Just thinking

“Conventional wisdom,” I thought while in the shower, “isn’t.” Isn’t wisdom, I mean. And almost by definition.

If just about everybody thinks it, if it’s conventional, then it probably isn’t wise. Otherwise the world would be a better place. I used to think the most difficult part of life would be figuring out the wise course of action. Granted, that has proved to be challenging. But I’m often flummoxed by the amount of character and guts it takes to act in line with the wise course of action. I think it’s more difficult to do the wise thing than to think it.

I suppose reading “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” again, and listening to John Lewis on Fresh Air yesterday, and President Barrack Obama today is what’s pushing my thoughts in this direction. These three move from knowing wisdom to acting wisely, courageously, boldly.

Yesterday, my status update on Facebook let out some of my wonderings: “Gregg wonders if, as a pastor, I would have spoken up in the Civil Rights movement. And what should I be speaking up about now.” To tie in with what I’ve been writing here…”Do I have the courage to act wisely and not just know wisdom? Because true wisdom is not going to be conventional, or status quo, or universally popular.”

Most likely I would not have known about Henry Ward Beecher if it weren’t for my high school friend Debby Applegate’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography. With the rose colored glasses of history, Beecher is remembered as an early abolitionist, theatrically buying the freedom of slaves in worship services. But Debby’s book paints a much more nuanced and complicated picture. There were times when Beecher seemed to flip flop and pull back, times when his strong voice of principle developed laryngitis…especially when some of the wealthy donors to his church were on the other side of said principle. I reflected on this in an e-mail to Debby when I finished her book a few summers ago:

I really understand Henry’s seeming “flip flops” on the slavery issue, his sometimes radical pronouncements, his sometimes surprising conservative, middle of the road backtracking. Being a pastor takes a tremendous amount of self-definition to not be swayed by how people in the congregation respond (or how you think people will respond) to a particular issue. I find myself often having strong, radical feelings about various issues, and am so aware of how a church has so many pulls toward tempering those feelings. I long for some of Henry’s courage to speak boldly…but I long for it to be not to increase my own “star power”, but to truly bring about change in our world.

Yes. I’m being pushed there again, to act with courage in true wisdom, willing even to buck convention and status quo.

“So help me, God.”

3 thoughts on “Just thinking

  1. I’ve been noticing those updates too!

    I’ll share something that happened at a Quaker, mostly youth’ish, workshop in upstate New York a few years ago. We were reading passages about ministry from Samuel Bownas. Things were getting fired up, and one Friend look across the room at another and said “you have something to say!” It was the quietest person there but he agreed to talk. And it changed everything. Suddenly it was clear that the spirit of Christ was in the room and we all circled up. The messages that tumbled out felt more clear than just about anything I’ve heard before and they all converged into the same message: that it wasn’t enough for us to find some sort of individual salvation. We’re in this together and we have to link arms and pull all of us through into God’s kingdom.

    There’s all sorts of ways to apply this. Here’s a safe one: we can’t be satisfied being happy co-housing suburbanites who buy organic food at clean markets: we need to make sure everyone has good, healthy food options. Maybe that means supporting local farm-to-city programs and maybe that means we’ll be eating non-organic but local food but building up a structure that’s lifting all of us up. Maybe Beecher knew that it wasn’t enough that he knew the enlightened truth; maybe he knew that as a shepherd he needed to get through with his flock. That requires bravery but also the wisdom of know when Jesus is calling us to step up, because sometimes stepping up is just the tempter telling us to show off. One of my favorite Quaker aphorisms is that “the right message at the wrong time is the wrong message.” So just keep praying for guidance and wisdom. I’ll add my prayers to Peggy’s.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s