Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection May 13, 2018
"Reflections on Life" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Life is a blessing. Life is a bully. Yes, a strange way to begin this week’s Advance but there you have it! If I were to sum up what life has taught me over the course of my considerable years, the above might well suffice.
In yesterday’s sermon, at one point, I lifted high my well-worn 3rd degree black belt. I noted that it’s among my most prized possessions. Not in itself - because it rightly shows considerable wear and tear - as it’s meant to show. Yet the belt represents years and years of serious and decidedly difficult body-mind-spirit training.
Life inevitably, inescapably, beats us up. There may be a select few who get through life relatively unscathed but that number is miniscule. The great majority of us must endure “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and “the thousand natural shocks that Flesh is heir to” as Hamlet’s famous soliloquy asserts.
Most of us have not pursued a discipline such as the martial arts. Most of us have not chosen a path that includes a dimension of self-chosen suffering, such as the armed services. Because of this, most of us have a very low tolerance for pain and suffering. Because of this, life becomes nigh unto intolerable.
Without an adequate pain-tolerance, everything bothers us. Everything becomes an affront to our too-fragile self-identity. This then devolves into the path of constant complaint about the unfair nature of things, the path of the self-proclaimed victim. As I mentioned Sunday, it’s more important learning how to take a punch than learning how to throw a punch.
And, yes, there are many who’ve suffered more than their share. There are many who’ve suffered unspeakable assaults. Sunday evening I watched the chilling true-life story contained in the recent movie, The Zookeeper’s Wife. Shed-tears is the only adequate response to the atrocities revealed therein.
The good in this life often get not rewards but misfortune. The bad in this life often get not righteous penalties but power and prestige. Where is God’s justice to be found?
Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Long ago, the Book of Job unfolded this thorny conundrum. Job did not solve the conundrum except to place it - rightly so - at the feet of God. Job put God on trial but the judgment of that trial is still undecided. Yet we believe God will be vindicated when God’s justice, God’s glory, is finally and fully revealed.
Life is unfair. Yet life is the precious, priceless gift we’ve been given by the grace of God. We’re all victims of something or someone. This is a truth interwoven into the nature of life. That life is suffering was rightly the first truth taught by the Buddha. “Take up your cross” may well be the most important teaching for us disciples of Jesus Christ.
Since life is a perilous path, we all need the comfort and support of a worshipping congregation. With sisters and brothers in the Lord, both our joys and our sorrows are shared. Who among us can “go it alone”? Life is not a solitary journey. Life is a path that requires companions. Life is too hard to be lived alone. We need each other. We need family. We need community. We need church.
Our beloved community of Morgan Park American Baptist Church has served as my community, my family in faith, my church for ten years now. Like all families, we’ve had our challenges. Like all families, we’ve weathered good times and bad times. Like all families, we’ve endured misunderstandings. Like all families, we’ve voiced different opinions about who God is and to what we’re called in Christ.
We’ll always have differences of opinion. We’ll rightly question at times if our pastor is deluded or off in some netherworld. Pastors are frail human beings, called to unfold the on-going revelation of God, called to use the word “God” in places where it may seem inappropriate, called to speak the name “Christ” when other, more hostile, unholy words might rush to our mouths.
We are all fragile. We are all wounded. We are all broken. We are all in need of constant redemption, constant conversion. Conversion is never a one-time affair. It’s a life-long, eternal journey. We think ourselves “saved” to our peril.
Now I’m not trying to encourage the readers of this Advance to take up martial art training. I offered classes numerous times during my ten-years as pastor. We did not have enough interest to move forward. And that’s okay. But I would encourage everyone - especially our young - to prepare their hearts and their souls for the suffering that will come. In my experience, a caring faith family is a non-negotiable for a well-lived life.