but rather should be: “My country, right or wrong; if right to be kept right; and if wrong to be set right.” Wise words that I wish we might hear even now in our national life. The paradoxical way of wisdom.
Jesus came eating and drinking, and they said about him, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Those who said this failed to attend to the paradoxical way of wisdom taught by this same Jesus – the way of love which is both self-acceptance and change, celebration and commitment to growth, love of country and a desire for it to be better, restful restlessness. The flute of wisdom plays. Time to dance to the unforced rhythms of grace. Amen.