Building a Sturdy Foundation
By Charles Rush
November 14, 2010
Matthew 7: 24-27
(mp3, 7.5Mb) ]
is morning’s sermon is on the very important subject of building a sturdy foundation, a subject I think more and more about each year. My colleague, Julie Yarborough, said, “good subject and what does it say about the recent election”?
I wish I could give people simple advice on how to
vote like my grandmother used to give me when I was young. When Nixon was
running against McGovern we asked her who she was voting for and she said,
"Luke 19:35". We looked it up and it said, "Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and the people spread palm branches before him as he
went." My brother and I were completely befuddled and asked her what that
was supposed to mean. She said, "A Donkey… If Jesus wanted us to vote
Republican he would have ridden on an Elephant." I'm afraid our world is
not quite that way anymore.
It is more like a cartoon I saw on a professor’s
door at Princeton recently when I was down there. There are two physics profs
in lab coats before this enormous blackboard with equations filling every inch
of space. One says to the other, "It's not that simple." No it is
So, go vote your conscience. You have enough
information. You don't need a word about what to do on Tuesday, but a reminder
of what to do beginning Wednesday. Our constitution requires us politically to
live 'of the people, by the people, for the people. And if you've had more than
enough information, you've had too much agita. Rancor and partisan politics
have transgressed the bounds of wise civility. Some of our political
commentators appear more interested in the fight than the substance of our life
I was reminded of the very end of "Romeo and
Juliet", not the tragedy where Juliet kills herself and Romeo then does
himself in. But the wider social framework for the play that led the two
reigning families of Florence, the Capulets and the Montagues to continue a
blood feud to the point that their most beautiful young people, the fairest
most noble of their families would come to such a tragic end.
After they are both dead, the two families come en
masse to the Prince for justice, to plead their case for why the other side
should be zapped as punishment. They can't get beyond the anger and revenge. So
the prince finally speaks and says
your children? Capulet, Montague!
See what a scourge
is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds
means to kill your joys with love,
And I, for winking
at your discords too,
Have lost a brace
of kinsmen: all are punished.
A glooming peace this
morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow
will not show its head:
Go hence, to have
more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be
pardoned and some punished:
For never was a
story of more woe
Than this of Juliet
and her Romeo.
All around us are apocalyptic predictions about the
fate of the Republic should Kerry or Bush win, none of them warranted or wise.
People of good faith may be genuinely divided on their vote in this complicated
season, but we should be united in repairing the fabric of our life together
after the votes are in. We all need to put an end to sneering and contempt and
begin to actively do the things to bring us together again and go on. That
quality, in fact, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote 200 years ago, is what make
America strong. That is what makes us sturdy politically. As Christians and
Jews, my hope is that you will lead on Wednesday and let the spirit of
reconciliation and tempered reason repair us.
We want to create sturdy traditions for our
children, for our families. It is not easy to do. Of the many vectors of
sadness and frustration that attend divorce, this is one of the biggest. Even
after it is apparent that your marriage is not working and probably can't
really ever work well enough, there comes this moment of reflection on the
future. Usually one of the spouses gets this right away, but both of them
reflect on it profoundly at some point. It is the end of that foundation of
security and family place. It is giving up the simple but profound pleasure of
watching your kids grow up together and standing together when they graduate
from school. It is the traditions you have together around the holidays. It is
that fundamental sense of belonging that your children have in your family and
the security that they feel knowing having financial sturdiness, emotional
sturdiness, spiritual sturdiness that undergirds them. The bridges are already
burned, your best friends know that this relationship is over and you suddenly
are talking to them about patching it back together, about finding a way to
make it work, because you don't want your children to grow up without that
Your friends are having to repeat this litany of
reasons that you simply must cut the cord and go on, this time with feeling,
sometimes several times, and you are just glazed over and kind of numb.
Rationally, they are probably right. But you are not on the cognitive level. At
the moment, you are just reflecting on the spiritual level and a spiritual an
emotional foundation that is not sturdy is scary.
Divorce is bad enough, but a bad divorce is worse.
I wish I could remind people in a way that they could really hear at the outset
of a divorce that, whether you like it or not, you are going to have a
life-long relationship with your ex-spouse. You still have graduations,
weddings, baptisms, and the like to endure at a distance. So that desire you
have to maim right now, that desire to turn the fangs of your lawyer loose,
that desire to hurt just to show how much you can hurt. Do something with it
and get rid of it and then come back to a civil arrangement. But let her walk
away in dignity. She is the mother of your children. Let him have a place in
your children's life. He is the father of your children. I've seen some ugly
divorces that left whole wings of the emotional and spiritual house stripped to
the studs with nothing but sheet plastic over the windows to keep out the
winter cold. Some people have too complicated feelings about just calling it
off and end up creating the conditions of hate to seal this decision in
everyone's mind, accidentally sacrificing the very substructure of their
children's lives in the process. Don't tell me for a moment it doesn't matter.
You know it matters. Everyone knows it matters even if they can talk about it.
No, we want sturdy traditions for our families.
Most of us moved here because we want our children to be nourished in a sturdy
educational tradition. We want safe schools, with excellent students that will
go to the best colleges in the country. We want great drama and music so that
our children will be exposed to the higher things for which we live. We put up
with the taxes and the stand-still commute because we want our kids to have the
best theater and the arts in the world, some of it you can only get in New York.
We want to be in communities that are crime free,
with neighbors that have sturdy moral character that you can count on in times
of need. That is why most of us have migrated here from around the country and
out from the urban center.
And we want substantial spiritual values for our
children. That is why we are all here today. We want an environment where our
children can think, to be sure. A place where we are free to think for
ourselves. But we want to be part of a community and a tradition that is
This is how we are investing ourselves:
educationally, communally, politically, athletically, culturally, artistically,
There is less question in my mind now about how
spiritually sturdy our church is and how important it is for our children since
I've been directly involved with them for the past couple years. I don't get
them until 6th, 7th, 8th grade and High School. But whatever all of our
teachers are doing, and I know sometimes they wonder themselves, the fact that
almost all our kids are engaged and open to spirituality is a remarkable fact.
They are not bored or aloof. We get them working together with a devotional on
a spiritual theme and slowly but slowly you can see them becoming solid leaders
with solid values and they need to be because shortly we will be vesting them
with authority to run our economy and our country.
We are teaching them, we are modeling together for
them substantive spiritual values and we are showing them that you can be
people of substance and kick up a little dust and have a good time to boot. We
do it by what we do consciously week in and week out and by who we are
together. Psychologists say that we are formed simultaneously on these two
levels. We are formed by will, the conscious material that we put together each
week in sermons, in teaching lessons, in hymns, anthems, liturgy, and our group
discussions. And we are formed by resonance, by the subconscious vibrations of
being in a healing (or a dysfunctional) community. Resonance is the rhythm that
we get in tune with, the way we harmonize with those around us. If you are
playing with four great basketball players, you play better. That is resonance
in its productive capacity. Positively, we theologians call resonance love. It
is the good vibe the makes us stronger.
We want to be around that. We all want Atticus
Finch for our Father, someone to model humane courage and standing for what is
right. We all want to be a parent like Atticus that can begin to heal our
children in a world where a lot of people are only able to hate, resent, live
out of their negativity. (Earlier in the service, the High School Drama Club
did a scene from "To Kill A Mockingbird" for their fall play).
Love, resonance, is a powerful and important force.
At Princeton this week, I was talking to a researcher on the question of how we
can shape and alter material reality around us through the force of our
psyche's. It is fascinating research the details of which I will explain later,
but on the whole their experiments suggest that we can indeed alter the world
around us through the force of our conscious will and our subconscious
resonance. One interesting item of their research in particular at this point
it is only suggestive because they do not have enough test studies to make a
sound statistical correlation. It has to do with groups effecting change when
the focus together. They tried gender, they tried mixed pairs, and almost by
accident, they tried a third pairing, couples that are in love with each other.
It is curious that pairs of men, pairs of women, and mixed pairs tend to cancel
one another out on the amount of change they effect. But two people that are in
love appear to have a measurable and significant impact on material reality
around them. Why? Surely complex, but I suspect it is the way that they are
resonant with each other, it is a compound of the love force that has
transcendent effect on the world.
I think that is what we are doing here. We come to
breathe in the divine force and build collectively the love force, make it
stronger, and direct it. It radiates around us, through us. That is why we like
being here, even though many of us said we would never be caught dead in
church, even though many of us do not find listening to sermons natural. But at
some subliminal level, we are moved by the magnetism and radiation of the love
force around us. You feel better. You feel like you got what you needed. You
feel stronger. Our families work better.
And there is a synchronus effect from the synergy that
happens here together. Things happen as a result of being part of it. You make
connections, find yourself involved in different forms of involvement and
service that you wouldn't have imagined previously. You meet different people
and find different parts of yourself blooming in surprising ways.
I want you to invest yourself in this community of
spiritual love. I want you to do it in ways that make for a sturdy tradition
that we can pass on as a legacy, something our children will see and do and be
affected by it. We need you to be involved as a person. We need you to be
involved with your gifts and talents. And we need you to support it with some
This is Reformation Sunday and I want to say a word
about how we raise money in the Protestant tradition. You know that in some
houses of worship, they just charge every family a flat fee. Most synagogues do
that. There are days when I wish we did too. It is has the virtue of justice
and balance. But we don't do that.
There are other houses of worship that raise a
whole lot of money in passive ways to compensate for the small change they get
each week in the plate. They sell advertising space on the back of their
bulletins and other church mail, and every pizzeria and insurance company is
listed. They have lotteries and dinners for special charities. They expect
people to chip in for baptisms, first communions, funeral services and other
special events. Many, perhaps most Catholic churches, did that when I was a
child. We don't do that. There are days I wish we did too. If we just charged
for Kahlua in your coffee after church, I bet we could do real well with this
The Protestants in the Reformation were genuinely
moved by God's grace in their lives. They thought that we should give out of
gratitude for what God has done for us rather than have any rule bound system
that would constrain us.
Largely, they were right. Spiritually, your whole
life actually operates on how you invest yourself, what you invest yourself in,
and why you do it. You can't buy off guilt with money, though this has been
tried. You can't say you are invested in this way, but not fund it at all. That
whole way of living is false and full of spiritual pretense and everyone knows
it. We don't want that. All we want is people who are genuinely interested in
becoming transformed by spiritual love and voluntarily willing to support it,
period. We want your money to mirror your investment.
So what should you give? Well in the bible, God
wanted 10% of total income from the Israelites. But the Protestants didn't want
to set any formula because that might limit our imagination. And they were
largely right. Jesus simply advised to 'love your God with all your strength
and might and your neighbors as yourself. Whatever you give, it should be
reflective of your soul investment. That is the point.
Now there may have been a time way back when that
people gave 10% or more but it has never happened, certainly not at Christ Church in the decade that I have been here. We have too many people these days who
either grew up with no church tradition or in the Catholic tradition and are
somewhat befuddled by this concept of giving to reflect what your spiritual
investment is all about.
So let me put this the other way around. We need
$3000/year from every family in order to run this place. We have trimmed the
staff and we have charged other groups that use our buildings as much as the
fair market will handle. $3000/year/family is the bare minimum we need. We are
not getting it which is why we are running a deficit right now.
This is not too much to ask. Everyone I'm looking
at can afford it easily. Perhaps you read the article in the New York Times
recently that New Jersey has finally become the state with the highest per capita
income in the country. Don't tell Hollywood because they think rich people look
like Connecticut. The paper noted dryly that we now have to add rich jokes to
the deep list of other Jersey jokes. Our per capita income is $77,500, so
$3000/family would be less than 5%. But, of course, Summit's per capita income
is closer to three times the state average, so we are into the wee digits as a
percentage. If you don't carry the water for your family then I have to go hat
in hand in December and ask people who are giving a lot to give even more.
Seriously, I need your help here. We need a commitment of $57.70 a week from
every family for our fiscal health. If you don't believe in the work, don't
give it. But if you do, find a way to make it happen. As Wilfred Brimley used
to say of Quaker Oats, "It's the right thing to do." Peace.
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