My oh my, what a toxic week this has been. The bilious rhetoric went off the scale this week when the most-watched debate in history transmitted ignorance and hatred around the world like poison. I know that there may be some of you who did not watch the presidential debate for all sorts of really good reasons, not the least of which may be your desire not to be infected by the toxic politics of our neighbours to the south. However, unlike wearing a mask, which offers the best protection we have in this pandemic, not watching the debate on Tuesday night offered little protection from the fumes of the toxic soup which is being cooked up by our neighbours.
I myself, I breathed far too deeply as the fumes from the bubbling orange cauldron travelled through various media into my home. I am ashamed to confess that the steam from this toxic soup nourished my own dark side. I did not know how dangerously infected I had become until the media brought the news that the most powerful person on the planet had tested positive for the coronavirus. I simply couldn’t help myself. Try as I might, the darker side of my nature positively bubbled up with glee, as smug retorts collided upon the tip of my tongue. “That’ll teach that arrogant, orange, idiot!” This was one of the kinder retorts that I will confess in this context. I shall leave you to imagine the more colourful thoughts, words, images and desires which sprang to mind as I smugly anticipated a fellow human being’s demise and gleefully rejoiced in my “I told you so!s”. I know that I can trust you to come up with more than a few dark thoughts of your own, some harsh words, and some smug images as well, because we’ve been swimming around together in this toxic soup for years now, waiting for the orange fellow who holds the nuclear football to receive his comeuppance.
It took more time than I care to admit for my kinder, gentler self to begin to choke on the bile being generated by my darker self. May all that is HOLY forgive me, but it sure isn’t easy to be LOVE in the world. As we flail about in this hate-filled toxic soup which feeds our baser instincts, it is difficult to remember those things which nourish, ground, and sustain us as the LOVERs we are created to be.
As the news media harped on about the increasing numbers of COVID denying Republican powerhouses who have tested positive, I took my smug self up to my office to write a sermon commemorating the life and witness of St. Francis of Assisi. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it is to create a sermon about an astounding peacemaker, when your own arrogant smugness has wrestled your soul into submission. Seeking DIVINE WISDOM, I grabbed this book off my shelf because I remembered that it contained some WISDOM written by St. Francis. And while flipping the pages of “LOVE Poems from GOD,” I distracted myself with another saint, St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas’ poem is one which I return to often and as I suspected, it functioned like an antibody to fight the infection from which I was languishing.
St. Thomas’ poem is intitled, “Could You Embrace That?”
I said to God, “Let me love you.”
And God replied, “Which part?”
“All of you, all of you,” I said.
“Dear,” God spoke, “you are as a mouse wanting to impregnate a tiger who is not even in heat.
It is a feat way beyond your courage and strength.
You would run from me if I removed my mask.”
I said to God again, “Beloved I need to love you—every aspect, every pore.”
And this time God said,
“There is a hideous blemish on my body,
though it is such an infinitesimal part of my BEING—
could you kiss that if it were revealed?”
“I will try, Lord, I will try.”
And then God said,
“That blemish is all the hatred and
and cruelty in this
Donald J. Trump is indeed a hideous blemish on the body politic. But he is also such an infinitesimal part of Creation. That hideous orange blemish has come to represent all the hatred and all the cruelty in this world. But that odious fellow, that hideous blemish is also a BELOVED child of our Creator. How do we kiss that? How do we summon up the LOVE which lives, in, with, through and beyond us? How do we be LOVE in toxic soup? How do we lovingly respond to the peril of a fellow human being, even if that fellow is the hideous, orange blemish?
As usual when, I’m faced with a question for which I do not have an answer, there is a story which helps me to stay with this unwelcome question. It’s a story about a boy and his grandfather: One day the boy says to his grandfather, “How is it you never seem to get upset? Don’t you ever feel angry?”
His grandfather replies, “I sometimes feel there are two wolves inside me, each of whom fights to tell me what to do. Whenever something angers me, one of the wolves is full of fire, and wants to attack and act nasty. The other wolf is calmer, thinks clearly, and makes better choices. But they’re both always there. And the boy asks, “But if they are always fighting, how do you know which wolf is going to win?” The grandfather answers, “The wolf who wins is the one I choose to feed.”
“Ah ha!” you may be tempted to say, “Our angry wolves have been well fed this week. What we need to do is stop feeding our angry wolves.” You may be tempted to answer my question, my unwelcome question by responding, “Turn off the news. Disengage. Distract ourselves.” Three answers for the price of one.! But hold on a minute, this story doesn’t answer my unwelcome question. Like all important questions the answer is not simple and straightforward. We’ll need to stay with this unwelcome question if we are to learn anything from the question.
Many of you who know me, know that I have struggled with diets for quite some time now. My weight, like the fortunes of the world tends to go up and down. So, believe me when I tell you that controlling our diets is not a complete enough answer to heal us. Restricting our diet may work for a while, but the tempting foods are still there. We need more than a practice of avoidance if we are going to heal the world.
Like all metaphors this one has its limits. So, let me just say that the overwhelming toxicity of the soup we are all in will continue to make us sick unless we are able to supplement our diets with some healthier, more nourishing elements. We are going to need to be at our healthiest if our better selves are going to have any hope of engaging the effects of the hideous orange blemish.
Fortunately for us, Creation is putting on a much more colourful show than the one we were subjected to on Tuesday night. All around us colours are bursting forth as autumn paints a vivid picture of the promise the Earth’s capacity to renew herself. So, why not follow up that toxic soup with an entrée loaded with more nourishing ingredients? I highly recommend a dish served up by Creation. Allow me to serve up a big helping of hope.
“There is so much right with the world. The sun faithfully does its work, bathing us in life-sustaining energy. The moon faithfully does its work, lifting tides and letting them fall, and no one worries it will fail. Water faithfully does its work, the lifeblood of our planet, circulating from cloud to rain to stream to river to sea to cloud. Creatures do their work as well, filling the earth with life and song, sharing the gift of life through death and birth, through nesting and migration, through pollination and germination, each specimen a living miracle if we have eyes to see. Your body, a civilization of cells more sophisticated than any mega-city, works amazingly well amazingly often, your heart beating, your lungs breathing, your eyes seeing, your mind aware. There is so much right in humanity. Children play. Adolescents fall in love. Young couples marry. Lovers entangle their limbs, breath, and dreams. Babies are conceived and born and nurtured, through their similes and cries teaching their parents to love in ways they never knew they were capable of. Friends laugh, plan adventures, through parties, stick together, weep at gravesides after a lifetime of shared joy. Farmers grow, harvesters pick, transporters transport, grocers distribute, and meals of unimaginable variety and delight are prepared and eaten. Entrepreneurs plan and launch new ventures. Colleagues work side by side as managers seek to steer their companies toward success. Researchers seek cures, discoveries, solutions, understanding. Teachers teach and children catch the gift of curiosity. People are honest. They make promises they keep. People take vacations. They watch the surf, ride horses, cast lines, take hikes, swim, ski, bike, sail, and slow down so they can remember they are alive. Grandparents and elders watch all this, their eyes brimming with tears of joy. There is so much right in the world, and in humanity, there is so much good. And so much beauty. When we see it, even a tiny glimmer of how precious it is, our hearts swell in gratitude and awe.” (adapted from, Brian McLaren: The Great Spiritual Migration)
Fortified by a healthy portion of hope, I can make better choices. I can also strive to be LOVE in the world. St. Francis himself is reported to have instructed his followers to see God, “In All Things”. Francis warned: “It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful. The lessons of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things.”
The hideous orange blemish is not the problem. He is but a symptom of a world of hurt which cannot be ignored. Nor can we allow ourselves to become the very symptom which we know is not the answer. We cannot defeat ignorance and hatred, with more ignorance and hatred. We must look deeper than that. We must learn to see the human being, the BELOVED child of our CREATOR, whose pain and disease must not become our own.
May hope provide us all with the antibodies we need to heal ourselves, so that we might become the LOVE for which the world hungers, the LOVE which is the MYSTERY who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us, now and always, the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF, the ONE who nourishes, grounds, and sustains us to be LOVE, even in toxic soup! Amen.
View the full worship service below.
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I greatly appreciated many of the insights expressed here. The quote from Brian McLaren from his book, The Great Migration, reminded me of another quote from Richard Rohr who writes, “We gradually come to recognize that “thinking” does not enable us to love God and love others. We need a different operating system that begins with and leads to silence.” Perhaps cultivating a more contemplative approach to worship, theology, life and living might be more helpful than the current way we do church and seminary and would be a way forward from the way we currently do things, e. g. “teach” and “preach”. St. Francis reminds us to “preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words.”
Pastor Jon Fogleman