Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection January 28,2018
"On This and That" by: Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Some reflections from this past Sunday: About ten years ago I read a really funny book titled The Know-It-All (One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World) by A. J. Jacobs.
Do we not at times encounter a “Know-It-All” either in our workplaces or in our own families? Are there not too many pastors and politicians who take on a “Know-It-All” persona? Every “Know-It-All” would do well to ponder this quotation from Be the Message “Before you open your mouth to speak, open your heart to care.”
Is it not the case that many in our world insist we’re all heading to hell in a hand basket? This seems to be one of the difficulties that come with the process of aging. We, elders, tend to narrow our perspectives as our arteries narrow. We often get more conservative as we age - envisioning less possibilities and more problems. We tend to complain more.
Now there are surely more than enough grumpy old men already. I don’t want to join that legion. Who wants to have a grumpy old man as their pastor? Yet isn’t this the case in too many churches? Isn’t pessimism one of the most common philosophies pouring forth from a plethora of pulpits? I promise to do my best not to fall prey to the plague of pessimism.
This said doesn’t mean that there are no challenges - no unsettling trends - much that prevents us from restful sleep. There is much that cries to the highest heaven. But I refuse to be a purveyor of gloom and doom. Under my pastoral leadership, Morgan Park American Baptist Church, will not succumb to the death-bringing demon of despair and desolation.
But, of course, this world is not as good as it gets. We’re not living in the promised land. We’re not home yet. We’re still trying to get there. We are all aliens.
I recall going to the post office with my mother in January because she had to register as an “alien.” I knew there was something strange about her - but the fact that she was an “alien” helped explain it to my very young mind!
We live on a harsh and often inhospitable planet. Earth is not yet Eden. We all live - in exile - East of Eden. But that is not where we will be forever.
God has promised us - promised us through the prophets - promised us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ - that Eden is on the way. Earth will be transformed into Eden! The promised land is within sight if we but have the eyes to see it.
Often, though, our eyes dim with age. Many of us develop cataracts - as I did. Cataracts make our vision blurry. As we age - many of us get blurry vision when it comes to our young. We begin blaming our young for all the evils that plague us.
We blame our daughters and our sons because they don’t often see the need for church. We, elders, have failed to show our young the value of church. We have, instead, shown them bitter fights over a variety of cultural issues, such as who can marry who. We’ve denigrated the appeal of church because of misguided and divisive culture wars. We’ve failed our young with our negativity and self-righteous certainty.
We’ve often given our young politics from the pulpit. They have seen how often many churches and denominations get into bed with politicians. I believe the current state of political grid-lock is a direct “spill-over” of divisive church politics. Why would our young want anything to do with such insanity?
The First Amendment matters. We alienate our children when we pretend that the First Amendment can be shunted aside. We alienate our children when our churches embrace either extreme of the political spectrum. We alienate our children when we insist they should only hang out with like-minded people or “the saved.” We’re not meant to live in gated enclaves or in gated churches, where only “the righteous” or “true believers” are welcome.
If we talk only to like-minded people, our brains atrophy, our brains shrink, and we become incapable of seeing the other side. Often, while driving, I’ll listen to right-wing radio (even right-wing religious radio - which is even more disturbing). When I can’t take it any longer, I switch to left-wing radio. When that wearies me, I switch to WFMT, and listen to soothing classical music! But we need to listen to all sides lest we become stuck where we are.
There’s an old adage in philosophy: where you stand determines what you see. The best (and only) way to gain a good perspective is to get up every so often and move to another vantage point. One of the many problems we face as we get older is becoming too comfortable in one place; too comfortable with one perspective alone.
Without a good and broad perspective, it’s hard to have hope. Where shall we find our hope? Shall we find our hope in Washington, DC? Shall we find out hope in Springfield? Shall we find our hope at City Hall? Of course not! Our hope rests only in one sacred space, in God, and most especially in how the Spirit of the Living God is working within us and among us.
No matter where one may find herself or himself on the political spectrum, there will always be a welcome waiting at our beloved Morgan Park American Baptist Church. Will I continue preaching about issues that matter? Of course. Will I get into bed with politicians or either political party? Not on your life! The First Amendment matters!