Finding Inner Resolve
By Charles Rush
March 29, 2009
Lk. 9: 51 and Psalm 23
(mp3, 7.2Mb) ]
dedicate this sermon to the memory of Kianoosh Sanjari and the long list of conscientious objectors who are imprisoned or have died alone for speaking the truth to power. May God be with you. The original idea for this sermon was to speak a word of hope to those who are stuck in the mud of life, whether that be re-visioning your work that is not coming back or other spiritual sludge that has you mired.
hardest part is getting to that first step.
I would like to
open with a short piece from one of the iconic depictions of youthful dreaming
in the American imagination. It is the opening scene of Dorothy in the
“Wizard of Oz”.
As she sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, she
so wonderfully embodies all of that naïve, optimism and promise
that she is sure that life holds for her.
[ Roll clip ].
But there is
another scene that uses this song that was cut from the original film that also
uses this song. The producers decided that Judy Garland did it too well. We no
longer have the film but we do have an audio tape of that scene. It is late in
the movie. Dorothy, the Lion, The Tin Man, and the Scarecrow have been captured
by the Wicked Witch. She has taken them back to her castle. Dorothy is locked
in a cell and tries to revive her spirits with a familiar tune
That second one was truer to Judy Garland’s lived life. She was so wonderful,
talented and beset by inner conflicts that did her in… The director and the
producers decided that this scene was too good to show. The year was 1940. The
United States had been through a decade long Depression, the Axis powers were
in ascendency and the Germans were making steady gains across Europe. The
producers decided that the song was just too sad and that the American public
couldn’t handle it. They were probably
We humans are
fundamentally meaning shapers. It is the most amazing thing. With a sense of
meaning, we can endure almost anything. Without real meaning, no matter how
much we may be propped up by material comfort and prosperity, we wither.
It is easiest
to see in and through people for most of us. Most of us are pretty concrete at
the end of the day. What we know of the love of God, we know in and through the
love we have experienced right around us. Sting had a great song about this spiritual piece of us…
You could say I
lost my faith in science and progress
You could say I lost my belief in the holy church
You could say I lost my sense of direction
You could say all of this and worse but
If I ever lose my faith in you
There'd be nothing left for me to do
Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world
You could say I lost my faith in the people on TV
You could say I'd lost my belief in our politicians
They all seemed like game show hosts to me
I never saw no miracle of science
That didn't go from a blessing to a curse
I never saw no military solution
That didn't always end up as something worse but
Let me say this first
If I ever lose my faith in you
There'd be nothing left for me to do
If parents hang
in there long enough, they may be lucky to watch this magic at work in their
own children. Many are the hours that my spouse has fretted over some
immaturity in our children that you wish would ‘grow up’. You model. You
lecture. You take it to therapy, perhaps… Nothing, no visible change of
behavior. I used to say, ‘honey, there are some things that Mother’s never will
cure and that is why we have girlfriends’.
Right now, it
is the baby, muddling through her freshman year at Art school. This is a child
that couldn’t be bothered with cleaning in High School. Clothes covered the
floor of her bedroom. You didn’t even want to open it and have a look see. God
only knows what is growing underneath that pile.
She is home
spring break with her boyfriend, the Chef. The two of them are making dinner
for her other brothers and sisters. I’m like ‘Wow, we’ve graduated from Raman
noodles’. Dinner table is set, looking good. Her mother and I are walking
through the kitchen and we overhear the boyfriend giving her a little talk on
the importance of presentation with food. She is plating the food and asking
him if everything is in place like it should be…
We just kept right on walking into
the living room -- a quick ‘High Five’. How does that transformation take
converse is true as well. That is what makes divorce so painful. There are so
many different kinds of divorce… I think that some of the toughest one’s I’ve
known are the one’s that spouses can’t actually talk about. There may be
infidelity, may be not, but that is not the problem anyway, it is just a
The problem is
not even that you don’t communicate that well, although that may be an issue as
well. The problem is not even that you aren’t very fulfilled, although that is
almost always the case. It is something more fundamental, fundamental enough
that you can’t really bring yourself to voice it to anyone. You know your
spouse so well. You know what they can change and what they can’t change. And
you add it all up. At some gut level, you just don’t have… a basic respect?
What is it? A basic faith in them? You find yourself just incredibly flat and
sad and confused… You don’t even want to say it but you are up early in the
morning, walking by yourself before dawn, and you are thinking to yourself, “I
can’t do this anymore… I just can’t.”
And the thing
is, when you get to that point, it really feels like there is nothing you can
do to salvage this relationship. Even if you wanted to, you just couldn’t
re-knit the shredding fabric in your hands. That is simply a deeply sad day. So
sad, you can’t even really explain it to your friends and family. It is so sad
that most of the time, you and your spouse don’t ever actually name it either
but both of you know and just seems better to walk away.
We are fundamentally
meaning shapers and when that meaning is gone, we cannot go on for long, no
matter how propped up we are with material comfort or security. It just doesn’t
meaning in our lives, we can endure all manner of hardship and difficulty. That
is one of the profound truths of the Christian story at this time of year. In
the middle of the gospel of Luke, we have this one line about Jesus. The gospel
says, “He set his face towards Jerusalem”.
He had been in
the beautiful countryside of Galilee where he was very popular and had been
well received. But he had a sense that destiny lay in the great city on the
Hill where the Roman authorities had their seat of power, where the religious
leaders gathered at the Temple. You didn’t have to be clairvoyant to know that
he would likely see confrontation, arrest, probably death.
Trust me, he
had a pretty good idea of what kind of fate awaited him in Jerusalem. Trust me,
he had thought about this and he had prayed about this. The people were telling
him what would happen. His disciples were advising him about these things. You
didn’t have to be a genius to figure this one out. The Romans left people
hanging on those crosses as you entered the gates of Jerusalem. With all of
that in the back of his mind, the scriptures say, quite simply, ‘he turned his
face towards Jerusalem.’
He didn’t need
prosperity to prop him up. He didn’t need to control power. He didn’t need to
be entertained or even have fun. But he lived profoundly. He found the meaning
of his life and that accessed the deeper dimension of human existence. He did
not live or die, in vain.
before he was assassinated, Dr. King was in Memphis to help unionize the
garbage workers. They were on strike for a livable wage. At the time, as hard
as this is to believe, the Mayor of Memphis didn’t want to pay the garbage
workers a standard, regular wage because he argued that one of the perks of
their job was being able to leaf through the trash and keep some things that
other people were throwing out. The Mayor was white, almost all of the workers
were black. The Mayor spoke just like the racists from the Old South. He
brought in the police. He was going to bring in the National Guard. The garbage
workers were afraid.
Dr. King had to
speak to their fears and he did. He talked about the previous ten years. He
reminded them of facing fire hoses and dogs in Montgomery. He reminded them of
the nights he had to sleep in his car. He told them about the death threats. He
reminded them that when he was signing books in New York City a woman with
psychiatric issues stabbed him in the chest and that the blade was so close to
his aorta that the Doctors said if he had sneezed, he would have died. He had
been surrounded by threats, so that he could have easily been thrown off his
game if he had focused on safety alone. He knew the dangers around him.
But he asked
himself the same question that the Good Samaritan asked: what would happen to
me if I didn’t help? What would have become of me if I didn’t get involved? Who
would I be if I didn’t risk? That is the question that God asks of us.
And then come
his haunting last words… “Well, I don't know what
will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter
with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like
anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not
concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to
go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I
may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a
people will get to the Promised Land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried
about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the
coming of the Lord…”
life was not lived in vain. Even though, he lived too short a life, his life
was not a triumph of tragedy. He tapped into the profounder way to live. He
discovered what he was put on this earth for and he tapped into the deeper dimension
of human existence.
this is one of the reasons that the crowd came out to see him. It was the
cause. It was the oratory. Sure. But it was also that people realized that he
had tapped into something they suddenly knew they were missing when they saw
him. We are hungry for a deeper way of living. We need a profounder meaning in
Gandhi… In India they called him “Mahatma” which means ‘The Soul-Force”. Just a
wee man with steel spectacles… an ordinary lawyer… the only assets he had when
he died could be held in a couple boxes. But, what a life? What a profound
life. He almost stumbled on the meaning of his life and became the conscience
of his nation.
is not usually romantic. You don’t always win the Nobel Peace Prize or have
your face turned into an icon. No most profound people you’ve never heard of.
They are like Steven Biko. He died naked, alone, cold and in pain. It was
nothing but ugly. Truth be told, we don’t get to control much of that. But he
found a cause in his life, organizing the end of apartheid, that was so
powerful that none of that could stop him. No threat could undo him. No torture
could cause him to compromise. They could kill him.-And let’s be clear,
sometimes they will kill you- but had found a meaning and a purpose and that
opened him to a spiritual dimension of human existence that can give you
most profound people are like Kainoosh Sanjari.[i] He was arrested for protesting at college in
Teheran about 10 years ago. And he was re-arrested nine more times, serving 6
different prison terms for the crime of peacefully protesting the autocratic
Islamic Republic of Iran.
would have like to have had a relaxed life like any 25 year old, enjoying
soccer and bottle of beer probably. But he could not be uninvolved. He kept
alive the cases of 500 other prisoners of conscience in Iran. For that he was
arrested again. He knew that was not good. He told his friends that he probably
wouldn’t survive the torture. Like any normal person, he was afraid of prison.
No one wants the deadening boredom of a prison cell. And he was beaten to
death. It was not romantic in the least. But somewhere in those first prison
terms, he became changed as a person. He found his inner integrity. He found a
core meaning. ‘This I believe’. It opened to him the deeper spiritual dimension
and gave him a super-human resolve.
are you living for? What is the meaning of your life? What are you to be about?
My brothers and sisters, I hope that you can avoid serious suffering and
deprivation. I really do. But more than that, I hope that you stumble on a
purpose that can see you through the thick and thin times of life. I hope that
you can become real. The clock is ticking. Amen
[i] My thanks to Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal. His
op-ed on Tuesday, March 24, 2009, p. A15 first brought Mr. Sanjari
to my attention.
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