Wisdom, Power, and the Way of Life

This Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, I am  at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY (Location of church).  The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 2: 10 – 12; 3: 3 – 14; Ephesians 5: 15 – 20; and John 6: 51 – 58

(I have edited this piece since it was first posted)


As I listen to the news each day, when I hear of town hall meetings where there is only shouting and very little discussion takes place, when I read the misinformation that passes across through and around the various forms of media, I cannot help but think of the song “For What It’s Worth” that was written by Stephen Stills in January, 1967, when he was with the group Buffalo Springfield.

For What It’s Worth by Stephen Stills

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

While it was the opening lines of the song that are going through my mind, the story behind the song is also an illustration of how we need to be constantly checking our information. Many people think this song, known more for the first line in the song rather than its title was written about the Kent State shootings. But the Kent State shootings occurred some three years after the song was written and record. Others think it was written as a response to the Viet Nam war and it has achieved something of an iconic status in that regard. But Stephen Still wrote the song in response to escalating unrest between Los Angeles police and young people reacting to the closure of a club on Sunset Strip in late 1966. The confusion about the reason for the song and the clear disconnect in time is an illustration of what bothers me about what is going on today.

There is a clear gap between what we know and what we think. We have allowed our emotions to rule our intellect instead of seeking a balance between the two. I am not arguing for a “Mr. Spock”, Vulcan-type lifestyle where emotion has been completely erased (even though there is a moment every year in each Vulcan’s life where they must combat the emotions hidden deep within their psyche); rather I am saying that we need to stop, look around, and think about what we are saying and what we are doing. We have allowed our emotions to drive our fears; we have allowed our fears to accept the most unimaginable scenarios imagined. We quite willingly let a group of people tell us what is going to happen when what they describe is actually happening now.

We hear that the proposed government healthcare plans are going to do vile and evil things and that our healthcare will be rationed and that some heartless, thoughtless, uncompassionate and mindless bureaucrat will make decisions for us regarding our healthcare. Please tell me what we have now, when time after time insurance companies make John Grisham’s sixth novel, The Rainmaker (in which a young beginning lawyer takes on a case where a health insurance company denied care to a Memphis individual; it was later proven that the company’s standard policy was to sell policies to the poor but never pay a claim) look less like fiction and more like reality.

Please tell what we have now when the most dreaded words in healthcare are “pre-existing condition”, because with those words an insurance company can deny the care that is needed. Shouldn’t we stop and look around?

When I listen to what is going on in this world today, I hear the cries of the people. I will not deny that some of the people are angry with the government and some of their concerns are legitimate; I just wish that more attention was paid to their concerns than to the cries of those who repeat the assertions of the far-right talking heads.

I hear the cries of the increasing number of people who do not have any type of health insurance. I hear the cries of the many individuals and families whose healthcare insurance premiums keep rising and they must choose between providing health care and other essential items.

I hear those who oppose any sort of healthcare reform say that they are Christians. But every precept of Christianity, every thought in the Bible is directed towards taking care of other people first. Jesus challenged us to be the servants of the people, to see that others were taken care of first. Yet the battle cry of the fundamentalist and far-right Christians continues to be “me, me and only me!” And I remember what happened in Alabama a few years back when a new state income tax plan, one based on Biblical principles, was proposed and it was the Christian right in the state that defeated it? (“Do as I Say? Or Do As I Do?”)

Our knowledge of the world outside our own local boundaries is remarkably limited and it seems to me that we have little or no interest in protecting our environment. Each time there is any mention of global warming and what is happening to this fragile environment in which we live, there are shouts and acclamations that the reports are false and simply the efforts of some obscure conspiracy.

Our schools and the infrastructure of this country are in disrepair; the whole educational system needs to be reexamined and overhauled; the salary and wage gap between workers and management as well as the between management and upper management keeps getting bigger every year. There are even signs of technological gap between rich and poor (see http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/2009/july/072909Chicago-digital-divide.html). Is it no wonder that I cannot but think of that song? Do we not hear what’s going on? Do we not see where we are headed? Hadn’t we better stop and look at what’s going on before it’s too late?

This is not a time to let others who only seek power for themselves or only seek to maintain the status quo, of keeping the divide between rich and poor, tell us what to do. This is not the time to let others create and exploit fears merely for their own selfish benefit. This is not a time to let others speak with a voice of fear, even if it seems to promise better times.

The voice of fear tells us that it is perfectly reasonable to seek wealth. God gave you your wealth and you need not feel guilty about being wealthy. The voice of fear tells us that poverty is a state of mind and those who are poor deserve their fate. It is not our responsibility, the voice of fear tells us, to take care of the poor; giving money to the poor and social programs only wastes our money.

The voice of fear tells us that others are to blame for the troubles of society. It is those who have different economic status, different lifestyles, or different skin colors that are to blame for society’s troubles. The voice of fear tells us to cast aside those who are not like us; the voice of fear tells us to build walls, physical or otherwise, that keep them away.

The voice of fear tells us to fight those who would teach new theories or bring about change in society. New thoughts run counter to tradition and when you challenge tradition, society falls apart. New knowledge can only destroy the values of society.

The voice of fear tells us that only military power will defeat evil. The voice of fear says that the only thing evil understands is raw power and those who say that you can counter evil with love are extremely naïve. But violence only generates more violence and those exposed to violence see violence as the only solution to their problems. Terrorism and hatred grow out of violence and when violence is used to combat terror, it can only breed more (from “The Vision of Hope”)

The voice of fear and those who use it have no vision for the future for they have no wisdom. To see the future you must be able to think and to think you must have wisdom. Unless you have wisdom, it is very difficult to even imagine the future, let alone decide what one can do to get there. Paul’s words to the Ephesians speak to how we think and how we live. Here those words again, only as translated by Clarence Jordan:

Take extra care, then, how you live — not like nitwits but like wits. Use your time as though you had to buy it, because there’s a lot of wickedness around these days. Therefore, don’t be dumbbells but have an intelligent understanding of what the will of the Lord is. Don’t get drunk on wine and carry on a lot of foolishness; tank up on the Spirit and do your talking to each other with hymns and songs and spirituals, singing and strumming in your hearts to the Lord. Always give thanks for everything to the Father-God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (The Letter to the Christians in Birmingham, chapter 5, verses 15 – 21, The Cotton Patch Gospels translation by Clarence Jordan).

It does not matter which translation of Ephesians you read, the meaning is still the same. Paul points out that the foolish person has no strategy for life and misses out on the opportunities to live for God in an evil environment. The foolish person also does not have an understanding of what are God’s purposes for mankind and for Christians. Paul also points out that discerning the will of the Lord is not a matter of feeling or emotion but of mental understanding and applying our minds to the Scriptures.

And the first thing Solomon did was to ask God to grant him wisdom. Solomon knew that without wisdom he would have trouble ruling his kingdom and finding the answers to the many problems that troubled the kingdom. It is wisdom that is sadly missing from much of the discussion that is taking place in this world today.

Wisdom is an interesting thing because it gives you so many other things. And someone a long time ago recognized that if you control the information that people have or you control how people think, you can go a long way towards holding onto power. Casey Stengel said that the key to great managing was to keep the players who didn’t like you away from the players who hadn’t made up their minds. If I can sow seeds of doubt into your mind about what some agency is doing, then I have gone a long way towards maintaining my power. And I will be quite blunt when I say that I believe that is exactly what the right-wing, both politically and theologically, in this country is trying to do,. They want the things that Solomon didn’t ask for, riches and power, because they have no vision for the future, only for the present.

And they do it in the name of Christ, somehow changing the words spoken two thousand years ago that spoke out against injustice and repression, that spoke of caring for each other with the same or greater intensity that one cared for themselves, and who called the power-brokers and leaders hypocrites for their actions. It has always bothered me when someone proclaims that they are a Christian and a Conservative, for to me, the two terms are mutually exclusive.

But such people exist and they have existed, probably from the very beginning of the church. Martin Luther sought change because he could see the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and he sought to bring the Word of God to the people by printing the Bible in German instead of Latin. If the Bible were only in Latin, those who read Latin would have power over the populace. But when the people could read the Bible, they held the power to change their lives.

John Wesley felt the same way, which is why he started Sunday schools. The people could not understand who God was or who Jesus was if they could not read, so we Methodists took the lead in bringing literacy to the populace. Each step of the way in giving individuals wisdom and the ability to think reduces the power of the oligarchy and increases the power of the people.

And yet today it would seem that we are returning to a time when a select few have gained the idea that they and they alone, know the truth and that we are to accept their version blindly and without questioning. The passages from John these past three weeks speak of a people unable and/or unwilling to see beyond the present; they have no vision of the future for they have no wisdom.

Something is happening in this world and what it is isn’t exactly clear. I think it’s time that we stop and look what’s going down. The battle lines are certainly being drawn between right and wrong. There are those who will tell you that these are the End Times and that all that we see and hear are signs of the impending apocalypse. I am not one of them.

Like Paul, I see the opportunities before us to advance Christ’s purpose in this world. But to do so, we must stop and think, see that what so many people pass off as the words of Christ are their own words, designed to maintain the status quo (and I don’t mind saying that this applies to both sides of the fence).

Christ stood before the people in the Nazareth synagogue and

As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” (The Message, Luke 4: 16 – 21)

It would be nice if those who seek the power had wisdom and those with wisdom would use it wisely, in the manner of Solomon. But wisdom is not the province of only a select few, for Christ has opened the doors to heaven so that we could have what Solomon had. So, if like Solomon, we ask God to grant us the power of wisdom, then we will have the power to change the world around us, we have the power to change the way life is lead in this world.

But we must also be aware that when we let the power take over our lives, like Solomon and David before us, we risk losing all.

It will not be an easy task, nor will it be done easily or quickly. But the fact is that it can be done. Jesus understood that not everyone was going to accept His message; He understood that the price to be paid was His life. But that makes it easier for us; Jesus’ death on the Cross was not the end, as those in power wished it to be. His death opened the world to a new way, a way that would change the world.

We have that opportunity, to ask God for wisdom and with the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to fulfill the message of the Gospel and create a new way of life for all.


2 thoughts on “Wisdom, Power, and the Way of Life

  1. Pingback: On The Road Again « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

  2. Pingback: “What Are You Afraid Of?” « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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