ED IS STILL THINKING…
For those of you who have yet to meet Precious Ramotswe, Alexander McCall Smith’s main character in his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, you have missed a genuine literary treat. If I were to describe her in the Biblical vernacular I might say, “Here is a woman in whom there is no guile.” Mma Ramotswe is not a pietist, but a person of great faith, and true integrity. Everyone who ends up in a relationship with her, at work or at home, finds their life enriched and graced.
In one of the books, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, there is a wonderful conversation between Mma and her assistant, Grace Makutsi, regarding the work ethic of a new worker, Mr Polopetsi. They wonder how prosperous Botswana would be if everybody worked as hard. “We would be so rich we wouldn’t know what to do,” declares Mma Ramotswe. “Can you ever be that rich?” asked Mma Makutsi, “Surely there is always something to spend your money on. More shoes, for example.”
Mma Ramotswe laughed, “You can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. Rich people are like the rest of us-two feet, ten toes. We are all the same that way.”
Her assistant wasn’t convinced by this conversation because she knew that you could wear one pair in the morning and a different pair in the evening. We take Grace’s view to be more reasonable, don’t we? I mean those of us who live in our cultural context of privilege know that we can own closets full of shoes, and still not have the right ones at any given time. What is sad to me is that few even question the need for such indulgences.
Please don’t read this column as a hellfire and damnation guilt trip about shoes or wealth. I would never paint myself into such a corner, and I learned a long time ago that scolding folk never really produces a change in behaviors or values. I am merely reminding us of the obvious, we all know it; it’s better to spend our time appreciating the simple gifts, and less craving what we don’t have. I plan on taking some slow walks around the neighborhood this summer in a pair of comfortable shoes. Maybe I’ll share a cup of tea, or, well…whatever, with a neighbor, sit on my porch, or sit in the shade down by the canal and watch the birds fly in and the fish jump out. Maybe I’ll hear an old frog complain about how busy the canal has become, and maybe I’ll even sing a song of gratitude as I enjoy all that God has given.
Precious Ramotswe would be glad to sit with us, if she were around, and as we sat there feeling that cooling breeze blowing from off shore, perhaps we would just know what was really important, wouldn’t we?
CONTROVERSIAL? WHO US?
A few years ago the United Church of Christ ran a series of ads lifting up our vision of an inclusive God. Some television networks refused to run the ads saying that they were “too controversial.” I am not surprised that the United Church of Christ could be involved in something called controversial. For years we’ve been willing to ask the hard questions about many things, such as how our country and other governments resort to using military force so quickly and easily; this goes all the way back to Congregationalist dissent against the War of 1812. For years we have been a prophetic voice against the prevailing winds of racism within our society at one time providing defense monies for those folk fighting such injustice from southern prisons and jails. For decades we have fought for the full inclusion of women into the ministry of the church, and continue at a Synod and conference levels to encourage churches to become Open and Affirming of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender Persons within our communities. The United Church of Christ has often been seen as a “mainline” troublemaker.
As the “God Is Still Speaking” campaign picked up steam I confess that I was stunned that simply saying, “Jesus didn’t turn anyone away and neither do we,” would lead us into a national publicity storm. It confirmed what I’ve come to believe, that affirming God’s grace goes down harder for most people than projecting judgment.
A number of inquiries came across my computer screen the week after the campaign began. One person in particular resonated with the ads and our website that affirmed the campaign, yet she still felt a need to ask the question, “But don’t you ask the sinners to stop sinning?” Ah, there it was, the accountability question. I thought as I read the question that this person was like so many of us. She wanted other folk to be held accountable for sin, at least what she thought the Bible named as sin, but she made no mention of being in community where her own sin might be exposed.
I am convinced that judgment in the Bible comes most often upon those who refuse to grace others. The real sin of Sodom was to refuse hospitality to strangers (withholding grace). When Jesus healed a paralytic in Luke, and forgave his sins, the religious leaders got mad because of an act of grace. Time and again in Luke, those considered “less than” by the “righteous” received grace and the righteous got resentful. Even Jesus’ own disciples were once denying little children access to him and he had to scold them and then take time to grace the little ones. People just have a hard time with grace.
So, here we are at Cocoa Beach Community Church, a United Church of Christ, and we may be considered heretical because we refuse to beat the so-called “unrighteous” until they get “righteous.” I’m sure that Jesus is mad as, well you know what, for our having affirmed such a message. Or maybe, just maybe, this gave or gives him a big laugh. I can almost picture him now, laughing that the United Church of Christ could have ever been called controversial; laughing at the whole silly mess, laughing until he cries. Or is that tear there for some other reason?