Back in my ad agency days, one of the principals of the company was also chief copywriter. I recall one meeting when a young assistant, an aspiring writer, suggested an edit on copy the principal had written. The executive responded: “I tend to love what I write.” It was a response not unlike Pilate’s: “I have written what I have written.” The young assistant learned to keep future suggestions to himself.
Last week, I wrote a Monday message which I thought was pretty good. It was based on my recollection of a political event, the meeting of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat, which I credited to Jimmy Carter. One of the readers kindly pointed out that that was fake news, perhaps alternative fact, since it was Bill Clinton who welcomed those two to the White House lawn. I felt slightly stung for being wrong, for being found out, fearing readers will think less of me, embarrassed for carelessness or cluelessness or both.
A person near and dear to my heart gave me a refrigerator magnet which reads: “I am silently checking your grammar.” That person does indeed remind me on a regular basis that when I write stuff, I’m inclined to not always navigate my grammar that good. When I get these corrections, there’s a part of me that defaults to defensive mode.
My point in this Monday morning confessional is simply to indicate that even though I embrace the gospel articulated by St. Paul, i.e., all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, I hang onto the pride of being right, or at least more right than others. I feel called to embrace the title of one pretty smart theologian, James Alison, who wrote a beautiful book about new ways to think about the doctrine of original sin. The book bears a hopeful title: The Joy of Being Wrong.
I have some distance to go in answering that call and discovering that joy.
Early in my ministry, a parishioner came to me to speak about the spiritual journey. He had Ivy League degrees in philosophy, one of the smartest people I had ever met. Over time, he came to embrace the Christian faith, and one day stopped into my office and said: “I finally get it. The gospel sounds like this: I’m not okay. You’re not okay. But that’s okay. “
I wanted to unpack that a bit with him, to speak of original blessing, but he was on to a basic truth, which is the good news that God’s blessing comes to us by grace, with forgiveness and mercy, and not because we always have our act together. And even though I signed on to this gospel and pledged to try to follow Jesus years ago, there’s still part of me that wants to cling to being right, and wants God to be reminded of how lucky God is to have me on the team.
Whenever I participate in a service of Holy Baptism, I’m struck with the wording of the second promise in the Baptismal Covenant (p. 304 in the Book of Common Prayer). “Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you sin, repent?” Note that it doesn’t say “if ever.” It says “whenever,” which is to say that we will fall short, as sure as the sun rises. It’s going to happen today, February 20, to each one of us. The hope of our faith is not that we will arrive at the place where we will never fall short. The hope of our faith is that whenever that happens, we have a way home, the possibility of a new start, which is what resurrection is about.
And the hope of our faith is also that we can be gentle with each other. (See Ephesians reading below.) When Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we are not to judge each other, he says we should pay more attention to the 2 X 4 in our own eye before we critique the speck of sawdust in neighbor’s eye. In touch with our own shortcomings, grateful for grace that looks beyond those foibles, we are called to share that gratitude in kindness and forbearance toward others and their inevitable shortcomings, lapses, failures.
How will you be gentle with yourself and with those around you this week?
A reading from the letter to the Ephesians (4:31-32):
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
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