Monthly Archives: November 2016
Thanksgiving as Life-Preserver
Over a month ago I was doing lots of work on Psalm 100 in preparation for a sermon series. I came across this quotation from Walter Brueggemann,
…our world is at the edge of insanity and we with it. Inhumaneness is developed as a scientific enterprise. Greed is celebrated as economic advance. Power runs unbridled to destructiveness. In a world like this one, our psalm is an act of sanity, whereby we may be ‘reclothed in our rightful minds’ (compare Mark 5:15)… Life is no longer self-grounded without thanks but rooted in thanks.
I liked it at the time, but now I circle back to it because I think it is more essential than ever. Its seems we are drowning in discontent and thanksgiving may just be the life preserver we all need. I feel like our critical lenses are on overload. It has become our only, or at the very least, our predominant mode of discourse with each other. Our every engagement is begun in complaint, or critical disagreement, as if all we know how to do is tell some else what they are doing wrong, saying wrong, and thinking wrong. It reminds me of myself in college. I was overly convinced of my own brilliance. Thousands of years of world history and I have now arrived to prove how Socrates, Kant, and John Stuart Mill (I was a philosophy major, sorry about that) had no idea what they were talking about because I can see all the holes in their arguments. (I had issues. I still do.) I was in incredible need to move to a post-critical stage where I could find both the blessings and challenges of the thoughts of these brilliant people who came before me. I was in serious need of humility, but also of gratitude, generosity of thought, and understanding of deeper motives and lived experience.
I’m a big advocate of lament, of critical reflection, and of counter-testimony. We need to be able to say no to things that are egregiously unjust and inappropriate. We need to be able to publicly express our discontent, and we need to hear corrective nuance to our world views. But when we say no to everything our no becomes watered down to the point of meaninglessness. And when our world is wired to complaint all we can see is that which is wrong. Complaint is essential to health, but it doesn’t make a good bed to lie in forever. And I find myself believing that now, more than ever, we need doxology and thanksgiving. In a world of frayed nerves, fearful hearts, overloaded complaint we are literally ruining our own lives with an inability to recognize good around us and within us.
So take up the life preserver of thanksgiving and take a break from complaint. If not for longer, than at least for the rest of this week. Do not look at things ask yourself: what is wrong here? Look at things and see it through the eyes of wonder and joy: how am I enriched and thankful for this?
Having started with him, let me end with other wise words from Walter B:
The Book of Psalms ends with these sort of outrageous doxologies, but this (Psalm 148) is “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire, hail, snow, frost, stirring wind filling his command, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and cattle, creeping things and flying birds, kings of the earth, princes and all rulers, young men and women, all old and young together.”
It’s an image of all creatures joining in doxology. And I love that, to think that sea monsters — I don’t know how sea monsters howl or how they express their faith, but it’s an early form of [sings] all creatures of our God and King. The whole world is coming in doxology and I just think it’s so wonderful.
I just read a book recently. I don’t know whether it’s right, but it says that Socrates said that all true speech ends in doxology to God. I hope he said that. If he didn’t, he should’ve (laughter).
About a year ago I got spinning down a rabbit trail on what was the oldest tree in the world. As with all such superlatives (biggest, tallest, oldest, etc), there is something awe inspiring to me to think about a tree that was born about the same time humans were inventing written language.
But this whole superlative game of living organisms has a total game changer. Move over Prometheus and Methuselah, it doesn’t matter how much we pin down your hypothetical your age Llangernyw Yew, because welcome in Pando. The game changer of all game changers.
Because you see, Pando cheats. Pando isn’t a tree. He is a colony of tree. (No plural there.) Pando, meaning “I spread” and sometimes also known as Trembling Giant, is a male quaking aspen. But he is also a clonal colony, a single root system that sends up thousands of shoots… and each one looks like its own tree. But they are all one. Prado can literally use the royal we. And he encompasses 106 acres, is believed to be something like 80,000 years old, and is the world’s most massive organism.
And that is one more reminder to me that in an ever-changing world there is no greater chance of survival than going through life as a community. ‘We are stronger together’ is not just a nice sounding slogan. In fact, its right there in our own evolution. Human beings individually aren’t all that much. We are lacking a lot of good natural advantages for survival bar one: the ability to create, sustain, and grow together.
Whether its our institutions, churches, schools, businesses, families, or lives… the more connected we are to a larger collective story the more likely we are to weather the ups and downs, ins and outs, life and death all around us.
Shared roots; collective strength; collaborative endeavors.
I have a colleague who reminds me that every time we walk in a meeting we should be seeking to be the most collaborative people in the room. I am reminded again and again that my mission ought to always be more important than me. And yet… somehow we are constantly drawn away into attempts to be self-contained, ego-driven, rugged individualists who hate group projects. It romantic to imagine that I’m able to stand alone, and its freeing to go wherever the day takes us without any obligation to anyone or anything else.
Until you stumble.
Until disease strikes.
Until… life (and death) happens.
And then? It is, sadly, usually, too late. Roots take a long time to grow, and communities must be nurtured. You cannot make withdraws from an account where you have made no deposits.*
So for all my own introverted and self-reliant tendencies… and for all the romance of being the rugged individualists, I will turn back to Pando and ask him question after question. For he has much to teach us. …of deep roots, interwoven life, and how eternity lies in community.
*I have the tendency to always want to qualify my statements. So let me qualify this statement: You may be able to connect with a community who will help you when you falter even though you have never before been a part of it. I certainly hope so, and endeavor to lead just such a community. But that only works if enough people make, and sustain, such communities. Its like herd-immunity. It only works if enough people participate in it. I fervently believe that individualism is an unsustainable way to live propped up on the good will of other people. A world that seeks ever increasing connection and mutual support is the best and brightest hope for your future, my future, our future.
Election Eve Thoughts
Last night I watched a Norwegian language film about the Norwegian Civil War in the early 13th century. Fought between the Baglers (Aristocray and clergy) and Birkebeiners (mostly peasants) for control of Norway behind what is thought to be two pretenders to the throne. They fought that battle with literal weapons in a convoluted set of twists and turns as they decided the fate of a kingdom in ways that’s hard to discern facts and fictions, myths and motives and meaning except that when decided it ushered in a golden age for Norway, the zenith of its political power on the world stage.
Today we fight a similar battle and while our weapons purport to be more civilized it isn’t always apparent that this is true. While I wish to relish that we no longer kill each other in actuality in a game of kings and queens, we still kill each other in our hearts and minds… and that is its own sickness unto death.
The battlefields may appear different but the battles are the same. Whatever tomorrow may bring let it not be another Antietam or Gettysburg or Appomattox. This is not war. And only when we recognize the sacred humanity of the one we contend with will democracy win. When we do it right even the losers win. And when we do it right we remember that no matter how heated our exchange of differing ideas of good may be, we are one, indivisible, and interwoven fabric of being. United we stand. Our election will not be a civil war.
And gracious in victory and defeat we will move forward together as one. This is my prayer for tomorrow. Not a particular victor. But that we all may resolve more fervently to know, and acknowledge, and grow through the inherent blessedness of one another.
Naive? Idealistic? Laughably out of touch?
Yes, yes, and no. I realize how hard that is to realize. But I will not settle for less. Because we deserve it. Our nation and those who dedicated their lives to forming (or endeavoring to form) a more perfect union deserves it. The future of our world deserves it. And I will not let cynicism win.
Love you all, praying for us all. #forwardasone
If you live in the Boise, Idaho area tomorrow morning, Wednesday November 9th we will be holding a 30 minute prayer service for healing and unity following the election. It will be interfaith and non-partison. Our desire is to move forward as one regardless of the results. You can find the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/926710330766421/