Monday, August 27, 2007

making sausage

i've run across an interesting dilemma. i'm trying to write a sermon. i just shared, at lunch date with a friend, the story of the most poignant thing that's happened to me this week. she said i should include it in my sermon.

problem is, it's a conversation i had with my boss. it was a good one; telling the story wouldn't make him look bad or anything. but i have the sense that it's not kosher to share in a sermon anything about what goes on in the church office, like they're not supposed to see how the sausage is made.

part of me agrees. it's not appropriate to share, in a ministry setting, a story that you don't feel complete with, or a hurt that's still raw. we call that "bleeding on the congregation." nouwen tells an old jewish story that the messiah will be the one unbinding and binding his wounds one at a time so as to be ready when his people need him. maybe the one wound that's open to be inspected is like the psychic wound it's okay to share in a sermon--one at a time, so we can see it clearly and it's not overwhelming.

the other part of me rebels. isn't this false wall we put up hindering our ability to function as a true community? how does the idea of the leader to trust, who appears (to a degree) infallible, fit with our perfectly equitable beloved community?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

rise of the middle class

I had an awesome dinner conversation last night with my friends and parents (both titles refer to the same two people). We were talking about patterns of work, play, rest, and consuming. We wondered how political economic systems support healthy patterns, or don't. We wondered about the selfishness and short-sightedness that seem to be endemic and growing. I asked what they think their parents would have thought. My dad mused out loud on how the US middle class grew in the 1950s, and it really seemed that everyone was getting a bigger slice of the pie and the pie itself was growing. He said his parents in Newton, KS never wanted to get ahead if it meant anyone in their community might suffer.

The phrase "rise of the middle class" echoed in my mind for a minute. Here's why: I'm finally reading Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool by the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress. In telling the story of her work with the labyrinth in the last 15 years, she mentions a mysterious thought that kept coming to her: "it's all about the fourteenth century."
Now, Lauren's a mystic, and she also has a very keen analytic mind. Far keener than mine. So this fourteenth-century stuff is not a nostalgic art-history-major thing. What she discovered was that the shift from the superstitious middle ages to the so-called Enlightenment had huge consequences for the way we think:

As the Western world moved into the Enlightenment, we embraced reason as the
central function of the mind. This excluded subjective experiences: the
senses, as well as intuition, dreams, or any hints of revelation. In the
eyes of both scientists and leaders of the Reformation, the religious
imagination was stripped of all respect and honor among the various ways
of knowing.

Lauren says, and I agree, that imagination will be crucial both to finding a way forward for the global community and to being healthy and whole as we do it. "We are just beginning to restore the honor of the imagination. And we have yet to sort out the difference between superstition and mystical experience," she says. We are trying to swing the pendulum back, reintegrate ways of thinking (this is certainly happening, think of the buzz about multiple intelligences). It's been important to look at what forces swung the pendulum the other way, beginning in the 16th century.

What else happened around the time of Enlightenment and the Reformation? I'll admit to not having been on the edge of my seat in seventh and ninth grade history, but this much got through: the rise of the middle class. So what I wondered listening to my dad talk about Kansas in the 1950s was: was the WWII and postwar boom like Enlightenment Part II for the US psyche? They certainly have some things in common: booming economy from growing markets and (economists, straighten me out) specialization, right? More stuff is available, so we're willing to work longer hours at less satisfying tasks to increase our buying power. (See Mary Haddad's July 29 sermon on transforming our desires.) What does the demise of the imagination have to do with the death of the family farm? How might we bring both back without being foolhardy or irresponsible?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

soaring and flapping

My dad flies sail planes (aka gliders, aka airplanes sans engines), and he tells me it's just like sailing. Most of the time I'm skeptical.

Then this morning, riding my bike by the Stanford foothills, I saw a lone, out-of-place seagull riding the air current coming off the hill. I could almost tells what it was thinking, as each time the wind took an unexpected turn, it had to flap its wings a bit more before it could glide for awhile. I felt myself getting frustrated on the bird's behalf that the wind wouldn't stay constant enough for her to look for food, or enjoy the view, or whatever she was trying to do.

I thought about my own patterns of effort and rest. Often when I feel tired, it's because I'm avoiding something, so rest doesn't help. I think, "I deserve rest now." But really, when I have to flap and when I get to soar isn't up to me. I will do both, but I have to take my orders from the wind and the mountain.

Monday, August 6, 2007

political philosophy

Thanks to my friend Sheila, who made me promise, I'm reading Frank Rich (NYTimes Sunday). This came during an inpsiring (and sobering) conversation about the state of our country and our church, and how we might act with integrity as members of each, and members of both. In his article from yesterday, "Patriots who love the troops to death" ( Rich said:

The ranks of unreconstructed Iraq hawks are thinner than they used to be. One
particularly eloquent mea culpa can be found in today’s New York Times Magazine,
where the former war supporter Michael Ignatieff acknowledges that those who “truly showed good judgment on Iraq”might have had no more information than those who got it wrong, but did not make the mistake of confusing “wishes for reality."
Now, I've long loved the Times Magazine, but this article, "Getting Iraq Wrong." takes the cake. It's remarkable because Ignatieff doesn't appear to have time for mudslinging. He knows, as a politician himself, just how hard it is to be one. (Here's another link if the Times website won't let you in:

I like his thoughts on leadership in politics (maybe they appeal to me because I'm such an S on the Myers-Briggs): "In politics, everything is what it is and not another thing. Specifics matter more than generalities. Theory gets in the way." While I disagree with some of his thoughts about public and private life, I think his point is a crucial one.
In politics, learning from failure matters as much as exploiting success. Samuel Beckett's "Fail again. Fail better" captures the inner obstinacy necessary to the political art. Churchill and De Gaulle kept faith with their own judgment when smart opinion believed them to be mistaken. Their willingness to wait for historical validation, even if far off, looks now like greatness. In the current president the same faith that history will judge him kindly seems like brute stubbornness.
He criticizes Bush's leadership and decisions without calling him an idiot. He admits to his own similar missteps. He talks about the difference between being right and being trustworthy.

In my political-science classes, I used to teach that exercising good judgment meant making good public policy. In the real world, bad public policy can often turn out to be very popular politics indeed. Resisting the popular isn't easy, because resisting the popular isn't always wise. Good judgment in politics is messy. It means balancing policy and politics in imperfect compromises that always leave someone unhappy — often yourself.

Knowing the difference between a good and a bad compromise is more important in politics than holding onto pure principle at any price. A good compromise restores the peace and enables both parties to go about their business with some element of their vital interest satisfied. A bad one surrenders the public interest to compulsion or force.

Just as, in private life, a marriage or partnership is a union between two good forgivers, public and community life is a dance between good compromisers. Church, and state, take heed!