Friday, July 29, 2011

The Need to be Right

After watching the uncompromising situation in Washington I would like for every Senator and member of Congress to memorize the following poem.

The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

What we have observed in the last few weeks as accusations and polarizations rule the "houses" of congress makes me feel like it is indeed a "ruined house." There is such uncompromising anger in Washington that the whispers that need to be heard can not be listened to.

The big issues are not simple talking points to prove ideological realities. The big issues are complex and will involve some very hard choices...and compromise. But it seems that the children of Washington have trampled around so long that the yard is hard because they have to be "right." While they are being right fear is ruling the money markets and the people who think that the social safety net is being unwoven.

Being right is not the most important thing sometimes. Listening to all the "rights" and realizing that all of them cannot be "true" in a system of government that is supposed to represent many interests of a very large "community" is a needed addition to the name calling and label making agendas. Ah there is the other problem. Does anyone really believe that we care about the total community anymore?

Those shouting the loudest seem to fear that community interests are "taking over" individual "rights." Somebody tell the children in Washington to stop by a local motel and steal the book that is in the top drawer of the bedside table. There they will find prophets shouting about selling the poor for a pair of shoes and living in fine houses. Being right took second place in the
bible to being just and caring about the total welfare of the community.

We seemed scared that we are going to lose something that is "ours." Look, we need to fix systems including things like Medicare and Social Security. But throwing things at each other from various fox holes with flags flying over them proclaiming various themes of being right is not doing anybody any good.

The place is hard and trampled like a yard. We need some healthy doubts to make us all realize that the solutions are complex and will take give and take. I'm not even going to mention the other word in the There is little love left in our nation's capital. It is now full of mean-spirited "individuals" who want to be right.

My prayer is that the still small voice that often must be listened to as a whisper will somehow fill the ruined house. We need a new attitude from our leaders. Being right is not getting us anywhere but lost.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Big Questions

Well if you don't want to know don't ask, right. I asked my congregation a few months ago what they wanted to hear from the pulpit and I've been "trying" to preach on those subjects the past few weeks. It's been a challenge. I think I'm going back to picking what "I" want to preach about and going over to the "don't ask don't tell" philosophy of picking subject matter.

The most requested topic was forgiveness. It seems a lot of people struggle with this issue. Basically we don't' want to forgive another because it just does not seem "fair." We think we are excusing or blessing bad behavior. Forgiveness is for the person forgiving. It may have nothing to do with the person to whom the forgiveness seems aimed. It is a matter of "giving up all hope for a better past" so that one can move to an expanded future.

Forgiveness means to quit playing old grievance stories. I usually always tell Lewis Smedes story, "the Gift of the Magic Eyes" that he uses in his book, "Forgive and Forget." It is the story of a man who ends up bent over with a heavy heart because he cannot forgive his wife for her adultery. An angel informs him that though she did wrong his unwillingness to even look at her as a person apart from him who was needy and selfish was weighing him down and preventing him from moving on with his life.

He says he is "helpless" to do anything so the angel asks if he wants to be "free." He does not how so she promises that every time he tries to look at his wife as a person apart from him who acted out of her own pain the angel will come by and take a pebble from his heart. It took a long time but pebble by pebble he found a way to gain a lighter heart.

I ended the sermon by holding up a small container of pebbles and offering them to my people: "Here are your pebbles. What do you want to do with them?"

The following weeks the topics included "science and religion" and last week "resurrection of the body, heaven, and hell." Basically I said there was really no conflict with science and religion if you have a healthy up to date religion. Many believers do not practice what old Paul suggested: "When I was a child I thought and acted like a child but when I grew up I gave up childish things." The kind of religion that uses the bible as a science book misuses the bible. Mature faith studies the bible for what it is not what it is not.

God can and did use "big bangs" and evolutionary principals obviously since they are scientifically true. God is not simple or stupid. We just have to keep up.

And last week it was resurrection-heaven-hell. (I'm going back to sermons about "let just all love each other.") The summary: Resurrection of the "body" means that we take who we are and what we do or do not do with us to eternal life. We don't take the "flesh" but we do take "the body of evidence." Heaven is going to be a surprise but a good one and it is most likely "another dimension" that is as close as our next breath rather than beyond the last galaxy. Hell is biblical but often misunderstood and the words sometimes mistranslated. Consuming fire could be refining fire and what some want to translate "eternal damnation" could also be translated "pruning" after a set amount of time."....Big difference.

I simply left my people with the words of the "cheater of death" who told his fear-filled disciples, "Hey don't be so dog-gone scared...In my dad's house there are so many rooms you can't count them and I'll be there with things all prepared for you." With Jesus' few references to Hell he mostly used the word Ghenna, which referred to the burning garbage pit outside Jerusalem where often flesh would burn and gnashing of teeth could be heard as dogs scavenged through the remains. I wonder if Jesus is interested in burning up garbage or burning up people? You decide.

When you think about it, and that is what grown-up believers do, everybody starts out from different "starting places" in eternal life. What was your starting place? How much choice did you have? From my starting place I ended up a United Methodist Christian. I had love, shelter, and guidance from my starting place. Lots and lots of folks start from different places. I'm tired of hearing security seeking Christians condemn others whose starting places were very different.

Let's get on with helping God heal the world and give the judgement stuff back to God whose job it is to begin with....

So in summary: We need help with forgiveness because it hurts "us" if we live in the past. God is very big and very smart and can do science better than we can...and...Heaven is real, what we do matters, and Hell is a mystery that God will have to figure out...personally I think God will have to "take out the garbage" in the end. We don't do so well with it.