Moral Monday

Moral Monday

August 18, 2013
Stina Pope


Here we are, at the end of summer, the Festival is next week, and we have this very strange Gospel lesson! (Luke 12: 49-56) I have been meditating on it all week, it and the Epistle (Hebrews 11:29-12:2). The Epistle hammers in the concept of faith, and how important faith is in our life.

Some people say they have no faith, or they are not sure they have faith. Let me tell you. Everyone has faith, everyone! How can I say that? Because the question is not whether we have faith – it is what we have faith in! To have faith is to believe something.

I have faith that the floor will not give way, and so I step down. This seems like a stupid example, but let me make it more graphic. Suppose you have some stairs in your house, and you are used to going up and down those stairs. I am one of those people who do not like to turn on the lights at night when my eyes are already used to the darkness, it bothers my eyes. Therefore, I will go up and down the stairs without bothering to turn on the light. I believe, I have faith, that the stairs will support me, even when I cannot really see that this is true. But suppose I am in an old building, one that I do not know, and there is no light. I have to walk up the stairs, trusting that they will hold me up. I really am not sure about it. I do not have very much faith.

Why do I not have trouble believing that the stairs at home will support me, but I don’t have the faith in the old building? Because of experience. This is key. When we have done the same thing over and over again, that builds our faith. We still may not be able to “see” the stairs, but we have used them enough that we trust them because of the experience.

I was telling someone about this experience business just the other day, and it had to do with the experience of trusting that God can redeem anything, and because of that trust, when something happens that looks “bad,” that trust allows us to say, “hmm, I wonder how God is going to redeem this?” and to stay in a posture of gratitude instead of fear or rage.

What do I mean by a posture of gratitude? One of the really interesting speakers at the Wild Goose Festival talked a lot about posture, and how it was part of her body prayer in action. I love looking at and thinking about posture, so I was immediately interested. Here’s the thing: If your reaction to an event is anger, then what kind of posture do get into? fistsThe speaker put up her fists as a typical anger response – and whether or not we actually put up our fists is somewhat irrelevant. If we don’t do it externally, we do it internally, and then it leaks out. If your reaction to an event is fear, then again, we show this in our internal or external posture, that is, the way we respond. But what if the thing that happened was done to us by someone that we absolutely knew without question was someone that loved and cared for us. For instance, I knew, absolutely without question, that my grandmother loved me and always wanted the best for me and would never hurt me. So what was my response if she slapped me? My first thought was that there must have been a mosquito, and I was gratefNamasteul. Therefore, my response posture was one of gratitude and thanks for the protection against a bigger hurt. 

Obviously, responding with thanks to having someone slap you can only happen when you believe, without question, that the person loves you and would not hurt you. But when you put it that way, with the idea of the mosquito, it is not so hard to imagine, is it? There is no question that the slap was a nice thing. No, it is no fun to be slapped. However, I would rather be slapped than have a mosquito bite! So my experience of love from my grandmother would lead me to have faith that no matter what happened, I would trust her actions to be in my best interest. Can you see where I’m heading with this? Do we believe God loves us? Do we believe God would only “slap” us because there was a very nasty “mosquito” that needed to be dealt with? Or, that God would allow the slap, because there was the mosquito, which we may or may not be able to see? And then there were difficult things that happened to me that my grandmother had nothing to do with, especially when I got older, and she could not protect me the way she did when I was young. Even then, it was so important that she was there for me, and often, she could help me understand what had happened in a larger context, and always, always, she was there to console. God is like that and even more. I believe that when those even more difficult things happen, that God can take even the worst situation, and help us heal, and grow stronger. In theological language, this is called redemption. This word comes from the language of business, which is rather interesting. Basically, it says that there is always a way to make something good. So, in other words, do we believe that God can and will redeem, or not? Will God “make good” for us?

This is a very, very basic faith statement, which determines our entire lives. If we do not believe that God loves us, then we do not have any reason to believe that we should trust God, right? And if we do not trust God, then we have to take care of everything ourselves – only we really can’t, and so we die, exhausted and fearful. If we do trust that God loves us, then we can trust that in all things – all things – God will find a way to redeem the situation. It does not mean that life will be a bed of roses, remember the slap! But it does mean that we can trust that while we should do our best, when we have done that, we can rest content that no matter what happens, we trust that it will be OK.

Dame Julian of Norwich has given us this fabulous saying, all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. At the time when she was writing this, things in her world were not very well! The plague was still going on, and there was a lot of civil unrest and revolts. The Church was teaching that if you had troubles, it was because you were evil. Julian proposed that when things happened that they were to teach you, not to punish. She used the example of a small child learning to walk. You have to fall down a lot in the process of learning to walk, it’s just part of the learning process. What is really important is to get back up. But the falling down is not God’s punishment, it is just learning. What if we saw all of our troubles as part of the learning to grow up into God’s image of who we are to be? What if we could say to everything that happened, yes, this has happened, and all shall be well. I don’t know how it shall be well – but, that is God’s problem, not mine. I don’t even like what has happened, but I can still say that all shall be well, because God is with us.

That is a faith statement, and do I always remember to say it? Of course not! Do I forget that I really do believe that God will redeem all things? Of course! However, that’s where community comes in. I cannot do this alone. I need others to remind me.

Listening to this young woman at the Wild Goose Festival was such a reminder. “What is your response posture?” she asked us. We get to choose, a posture of fists up, or a posture of prayer, a posture of depression, or a posture of openness. We get to choose.

And we get to practice. Like the child getting up from falling down again and again, we will only get used to responding with a posture of prayer and openness if we practice it regularly. We will only get used to responding with gratitude and curiosity by doing it – getting the experience of how that feels and seeing what happens as a result, and then doing it again, until, like the stairs in the dark, we trust that this is the way things are.

OK, so now just a few comments on the Gospel, which talks about the situation in the early church, which separated families in terrible ways, some following the Jesus way, and others not, and then goes on to talk about hypocrisy. I looked up the word hypocrisy, it comes from the Greek, which we should guess because of the hypo at the front of the word. In Greek, it was originally used to describe what an actor did, with the understanding that the actor did not speak for himself. In that usage, it was a neutral term, but was quickly subverted to a negative meaning of not speaking the truth – and not just lying, but pretending to really tell the truth.

There is a lot of that going on in our world, but this issue of truth-telling gets to be very interesting when we tie it together with faith, because the question of judgment comes in. What do I mean? If something happens, how do I tell the truth about it? As you know, I am a big fan of Appreciative Inquiry, and one of the critiques of AI is around the telling of the truth. If we focus on what is going well, which is a primary tenet of AI, and talk about that, are we telling the truth about the situation? I think so, but it needs explanation. So where is the issue of truth when it comes to faith? How do we do this, without being hypocrites, without being actors saying someone else’s lines instead of our own?

The simple (not easy!) answer is to speak for oneself. If I choose to believe that God will redeem the situation, that is for me to decide. If I choose to practice a positive posture that feels like it leads me to a more fulfilling life, that is my call, for me. If you choose to do something else, I may wonder if that really is a helpful thing for you, and I may ask you about that, but fundamentally, if I am going to stay away from being hypocritical, I cannot judge. Judgment belongs to God. What we can do is analyze. There is a huge difference between judgment and analysis. Judgment is about something being morally good or bad. Analysis looks to see whether something is helpful or not.

When we decide that something is good or bad, we are taking on the voice of God. There may well be times when that is appropriate. One preacher we heard at Wild Goose is one of the instigators of the Moral Monday movement in NC. What started out as a few preachers causing trouble at the NC legislature has grown to a protest of thousands of North Carolinians, with almost a thousand getting arrested. They are claiming the word of the Lord, and speaking truth to power like the old prophets did, calling for justice for the poor and downtrodden.

But even in that situation, I am more comfortable with saying that we can look at the actions of the legislature and see that it is very clear that their actions do not lead to any kind of equity, any justice, anything that we claim value for in any mainline religion, they are not doing to others as they would have done to them, so our analysis is that a protest of their actions is helpful. Am I saying that they are bad people? I don’t want to make that judgment. Misguided? Certainly! They are widening the social gap, which is the quickest way to civil unrest and violence. And I would venture to say that Jesus would call them hypocrites, calling themselves Christians, which I am sure they do, and acting the way they are, which is anything but Biblical.

And then I have to take a deep breath, and say, and where do I do actions that do not raise the other up, where do I participate in injustice, even unintentionally? I have to think about the fact that I live in a society that uses way more than its fair share of resources, and that looks the other way when it comes to issues of human trafficking and slave labor that allows our food and clothes to be so cheap. I am complicit, and until I acknowledge that, who am I to point the finger?

And God can and does redeem even me. And so I choose my posture of gratitude.