Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What can we say come April 2? Lent 5

(to join an email list to continue to receive these and other preaching helps, email me.)

     Was Lazarus, as Ben Witherington believes, “the beloved disciple”?  Jesus certainly loved him dearly – so much so that, in the most pregnant, concise, and poignant (and shortest) verse in all of Scripture, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  Indeed, onlookers who saw his tears remarked, “See how he loved him” (John 11:36).  What is more poignant, or a greater witness to the glory of the incarnation, than this moment when Jesus wept for his friend?

     I like it that Lazarus isn’t a stock character, or an allegorical type.  He’s just a guy who lives in Bethany with his sisters.  Jesus was intimate with real people; he had real friends; he was entirely like us.

     Bethany is a fascinating place.  Tourists can still visit the tomb – of the “sliding stone” type, not the “rolling stone” type: the burial shaft was straight down, below, not into the side of a hill (if this is in fact the right tomb!).  The image is riveting: when Lazarus came out, he actually came up, quite literally rising up from the stony ground.

     But visiting Bethany is way rougher than it used to be.  When the infamous wall was constructed, it was placed right across the main road in downtown Bethany.  For centuries, one could walk from Bethany to Bethpage, then over the Mt. of Olives and into Jerusalem, just as Jesus did.  Now, because of Israeli-Palestinian tension, what used to be a short walk is now a long, roundabout drive.  There’s a preaching image:  in the interests of peace and security, it is well nigh impossible to get to the place where Lazarus was raised. 

     I was trained not to cross over from one Gospel to another.  But why not?  We know Mary and Martha, primarily from that picturesque episode in Luke 10:38-42, where Martha serves fastidiously while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet.  He has history with these women; they aren’t random people seeking the Messiah.  But even they – even the women closest to him! – did not fully understand what he was about.

     The sticky point of John’s account is Jesus’ intentional delay.  Does the preacher just skate by this?  We prefer the notion that Jesus came upon a mess and fixed it.  And yet (1) didn’t Jesus delay on purpose to make a point?  Weren’t all his miracles teaching moments?  He didn’t seem to heal people to insure nobody suffered.  He healed to teach.  And then (2) don’t we experience suffering as if God has delayed?  Didn’t so many of the Psalms cry out because God has gone to sleep, God has delayed, God has tarried instead of coming on, now, when we want God?

     The first time I preached on this text, I believe, was the first Sunday my new girlfriend (who now is my wife) and her mother! came to worship.  Trembling nervously, I focused on “Unbind him, and let him go” – which I still think is more than rich with homiletical potential.  Mind you, we need not psychologize or allegorize everything.  But John begs us to do so at every turn!  Lazarus is bound, yes – for that is how they buried people in pre-embalming, pre-cremations epochs.  But how symbolic for the living?  Unbind him – unbind all of us who are bound by sin, bound to habit, bound to the ways of the world!  And let him go, set him free.  The resurrection isn’t just the ticket into eternal life.  The raising of Jesus shatters the bonds of the living; we are forgiven, we are liberated, we are empowered to be courageous, bold, radical disciples for this Lord.

     What after all is this resurrection?  N.T. Wright has helped us so much.  In Surprised by Hope: “Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about.”  And, “The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom.”

     And yet I always wonder about the role of personal testimony in preaching.  A few years back at Easter, I paused in my sermon and basically said “The DaVinci Code and other critiques notwithstanding, as a guy, not as your pastor, but just as a person, I really do believe Jesus physically rose from the grave.”  The impact was palpable, and at least a few were moved. 
And so, pondering this, I find myself echoing Frederick Buechner’s C.S. Lewis-style longish claim:  We can say that the story of the Resurrection means simply that the teachings of Jesus are immortal like the plays of Shakespeare or the music of Beethoven and that their wisdom and truth will live on forever. Or we can say that the Resurrection means that the spirit of Jesus is undying, that he himself lives on among us, the way that Socrates does, for instance, in the good that he left behind him, in the lives of all who follow his great example. Or we can say that the language in which the Gospels describe the Resurrection of Jesus is the language of poetry and that, as such, it is not to be taken literally but as pointing to a truth more profound than the literal. But there really is no story about the Resurrection in the New Testament. Except in the most fragmentary way, it is not described at all. There is no poetry about it. Instead, it is simply proclaimed as a fact. Christ is risen! Unless something very real indeed took place on that strange, confused morning, there would be no New Testament, no Church, no Christianity."  
He continues: "Yet we try to reduce it to poetry anyway: the coming of spring with the return of life to the dead earth, the rebirth of hope in the despairing soul. We try to suggest that these are the miracles that the Resurrection is all about, but they are not. In their way they are all miracles, but they are not this miracle, this central one to which the whole Christian faith points.  Unlike the chief priests and the Pharisees, who tried with soldiers and a great stone to make themselves as secure as they could against the terrible possibility of Christ’s really rising again from the dead, we are considerably more subtle. We tend in our age to say, ‘Of course, it was bound to happen. Nothing could stop it.’ But when we are pressed to say what it was that actually did happen, what we are apt to come out with is something pretty meager: this ‘miracle’ of truth that never dies, the ‘miracle’ of a life so beautiful that two thousand years have left the memory of it undimmed, the ‘miracle’ of doubt turning into faith, fear into hope. If I believed that this or something like this was all that the Resurrection meant, then I would turn in my certificate of ordination and take up some other profession. Or at least I hope that I would have the courage to.”

     Did anyone recall Ezekiel 37 when Lazarus was raised?  Surely...  The OT passage is stunning, evoking hokey spirituals but also something revolutionary - the raising up, not of an individual, but a whole people, dead and lost.  I wonder if this is more fruitful, given the situation of our world today, than any sermon about individual resurrection...  You have to lost the overly-literalistic depiction of Ezekiel 37 in the Dura-Europos synagogue (3rd century!).

     Finally, I have all my adult life wondered (as have countless writers before me) what Lazarus’s life was like – after he was raised.  Already mourned, given up for good, he was back.  His friends had to be happy – and yet what about others who weren’t back?  Was he a novelty, as in a theological freak show?  He did grow old, and die – eventually, and finally.  The preacher isn’t merely allowed to speculate, but invited to do so!  Was he the one, at the cross, whom Jesus asked to care for his mother Mary?

     In the 2003 film, “The Gospel of John,” the crowds call his name – but Jesus’ foes plot to kill him.  In “The Last Temptation of Christ,” it is Paul who kills Lazarus – to destroy evidence of Jesus’ resurrecting power.  What would it be like to live as a resurrected person?  Wendell Berry's famous poem gets at it, I think:

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What can we say come March 26? Lent 4

    The longish John 9 text is about the blind seeing – and so I find myself drawn to the remarkable Old Testament texts, 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and Psalm 23, the prototypical texts about seeing as the Lord sees.  At my place, we will be having Holy Communion – so I am especially fascinated by “Thou preparest a table before me,” which is so promising… But why add “in the presence of my enemies”?  Is this more pertinent now than ever?

     I like listening to music while pondering texts, and what better than “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need,” and “The King of Love my Shepherd Is”?  

     So: Samuel’s clandestine visit to Bethlehem in 1 Samuel 16 (depicted here from the 3rd/4th century Dura Europos synagogue in modern-day Syria).  Saul is king, but he’s pretty much done.  He was big, strong, tall, powerful – yet when David appears on the stage of history, he is small, very small.  The Bible’s quirky logic is in play: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4:6). “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9). “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you – for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut 7:7). “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised” (1 Cor 1:27).

     What were Jesse’s feelings when he learned one of his sons would be king? Pride? Shock? A fearful trembling?  The preacher can depict the lineup of sons, tallest on down, the strapping Eliab, the burly Abinadab, the chiseled Shammah, all 7 – but not one of them was the one.  The Lord’s word to Samuel – and us?  “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).

     Even in church, we look to ability, strength, IQ, savvy – but it’s the “heart,” although it’s really God choosing whom God chooses.  Puzzled, Samuel shrugs – and only then acknowledges, “Well, yes, there remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” The obvious deduction is that Jesse didn’t even consider the possibility that this little one might be the one. But could it be that Jesse actually feared David might be the one, that he saw unprecedented potential in him – or perhaps he was simply the one he loved the most, the unexpected child of old age, the apple of his eye? The writer does take note that David “was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome” (1 Sam 16:12). Perhaps Jesse wanted to keep this small but handsome one home, to shelter him for himself, and from the perils of kingship.

     Christian history features so many stories of parents blocking their children’s calling to sainthood. Francis of Assisi’s father, Pietro, was so mortified when his son began giving to the poor with total abandon that he took him to court and disowned him. Pope Francis’s mother was crushed when he reported he was headed into the priesthood instead of to medical school, and she would not speak to him or forgive him for some time. How many women and men never became great heroes of the Church because parents restrained them, and wouldn’t let go?

     This story is about a different kind of seeing.  The verb “see” (ra’ah) occurs six times in the story of David’s anointing; “the Lord does not see as mortals see” (1 Sam 16:7). How does God see? How can we see as God sees? Can we see things as they really are instead of being deceived by what is only superficially visible? As Gandalf wrote in a letter to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, “All that is gold does not glitter.” Or that Native American saying: “We teach our children to see when there is nothing to see, and to listen where there is nothing to hear.”   Preaching is not seeing for others, but showing them how to see.

     This brings us to Psalm 23.  The Hebrew word for “see,” ra’ah, is one barely distinguishable sound away from ra‘ah, the word for “shepherd.” We might think of shepherds as lowly and despised, poor laborers of no account. Yet there is always an ambiguity to the image of a “shepherd.” Yes, they spent their days and nights out of doors with smelly animals who tended to nibble themselves lost. Mothers didn’t fantasize that their daughters would marry shepherds one day. And yet in the agrarian, pastoral culture of the world in those days, where sheep were everywhere and they mattered for survival, even the mightiest kings of Sumer, Babylon, Assyria and Egypt were often dubbed the “shepherds” of their people.

     The Lord is my shepherd.  Lest we get sappy about the image, as so much kitschy church art does, I will recall the first shepherd I saw in Israel:  Elvis t-shirt, green rubber golashes, with a stick, swatting sheep, hollering expletives at them.  The Lord is like that? Or we are like such dumb sheep?

     Most of us have heard the Hebrew of verse 1 means “I shall lack no good thing.”  I shall not want?  Our whole life is about wanting, even in prayer.  Maybe we are asked here to learn to want the one good thing:  God.  Psalm 27 says “One thing have I asked… to behold the beauty of the Lord.”  And Psalm 73 similarly says “For me, it is good to be near God.”  Clearly all this requires a focused re-understanding of what is genuinely good, and what doesn’t really count… 

     In our church, we read Psalm 23 aloud at funerals.  “Read” – but really people say it from memory, and are clearly moved.  And we use the King James Version, rightly I think…  Regardless, I’m struck by one four letter word in verse four:  thou.  This is fascinating: in the original Hebrew of Psalm 23, there are exactly 26 words before “Thou art with me,” and exactly 26 words after “Thou art with me.” Could be chance – but perhaps the poet was boldly declaring that God being with us is at the very center of our lives, the apogee of all that transpires, the focal point of the universe? God is with us. We are not alone down here.

     The whole Gospel is that God is with us; Jesus was called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” John Wesley’s dying words were “The best of all is, God is with us.” God doesn’t shelter us from trouble, God doesn’t magically manipulate everything to suit us. But the glorious With is unassailable, unchangeable, the only fact that matters.

     This marvelous news draws our attention again to the Thou. For the first 3 verses of the Psalm, God is spoken of in the third person: “The Lord is my shepherd… he leads me… he restores my soul.” But with the Thou, the third person shifts to second person: “for Thou art with me, thy rod… thou preparest a table…” Instead of talking about God, the Psalmist begins to talk to God; instead of God in the head, God is a friend in the heart, a conversation happens, a relationship grows. This is faith. This is the only true comfort.

     And the with isn’t just me-with-God.  It is me-with-others – and especially those with whom I’ve been estranged.  Reconciliation is our burden – and joy.  This “table” is set “in the presence of my enemies.”  Jesus said Before you come to the altar, make peace with your enemies (Matthew 5:23f) – and When you have dinner, don’t invite your friends, but the outsiders, the outcast (Luke 14).  In our day of intense rancor and derision, we are asked, invited and empowered by God not merely to think about others more happily and in light of God’s grace, but actually to break bread with them.  How do we urge our people to engage in this difficult but life-giving discipline???

     How interesting is it that Psalm 23 says “though I walk through the valley of the sha
dow of death” – the key word being “through.”  We don’t move into the valley and camp there; we get through it, not by dint of will, but by God’s mercy.  And then the climax: “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).  Perhaps T.S. Eliot was right: “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Or consider this: if you are lucky like me, you have fond memories of summertime junkets to the home of your grandparents. For me, it was a house that is factually small now when I drive by as a grownup – but as a child it was large, large in love, large in special treats, large in cousins and fun, another home, one without problems or homework or chores, a special place of a more unconditional kind of love. Does God give us such places in our memory so that we will learn to desire the home for which God destines us when this life is over?

     Isaac Watts, as he wrote marvelous hymns, often recast Psalms into slightly different language. His metric version of the 23rd Psalm is eloquent, elegant, moving: “The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days; O may Your House be my abode, and all my work be praise. There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come; no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.”
     Like a child at home. Yes, some children bear the misfortune of a home that is more warfare than peace, more division than love. But the very fact that we recoil at the idea of any child anywhere not enjoying peace and love at home is evidence that God has wired into our hearts a keen sense of a proper destiny – which looks like me as a boy at my grandmother’s table or on my grandfather’s lap (yes, that's me in 1956). Various happenings in the life we know here strike us as urgent, they make us anxious, or perhaps we have some fun or face trials. But it is all a preparation for a grand homecoming, when we will “find a settled rest… no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Or as the Psalmist sang, “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

  ** I have now posted for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, if you are working ahead.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What can we say come March 19? Lent 3

    ** Here's a sermon I preached on John 4, just a couple of weeks after getting to visit Jacob’s well in Samaria: “Jesus’ Thirst.” 

     John 4:5-42: an embarrassment of riches, with so many rich moments to explore.  The setup verse (4:4) says Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.”  Hardly: this is the hilly, rocky, more dangerous route – even today, situated as it is on the West Bank.  This Greek word, δει, is pregnant with a sense of divine necessity.  He had to, as it his missional focus required him to go there.

     Also, back then, it was Samaritan country.  They were actually Jewish, but attached to Mt. Gerizim instead of Mt. Zion, and to the Torah but not the Prophets (and not liking the prophets makes them like lots of people we preach to!!!).  So close to Judaism – and yet so far.  What is it in human nature that makes us most hostile toward the people who are just barely different from us?  There’s the hilarious (and crass) scene in The Life of Brian (not for the sermon, just for the preacher’s fun) where the People’s Front of Judea explain “the only people we hate more than the Romans are the Judea People’s Front”…

     Joking aside, it is hard to be in any minority group.  Think of the pressure African-Americans or Muslims feel in much of the United States – and I ponder Amos Oz’s recollection of growing up Jewish: "The fear in every Jewish home, the fear we never talked about but were unintentionally injected with, like a poison, drop by drop, was the chilling fear that perhaps we really were not clean enough, that we really were too noisy and pushy... Perhaps we didn't have proper manners.  There was a terror that we might, heaven forbid, make a bad impression on the Gentiles, and then they would be angry and do things too dreadful to think about.  A thousand times it was hammered into the head of every Jewish child that we must behave nicely and politely with Gentiles even when they were rude or drunk, that whatever else we did we must not provoke them or argue or haggle with them, we must not irritate them, we must speak quietly... because even a single child with dirty hair could damage the reputation of the entire Jewish people. This constant drip-drip distorts all your feelings, it corrodes your human dignity like rust."

     But this woman is despised even within her own despised group!  She comes to draw water at noon; most women went in the morning.  She is quite alone, as in lonely, ostracized.  Jesus encounters her – and he too is alone.  He becomes what she is.  He doesn’t judge, or teach a lesson, or even give her water.  He asks her to do something for him.  Jean Vanier, in his wonderful Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John, explains, “Jesus is showing us how to approach people who are broken and wounded: not as someone superior, from ‘above,’ but humbly, from ‘below,’ like a beggar.  Such people who are already ashamed of themselves do not need someone who will make them even more ashamed, but someone who will give them hope and reveal to them that they have value.”

     Once there was a boy born with an acute case of cerebral palsy who was treated terribly as a young child.  He was sent to another home where his mother noticed how he watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  She believed Mister Rogers was keeping her son alive.  Some big foundation worked it out for Mister Rogers to visit this boy, and when he did, Mister Rogers asked, “Would you pray for me?”  The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for anything.  He was the object of prayer, not the one to pray for Mr. Rogers.  But now he prays for Mister Rogers and he doesn’t want to die anymore.  Tom Junod witnessed this and privately he congratulated Mister Rogers for being so smart.  But Mister Rogers didn’t know what he meant.  He really wanted the boy’s prayers, saying, “I think that anyone who’s gone through challenges like that must be very close to God.”

     Those who are thirsty, and then drink deeply from the water of life know how to be a fountain for others.  They are not afraid of the pain and thirst of others.  Can we hear this woman’s pain?  “I have no husband.”  She’s not lying, or covering up; it’s a lament, one we all sense in the gut.  How many negative images has she been bombarded with, and how much self-recrimination does she tote around in her head?  The Bible doesn’t tell us her name – par for the course.  She didn’t matter much to anybody else back then – except Jesus, who surely did learn her name, even if John forgot to tell us.

     Jesus invites this woman to explore her past.  This is a crucial piece of Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.  You chart your genogram, you tell of brokenness in your past, and out of this candid vulnerability you come to a healthy, healing relationship to God – and with others.

     As Vanier puts it, “Jesus invites her, and each one of us, to revisit our past in truth: not just to analyze it or remain trapped in it, but to be liberated from its hold.”  And then to be filled, refreshed, washed with this incredible living water that Jesus is.  The well in Samaria, from which I have personally drawn water, is 135 feet deep!  This God business is deep, and it is “out of the depths” (Psalm 130) that we cry to God, and where we find him, and our healing.

     In my newest book, Worshipful, I explore some medieval notions of being hungry and thirsty for the Eucharist – and then Jesus’ own hunger and thirst.  Julian of Norwich wrote that “Jesus will be thirsty until the last soul is saved and joins him in his bliss; his thirst is to have us drawn into him.”  And Bernard of Clairvaux: “My penitence, my salvation, are His food. I myself am His food. I am chewed as I am reproved by Him; I am swallowed as I am taught; I am digested as I am changed; I am assimilated as I am transformed; I am made one as I am conformed to him.”

Monday, March 6, 2017

Preaching to those who adore, & those who loathe President Trump

How can we do a better job of preaching to people who adore Donald Trump, and to those who loathe him, when they are together in the pews in front of us?

When I’m constructing a sermon, I’ve often remembered what Zan Holmes said in a preaching conference years ago.  He spoke of a “gallery” in his office, photos and images of saints and heroes, and he imagines them looking over his shoulder, cheering him on, reminding him to be faithful and courageous.  I have Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther, Francis of Assisi, and Jesus himself with their eyes trained on me as I type right now.

I’ve expanded this when I’ve taught preaching myself – to include, at least in your imagination, who will be coming on Sunday.  The woman whose husband said “I’ve never loved you,” the man who just got fired, the mom whose daughter hates church, the dad whose grown son won’t return his phone calls.  And then also the people who won’t be there.  The unchurched, the homeless, a refugee, a rabbi friend.  And maybe my seminary professors, although I worry that when preachers prepare as if the professor of exegesis will be there, the sermon might be a touch on the academic or even pedantic side.

As of this week, I am rethinking all this – in light of something I found in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.  It’s a great book that goes a long way toward explaining what we’ve seen in the past few months:  Clinton supporters being absolutely baffled and mortified by Trump supporters, and Trump fans mocking and harboring anger toward Clinton supporters.  Studies show that different people have different “taste receptors.”  To one group of people, if you speak of inclusion and caring for those in need, they nod warmly; but others are numb to the same appeal, or veer toward thoughts like personal responsibility and fairness.  
Everyone wants “fairness,” but it means different things to different people, as Haidt shows via photos.

Family of origin proves to be the origin of much of this: you’re 2 years old, your family drives by a beggar; in one family, words of sympathy are spoken or money is handed through the window; in another family, dad says “He should get a job.  I dug ditches when I was 17 just to get by.”  Liberals think authority should be questioned; conservatives think it should be heeded.  But “think” is the wrong verb.  It’s way down in the gut, way prior to reasons or facts.

Haidt gathers up all these studies and suggests that people have six such “taste receptors”:  caring, loyalty, fairness, authority, sanctity, and liberty.  Most people are strong on a couple of these, and lacking in others – which then is why we don’t comprehend what others are saying.  My first thought about this, regarding preaching, was basically Aha!  I’m talking about caring all the time, but a large number of those listening are authority/sanctity people.  No wonder they look puzzled.

Haidt would ask why we don't find ways to balance our appeals.  If I have a text that speaks tenderly about caring, I would be wise in that same sermon to find a way to speak to the importance of holiness.  If I am weighing in on the authority of Scripture and the importance of adhering to God's law, I need somewhere in there to speak of God's merciful loyalty to us, or of the joys of freedom.  If I want to underline the obligation to welcome strangers, and even immigrants, I might find a way to emphasize why law and order matters - which can play two ways, right?  Those who would reduce immigration think the law should be enforced - but we might agree if we are speaking of acts of violence against immigrants.  When you compose the sermon, think of Trump foes and Trump fans, and intentionally say something to both of them that will challenge but also comfort.  Press more than one button.

But then I read one of Haidt’s paragraphs, and a light bulb popped on in my head.  After retelling how he advised had Democrats to speak the language of and appeal to the emotions of those on the other side, instead of continuously affirming those already with them and further alienating those who aren’t, he added this: “I advised Democrats to stop dismissing conservatism as a pathology and start thinking about morality beyond care and fairness.  I urged them to close the sacredness gap between the two parties by making greater use of the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations, not just in the ‘messaging,’ but in how they think about public policy and the best interests of the nation.

Bingo.  Haidt helps me understand why much of what I say gets misunderstood, and he hints at ways to connect – but maybe more importantly, he dares to suggest that I might need to think more thoroughly about how I think.  As I try to take into account various kind of people and their passions, might that help me reckon with the diverse dimensions within Scripture and theology itself?  I might find a better strategy, and even be truer to what God is actually about.

Sure, we have an inevitable emphasis on caring.  But there is much authority and sanctity language in the Bible and our theology.  Could it be that if, instead of thinking just about Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and the woman whose daughter hates church, we conjured up a new gallery?  What if in sermon preparation I reminded myself that there are those who say Authority is to be questioned, and others who think it is to be heeded, or that there is the guy who loves the slogan “Tax the wealthy” sitting not far from another guy who loves the slogan “Spread my work ethic, not my wealth,” that a woman there is deeply sympathetic to the plight of a friend who had an abortion sitting not far from another woman who bore a child after testing indicated a defect was certain, so highly did she view the sacredness of life?  Not only might I find the way to reach all of them, if I intentionally appeal to all of them, but I might actually notice things in the text, and in our theological tradition I’d missed or just underemphasized because of the way my own brain/emotional self is arranged.

So I am going to experiment for a few weeks, especially in my weekly preaching blog I hope you’ll get via emailing me.  Dig into my text, find what I’m led to say, and then ask if I can say something, anything, with integrity, that appeals to the opposite set of taste receptors.  Is there something in this text for both sides?  I suspect the answer is Yes – and I might get a fairer hearing if I can offer something to everybody.