By Charles Rush
September 17, 2000
Phil. 4: 8-9
Cry the Beloved
a black Minister in the hill country of South Africa goes to look
for his lost son in Soweto. Along the way, he meets many people. When he would
leave them, it was his custom to say “Go well, stay well”. That is such a fine
blessing to leave with others. “Go well, stay well.” It is such a positive
it remains quite a challenge to live out of our positive energy and not in a
false way. There was a ‘positive thinking’ movement in management in the
sixties and seventies, parts of which bordered on encouraging us to live false
lives. I.B.M. had a motto in that era “Whether you can or whether you can’t,
the difference is you”, as though we had a level of control over our destiny
not at the mercy of changing market forces, the weather, illness, or genetic
inheritance. There was something false about that kind of positive thinking,
viewed from a wider perspective.
is something almost enervating about some of these motivational speakers. You
are usually attending positive thinking seminars because things weren’t going
so well and your boss thought the whole team needed reorientation and uplift.
To be told, implicitly, that the reason that things are the way they are is
your attitude comes across as ironic and guilt inducing at the same time. Add
to rapidly changing markets, undercapitalized business plan, loser me as the
problem. When your changed attitude doesn’t change those market trends or
capitalize the project, there you are stuck with your loser self.
friend sent me a De-Motivational calendar, expressly devoted to the cause of
Mediocrity. Their motto is the following. “Mediocrity: it takes a lot less time
and most people won’t notice until it’s too late.” The month of July is
dedicated to underachievement. The thought for the month is “The tallest blade
of grass is the first to be cut by the lawnmower.” August is dedicated to
despair, with the motto, “It’s always darkest just before it goes pitch black.”
strikes me that it is truly a spiritual challenge to stay genuinely,
spiritually positive. It is something you have to return to intentionally time
and again. We do indeed live in a cultural atmosphere of low-grade negativity
that permeates our social world and affects us more than we know.
begins with our morning devotional when we open the pages of the paper.
Negativity just permeates the way we report and receive the daily news. The past few weeks, I have been getting more
in touch with the way that journalists are fundamentally motivated by crisis,
tragedy, scandal. I’ve gotten a bunch of calls about the Church having two
candidates for the United States Senate in one congregation. I tell them they
are men of great character? “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, says the reporter. I say that
this is a contest between better and best? The reporters go “yeah, yeah, yeah”.
Then they say, “Reverend, what can you give me for the story?” I say, “What do
you mean, what can I give you?” Reverend, is there any tension around the
church, any tension over at coffee hour?” I’m thinking, only if Carlos forgets
to plug in the coffee pot. You want tension, check out this crowd without
caffeine. “Reverend, are there any factions forming in the congregation?”
is as if they really need a fight in order to get people to read the story.
Maybe I’m just imagining this but the story a couple weeks ago about the water
discovered on the North Pole. That got my attention and I’m sure it did yours.
I almost got the sense that the reporter was grateful for a crisis to write
about. I get that same sense when I read some of the stories about the spread
of the West Nile Virus or our latest crisis the contaminated bottled water.
Stop, go to close up. “This just in.” It is almost like people are just sitting
around the newsroom waiting for something bad to happen so they can jump on the
story. That is when they come alive. And I’m not battering the media. This is
far more complex than that. We all buy
the papers. Apparently this is what we want. This is the spiritual climate that
we have created for ourselves.
negative climate in the local papers is actually worse as you know. The
regularity of the sensational headline. “Mother let’s Baby Starve”. “Drunken
man shoots wife, child, turns gun on self”. Sometimes you can read between the
lines in these stories and it is simply sensational voyeurism. The actual story
is a sad person that had psychiatric detioration with tragic consequences. I
read some of these headlines and I don’t even know why this is news. I ask
myself, ‘Why do we need to know that?’ I’m sure you do too.
you have even finished your coffee, the chances are you have devoured a couple
pages of sensational tragedy and voyeuristic crisis. Some mornings I feel, in
the words of Walker Percy, like I am being bombarded with tiny particles of
do you think your world would be like if we woke to read, “Underprivileged
child gains admission to selective college”? What a great story. Or if we read
about the many things they are doing right over at New Providence High School
to put them up at #15 in the state this year. Or, as I heard this week, that
Summit High School has 10 National Merit finalists- an unbelievable percentage
for our School. What if that were news?
think that is one of the reasons we love the Olympics so much. We are
spiritually starved for inspirational news. Every Olympics there is a kid from
Canada, somewhere way out in Saskatchewan, who is in his first Olympics. He is
there because his sister taught him how to skate. She was actually the better
skater. They trained together, in fact. The sister got some rare disease,
encouraged him to keep on training for the team. He made the team, she got
sicker and finally died just before the games. There is he, you’ve never heard
of him until the last ten minutes and he’s skating with a pin that his sister
gave him for his birthday just before she died. He’s warming up. Everyone
watching around the world is saying, “Go kid”. So positive, so uplifting. We
are starved for that.
of these reporters asked me, “So who are you voting for?” I said, “I wouldn’t
answer that.” He says, “Who is your wife voting for?” “Same candidate or
different candidate?” Headline “Tension after Coffee Hour at the Parsonage”.
absorb this malaise. It permeates our whole spiritual ethos before we wake up
and after we go to bed. It makes us sarcastic. It makes us cynical. It makes us
grumpy with our families, like the wonderful dinner scenes in the movie American
Beauty. Add to that some real live spiritual negativity like disease, like
people in our extended families that have emotional problems, financial
limitations, or addictions that aren’t going to change. Add to that some real
live spiritual negativity like a job that requires us to deal with high
maintenance, angry, demanding clients for a good portion of every workweek, and
you have a substantial spiritual challenge. Staying focused on the positive
does not come naturally or easily. You have to be intentional about it.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians says, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever
is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent,
admirable, virtuous or worthy of praise… think on these things and may the
peace of God be with you.” It is the kind of wisdom you would gladly find in a
fortune cookie, the quality of whose wisdom, has lamentably deteriorated over
the past decade.
Paul was writing this letter to a church that was in the middle of an extended
fight. There were two factions led by two women. In all likelihood, they were
shouting past one another. St. Paul wrote to them from a prison about how to
get along with one another. It is somewhat poignant, that St. Paul would never
leave that prison. He would be executed and he is writing them, maybe with that
in the back of his mind. And he says to them, stay focused on what is positive,
on the higher reasons for which we live. That is what gives life its fullness.
to Jesus, says St. Paul in chapter 2. He says, “Have the mind which was in
Christ.” Think like Jesus. Someone asked Jesus what it was like when God was
fully present. What is the kingdom of God like? In Luke 15 Jesus says, it is
like a Son who has blown all his inheritance, all his opportunities, blown his
career and he comes back home. And when his Father sees him, he runs off the
porch down the road and hugs him. God’s is like that. Then again, he says, it
is like a poor old woman who has lost a valuable coin that is most of her
assets and she is worried about it. She is cleaning her house and she finds it.
It’s like that kind of joy. It’s like that kind of acceptance and
reconciliation. That is what redemption is like. It is so positive.
think we need to intentionally immerse ourselves in the positive. If you are
wondering right now, why your fun factor is so low despite being surrounded by
success, this might be part of the answer. We need to intentionally immerse
ourselves in the positive, the higher reasons for which we live. What do you do
to do that?
like to think that worship at Christ Church is part of that equation. Let’s be
frank, church is not an uplift everywhere. One of our church members brings her
mother to worship when she comes to visit. Her mother likes to come. You know what
she says about you all. She says, this is the happy church. Everybody here
seems happy, like they want to be here and look forward to it. Things could be
worse; I asked her what the alternative was. Without pausing she said, “guilt
know about these churches. They call me from time to time for paperwork on
someone aged 34 who wants to get married and they want me to send certification
for baptism. John, Aimee… hold on to that little card we gave you. First time I
got a call like that I told them the truth. I said, “We don’t keep that kind of
information on file at the church.” The person on the phone said, “I’m sorry,
then they can’t get married in our church.” I said, “Whoa, you know what, we
just found that paper work.” I generated whatever they needed and you will be
glad to know that because my sense is that Christ Church people are not very
good at spiritual paper work. If there are visas for heaven, a lot of you are
in big trouble. You do mortgages well and investment portfolio’s – very
impressive. But we just aren’t big on the guilt, control, or documentation on
the spiritual front. I’m okay with that because I can’t imagine that Jesus
would care either.
are you doing to stay positive? Immanuel Kant summed up the higher purposes for
which we live by saying that we live for three things: The true
(Knowledge), the good (Morals, Virtue), the beautiful (Culture,
Art, Spirituality). Life is too short to live out of our negative energy. You
have to infuse your soul with a positive spirit, in pursuit of Truth, Goodness,
just want to remind you not to overlook the obvious, meditation. Meditation is
partly imaginative work. You are allowing yourself to be filled with the Spirit
of God, to become a conduit of God’s energy. You are focusing on one situation
or person and asking for God’s blessing.
need to find a time and a place. It can be walking in the woods. It can be
sitting in a quiet room. Once you become practiced at it, you can do it sitting
on the runway, waiting for takeoff or riding home in a taxi.
is easiest if you have a quiet place where you can go into yourself for a
moment and let the concerns of the world drop away and simply be present. Maybe
you have a spouse that needs your love, lift them up, see them surrounded by
God’s grace, covered with spiritual energy being healed… A difficult situation
that needs an impasse… You don’t have to say much, just let your spiritual
imagination see blessing. They will change and you will change too. Be
intentional about releasing positive spiritual energy.
is pure, whatever is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure,
decent, admirable, virtuous or worthy of praise, … think on these things. And
may the peace of God be with you. Go well, my brothers and sisters, stay well.
News is only news when it brings about a conflict, a
cover-up, some gross tragedy.
Our culture deploys humor that deprecates and hurts
Religion that motivates through guilt and control
Business environment that is hostile and pits one
different parts of the company against each other.