Thursday, February 29, 2024

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? I Keep Asking.

“The first holy truth in God 101 is that men and women of true faith have always had to accept the mystery of God's identity and love and ways. I hate that, but it's the truth.” --Anne Lamott, author

Why, oh why?

That’s the response I had this morning when I opened up to the sports page of the Boston Globe and read a sad story, one that just broke my heart.  Stacy Wakefield, the widow of recently deceased former Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, died this week. She was just 53 and passed away from pancreatic cancer. Tim, her beloved husband, and partner of 24 years…he died last October of brain cancer. They leave behind two adult children: Trevor, 20 and Breanna, 19.

Why?!

I know why this one death saddens me so much. As a lifelong Sox fan, Tim Wakefield was one of my favorite players. Not just on the field where his infamous knuckleball kept opposing batters swinging and whiffing for 17 years. He was also class and kindness and humility personified, never had a bad word to say about anyone, and devoted most of his free time and post-retirement to charitable works like the Jimmy Fund. He actually met Stacy at a charitable event, and she too was committed to making this world a better place. 

Some days, it just feels like there is such unfairness in the deaths that take the good ones. Makes me wonder why so many of the bad ones seem too often to get a pass in this life.  Makes me wonder about the horrors of all those killed, kidnapped, and tortured in Israel and Gaza or all those Ukrainians who have been snuffed out, maimed, and made homeless, all while an evil tyrant wages an unjust and cruel war.

I know that some might say of such human wreckage, “Well, life is not supposed to be fair.” Or “Bad people doing bad things hurt the innocent.” To use the language of the faith I claim, sin and evil are a reality in creation and when these are active, the innocent sometimes become collateral damage from such awful behavior.

Still doesn’t answer why folks have to die of cancer.

So as a person of faith I don’t just ask, “Why?” I also ask, “Why, God? Why?” And in the 63 years of my faith that began the day I was baptized; through eight years of parochial school, four years of church youth group, three years of grad school studying theology, thirty-five years of doing this God stuff for a living…I’ve yet to come up with an answer for…

“Why?”

And I’ll keep on asking, even though I know an answer is not always coming, at least not at my pay grade and at least not on this side of existence. Maybe in the next life I might get some answers to the mysteries of the human condition. But now? I don’t want to use tidy but empty theology to try and explain human pain. “God needed another angel in heaven.” Or “God gives us no more than we can handle.” Or “It’s all a part of God’s plan.”

I get why folks need to believe in such explanations to the question of “why?”  The chaos and randomness of life is a very scary thing.  Yet maybe we humans are not supposed to know the answer to everything under earth and heaven.  Maybe we are supposed to stick to being human, and accept the truth that mystery is a big part of what it means to be mortal and absolutely a big part of having and claiming a faith in God.

“Why?”

I’’ll go ahead and keep on insisting it is my right, our human right, to offer that question. To God. To the universe. To push back against how cruel and hard this life can be, and how the innocent too often end up in the crosshairs of evil. Disease. Natural disasters. Injustice. So, a billionaire cries “POOR ME!” and plays the victim while blocks away in that same city, a family struggles to just put enough food on the table today. To get by.    

“Why?”

But my faith then asks me, in return, “Is it for you John, to presume to know the mind of God? To imagine that you can know all of the answers to life’s mysteries?” And I have to confess and answer back, “No.”

“Why?”

Ask away. I know I will. It’s what we humans do. I just don’t expect an answer to everything. What I do ask God is to grant me the humility and the trust, to be ok with not knowing….

“Why?”

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Best Life Means Showing Up for Others


"Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is to just show up.” --Brene Brown, author

Five people sitting out in the pews. Just five souls in a cavernous space designed to seat three hundred souls.

Five. That’s the smallest number of worshippers I’ve preached to in thirty-five years of professional ministry. It was a mom, a dad and three boys on a Christmas Sunday several years ago. So many people came to church just the night before on the eve of December 24th, that most of those faithful folks just wanted to stay at home in their PJ’s and watch loved ones open presents and sip hot coffee and relax by a toasty fire.

Which I totally get! But, thank you God, for the five who showed up!

To show up. To be present. To return to a place and a people week after week after week.  To be faithful to others who count on you to be there for them. To go to some happening when you want to go, sure, but to also go the times you really don’t want to go, yet you show up because you made a commitment to others. To claim your seat. To be there for others by being right here, right now. To be right as rain and as dependable as the day is long because folks trust you to show up. Need you too show up.   

Showing up.      

You can’t make a church or a team or a choir or a workplace or a country or a family or a neighborhood if folks don’t show up. But when folks do show up faithfully and consistently, well, then anything is possible. As a church pastor, I am in the business of encouraging and teaching the folks I serve to show up—for others, for people who are hurting and to show up for God too. If people fail to show up in the community God has created in my little corner of creation, things will eventually fall apart. Empty pews. Empty church. 

No showing up. No community.

No “we” if everyone skipped Sunday sabbath or missed the fair committee; or forgot to go to choir practice or neglected to show up at Sunday night middle school youth group; or if we tried to help build a house for a neighbor in need but then no one showed up to swing a hammer or we hoped to feed the hungry but not enough servers said “I will help!”…well, then, we are all kind of doomed. 

All of this life would not be, cannot be, if we fail to show up for others, for causes greater than ourselves, and just for the joy of hanging out with others. I know I’m biased about the human need to show up.  I’m a joiner, a “show-er up-per type.” Always have been. There was football teams as a kid and weekly church youth group and then summer camp counseling and now a choir to sing in and a trivia team to compete on and a dinner party to host with a tight circle of old friends.  All of these places and spaces worked and still work for one simple reason.

We all show up. 

Last week there was a fascinating and depressing article in “The Atlantic” magazine, by Derek Thompson, about the dying nature of hanging out in community, in the United States, how in just one generation America has gone from a nation of folks who love to associate and to show up, to a nation of individuals staying home and staying away.  The statistics he cites are brutal for the vital work of building community, the need to have community at the center of our civic life.   

“From 2003 to 2022, American men reduced their average hours of face-to-face socializing by about 30 percent. For unmarried Americans, the decline was even bigger—more than 35 percent. For teenagers, it was more than 45 percent. Boys and girls ages 15 to 19 reduced their weekly social hangouts by more than three hours a week. In short, there is no statistical record of any other period in U.S. history when people have spent more time on their own.”

When we don’t show up, we spend less and less time with our fellow townsfolk and fellow citizens and persons next door. Less socializing leads to less trust and less trust means more suspicion and contempt for the other. “I don’t know them! I don’t like them!” Ever wonder why right now in the U.S. so many of us are treating each other with such hostility, fear, and anger? Why some of our leaders work harder to split us apart rather than bring us together?

Maybe it’s because we are just not showing up enough.

Showing up for the kids at t-ball and coaching. Showing up at a house of worship to sing together and work for the common good together. Showing up for each other in public meetings, not just to make a point and then storm out of the room, but to listen to what someone else has to say and to stay. The more we show up, the better chance we have of being in communities of mutual care and respect. 

Or I guess can just sit at home on my couch and scroll on my phone through Reddit or Facebook or maybe binge another TV show on Netflix and just feel lonely. And alone. I don’t show up for others. I don’t give others a chance to show up for me.

Wow, that is sad.

Instead, God willing and God inspiring, I’d rather show up and sing with my choir mates and show up and take in a movie with an old friend and show up at church and drink bad coffee and share gentle gossip and help with the food drive and show up at school committee and try to figure out together, what is the highest good for the most kids in town.

Showing up: hope to see you there. I’ll save you a seat.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.

  

 

    

 

 

 

  

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Ashes to Ashes. No One Here Gets Out Alive. That's OK.

"As we live our precarious lives on the brink of the void, constantly coming closer to a state of nonbeing, we are all too often aware of our fragility.” ― Iris Murdoch, author, “Nuns and Soldiers”

This Ash Wednesday, I will perform one of the most poignant, and kind of strange, but oh so powerful, ministerial rituals. I’ll take my forefinger, dip it into a bowl of ash made of burnt palms from last year’s Palm Sunday service, and then I will make a gray and dusty cross upon someone’s forehead.  Then I will recite aloud this simple declaration, this truth that no one escapes, that everyone faces into, as very mortal mortals.

“Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

This is the notion that we come from the earth and one day we will all return to the earth. The recognition that like Adam and Eve, God shapes us from the primordial stuff of life at its most basic level, and then we are born, and then at death, we go back to that very same state. Dirt to dirt. And maybe stardust too, stardust to stardust, the ingredient all life is created from by our God of the stars above and the earth below and everything in between.

As a pastor I’ve dealt with the dust and dustiness of human death for a long time.  I remember the first time I was asked to actually help spread the ashes of someone who had died. I learned that these really aren’t ashes in a way, more like coarse sand, with larger bits too, of bone. I hope that doesn’t come across as ghoulish but, in a way, I think it’s a good thing to learn about the reality that when our soul departs and goes back to God, the remnants left behind are pretty simple really.

I’ve scattered the ashes of a sailor under the shadow of the Newport Bridge, by the shores of the Naval War College on a warm spring afternoon, the sun dappling the water, a sea breeze blowing in. I’ve buried the remains of a beloved church member below the roots of a newly planted Japanese maple tree, its oh so red leaves reaching up towards heaven. I’ve watched as the remains of a husband and wife were intermingled, these lovers of almost seven decades, reunited one last time. As a battered rowboat glided on an ancient New Hampshire lake, those ashes were slowly scattered to return to the deep, in a precious place, by a lakeside home that family had celebrated so many seemingly endless summers.

But summers always end. As do humans. Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

When I see such human dust, I always feel humbled. It reminds me that I am really not “all that” or oh so special, nope. Nothing fancy. A rich man’s remains look no different than a poor man’s remains. And eventually I will intermingle in the soil, with the soil, just like every other human being.  The ashes teach me that I do not have all the time in the world to live, though I may act that way sometimes. And so, if I plan to do something—like say “I love you” or forgive a wrong or give away my treasure—well, I better get to it. We all better get to whatever we need to do. None of us knows when the final bell might ring. 

The ash I offer to others, that a colleague will smudge upon my forehead, marks me as living within the boundaries of time and space.  Unlike God who was and is and will be, who is eternity, I am and then…I won’t be any more, one day.  In my tradition, the gift is that we also believe and hope that when our mortality ends, our eternity begins.  We will return to the mysterious power which made us and return to the company of those who died before us, to the loved ones we miss so much.

Ashes to ashes. 

I know why Ash Wednesday does not pack ‘em in the pews like Easter or Christmas. It is a somber day. A day of reckoning. A day when we come face to face with our true selves, blemishes, and smudges and all. We face all of our frailties and our scars and that which marks us as human. It is a day when we say, “Dear God, You are God. I am not. Thank God.”

Dust to dust.

On this day, on this Wednesday, may we be reminded of our humanity and of our mortality and not be afraid, but instead embrace with courage the life we still have to live. For it is precious. It is finite.  It will one day be over. Remember.  

Remember that thou are dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.  Amen.   

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.

 

 

         

 

          

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The Creeping Crud: We ALL Need a Little Comfort Sometimes.


"Comfort, comfort my people, says...God. Speak tenderly...to her.”         Isaiah 40:1

I stink at being sick.  Down for the count because of illness. Staying home and waiting to heal.  Every winter I try my best to keep at bay whatever virus is lurking in these chilly months. I get vaxxed. I mask when needed.  I wash my hands. 

I’m a good doobie!

But then  every once in a rare while I just get sick. We all do.  Sometimes very sick. And so, we have no choice but to lay low and hope and pray for just a little comfort. A little kindness. A little healing eventually.

My winter bug journey of these past two days is not for the shy of stomach or faint of heart and so I won’t gross you out with all the details but the version of the flu I caught includes “intestinal upset,” a sweaty fever, a throbbing headache, and nausea. It has also reduced my stamina so much that one trip up the stairs calls for a nap! (And it’s not COVID. I tested.)

But thank God, I am just starting to get off the couch on this Tuesday late afternoon after being down for the count from this past Sunday morning to now. I’m not looking for sympathy or “poor you’s!”  There’s plenty of sickness to go around right now and I’m blessed to have a job that can spare me, a warm house to recover within. That’s a comfort. I found comfort in recuperation by drinking something like four liters of ever dependable ginger ale and nibbling lots of orange ritz crackers and eating bowls of bland oatmeal and sleeping on and off and watching three movies in one day. Hunkering down on my favorite chair, the aptly named La-Z-Boy, and huddling under a fuzzy blue blanket to ward off the chills.  

All comforts.

But the best comfort of all came from a stack of red and white heart-decorated get-well cards from members of the middle school youth group, at the church I serve.  My colleague Victoria, who helps run the group, dropped the hand-made cards off to me Sunday night, having used the creation of these greetings to teach those kids about our responsibility as people of faith and humans, to comfort others when they are sick. Or when they are lonely. To offer comfort to a person who just lost a loved one to death. To comfort the folks who find winter just too darn long, the darkness in this second month just darn too pervasive. To offer comfort to a shut-in who can’t do much more than look out the window, or to someone in memory care who could sure use a cheer me up. To comfort folks who really need comfort on these cold days: the homeless, the hungry.

We can all use comfort in this life. I know I certainly do, especially when I get the creeping crud!   

So, in squiggly tween penmanship, those wonderful young people wrote out in deep red ink, all their heartfelt and sacred words of comfort to me…”Pastor John…I hope you feel better and can come to our next meeting!” “Missed you tonight—best wishes!” “Thinking of you!” “Please get better!”  The greetings were especially comforting,  because this was the first meeting I’d missed in a long, long time. I really wanted to be there. 

But boy, did those cards and kind words lighten my heart, soften my soul, and remind me what a gift it is to offer comfort to others, (which I get to do for my job!) and also to be comforted. God comforts us. We comfort others. And the circle of comfort continues.

To live a life of comfort means we live to comfort. To wipe away the tears of the grieving and to tie the shoes of those too old or too young to do so. We comfort a child woken up by a scary nightmare and dark shadows at night and we comfort a prisoner who clutches at bars that will never set him free. Comfort never asks, “Do you deserve it?” Instead, it always asks, “Do you want it?”

I always answer yes. I hope you do too.  Comfort receivers always make the best comfort givers.

Comfort’s kind of a hard sell these days, in much of our culture. We are living in a sharp elbowed world in 2024. Some political candidates know no boundaries in the crudeness and violence of their rhetoric, followed in a close second by their vitriolic minions. So much of mass media is a mass slugfest, pundits pounding pundits 24/7 on all those news channels. Public meetings erupt with, and are interrupted by, the outraged, who fume and yell and don’t want much to listen or to even just sit down and talk things through.

We need comfort—human comfort, God’s comfort—now more than ever.  Like a balm to heal our sin sick souls and a salve to repair our broken world and relationships with our neighbors.  We could do worse than to turn to the lessons about comfort offered by a bunch of 6th, 7th,and 8th graders. 

“Get better!”

What a beautiful hope for each of us, for all creation. May you comfort. May you know comfort. And when you finish reading this, please share some comfort. Call someone or write to someone or connect with someone who needs some comfort on this cold February day.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.

 

 

 

 

  

 

    

 

 

 

        

 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Who Tossed the Rock Through the Window? Time to Fess Up.


“Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.”         --G.K. Chesterton, British author

“Who broke this window?!”

 A group of us neighborhood boys stood in a sidewalk line-up, something like 55 years ago, on a warm summer afternoon. One of us had thrown a rock through the glass front door of a home on our street, resulting in a pile of glass and some very scared and angry homeowners within. That rock was meant to get the attention of a boy who had taunted us, and then run home to hide. My mom or dad, or maybe another parent, played interrogator to our collection of miscreant minors. I remember vividly how I answered the question about who was guilty. Or not.

“Who did it?!”

“Not me!” I said, too immediately, with false confidence, my head held down, not even looking my accuser in the eyes. Of course, it was me who’d tossed that stone in anger. The first time in my young moral life that I remember crossing a line, so to speak.

First there was the rock. Then I had the chance to tell the truth and take responsibility for my actions, but nope. I didn’t stay on the correct side of a moral line that I’d been taught since birth. Failed to respect an ethical boundary between right and wrong, lessons taught to me by my family and by my faith.  

Don’t throw rocks through windows. You could hurt someone.

Always be honest too. Don’t lie. Especially to an adult, or worse, your parents. If you do the wrong thing fess up. Face the consequences. On that day long ago, I failed to do the right thing. I crossed a line, as I have many more times in this life. Not usually with rocks but with thoughts and with words and with things undone. All humans do this. Cross lines of healthy and loving behavior into not so healthy, less than loving behavior. 

We sin, stumble, screw up, become our worst selves. We pick up that rock.

A gift of trying to live an intentional spiritual life is that we can try, with God’s grace and forgiveness, to see the line, and then hold the line. One of the most important tasks of religion has always been to give its followers codes of conduct. Ways of life. Think of the Ten Commandments. Or Jesus’ teaching to love God, love neighbor, love self. Lines and laws that keep us in check when temptation gets too great.  

Yes, faith traditions have also fallen short in this work. We’ve vilified the wrong people or behaviors or worst, been hypocritical. Do as I say, not as I do. Yet when faith gets it right, it shows us how to live good lives. How to do the right thing. How to live so well, that the world is a better place for us having been here.

Because we also know what happens when line crossing becomes the norm in our world. When codes of conduct, when norms for behavior, are ignored or mocked as old fashioned or plain just run right over for expediency or moral relativity.

Then chaos results, hurt and fear in the wake of so much line crossing. Can we trust our neighbor or the stranger? Then there are the political and cultural influencers who are supposed to lead us with decency and honor but who instead lead as bullies and braggarts and blowhards. We pay a huge price for such communal line crossing. Individuals, families, communities, and nations, even democracy itself, threatens to fall apart.

Or we can try and try again to do that right thing. Not in braggy or self-righteous ways but in humility and hope. We can reject those who revel in their own wrongdoing and wears their indictments and transgressions like badges of honor.  We can remember that we are moral role models for our children, and kids on the teams we coach and in the classes we teach, in the friends we keep.

Yes, someone is always, has always, crossed the line. But for me, especially right now in our world and culture, it feels like there is so much more at stake when it comes to doing the right things or doing the wrong things.  I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic or going all chicken little-ish.  With an election looming and a planet reeling from wars and so much conflict, we need line respecters, now more than ever.    

What do you think?  

We all throw rocks and cross lines sometimes. But to live spiritually gives us the chance to confess, to make amends, to clean up our mess, and then to start all over again. 

Thanks for that second chance God.  And sorry about the rock.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, January 22, 2024

When I Am Old: Acceptance and Panic As Time Goes By.

“The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.”--Proverbs 20:29

When I am old….

I’m not quite sure who wrote the supposedly inspiring line, “When I am old, I will wear purple!” but if I were them, I’d definitely add a few caveats.  Like, when I am old, I will wake up and feel pain in places previously pain free and then think, “What the hell is that?”

Or when I am old, I will read stuff about how folks much younger than me are thinking or living or doing in the world, and I will admit, “The world is not really mine anymore—and that’s ok.” Or, when I am old, I will finally and begrudgingly sign up for membership in the American Association of Retired People but then delete all their annoyingly daily emails without reading, because, hey, I’m not that old! Or, when I am old, I will meet for a yearly New Year’s reunion breakfast with the guys I hung out with in high school and then I will thank my God for blessing me with such good friends at that tender time in my young life. 

When I am old….when you are old.

It escapes no one, this aging thing, the clock of existence and time just ticking away, no way to turn back the hands. The truth is that the amazing and miraculous body and mind given to us by our Creator has an expiration date, a “use by” date. At some point, in the days ahead we will just not wake up one morning or we will take one final breath in our favorite chair while reading or at the end there might be hospice and cancer or maybe an accident and then that will be it. You get the picture. Accepting this fact of our mortality is, perhaps, the biggest part of getting old, the most challenging spiritual and emotional hurdle we leap over—or maybe just go around.  

Because aging either makes us panic or accept. Or more likely both.

Panic and do kind of stupid things like Botox injections or dating well below your age (that’s just creepy) or dressing ‘young’ and still looking old, or resenting the young because they don’t believe what we believe so let’s just make sure they won’t get their chance to run the world. Won’t get power until they pry it out of our wrinkled, knobby, blue-veined hands. Talking about you Election 2024! And you too, Rolling Stones….are you still rolling!?!?

Aging gives us the grace to accept just where we are at, to make peace with age, actually thank God for the gift of our maturation, our ripeness! “My name’s John and I’m 63 years old!”  “HI JOHN! Welcome to AA, Aging Anonymous.”

Recently I was with a group of old friends and colleagues, all of us thinking about and trying to figure out this whole aging thing, what it means for us spiritually, our relationship with each other and God. This gang of clergy—who have served churches, and colleges and hospitals and at home; we have met two to three times a year for almost 30 years now. There’s a gift of aging with old and dear friends. They love us in spite of ourselves and because of ourselves.  They’ve stuck around to be witnesses to our lives.

My friend Sarah said that aging is about both knowing more and knowing less. Knowing more because of life and professional experience but also knowing less and facing into the complexity of life not with hubris but instead humility.  Aging can teach us that there is often more wisdom in saying “I just don’t know” rather than insisting “I absolutely do know!”  

When I am old…when you are old.

Beyond wearing purple, what might God be telling you to do, with the precious God-given time that you have left on this beautiful and broken blue marble spinning in space? For no matter what our age, God is always inviting us to ask ourselves, who will I be in my time, and for this time, with God’s gift of finite time?   

The adventure of aging is finding the answers to those question.         

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.

 

Monday, January 15, 2024

My Opinion? We Need Less Opinion in 2024.


"Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” --Proverbs 18:2

Here’s my idea of hell on earth.

Being surrounded by people who insist on telling me exactly what their opinion is about this political issue or that current event. Folks sure that what I believe about politics or culture, or religion is completely wrong. And that what they believe is absolutely, positively right. If I do not agree with them, well, I must be unenlightened or not progressive enough or not conservative enough or I am the enemy or just clueless or even evil.   

Oh wait. That’s the world we live in now!

“No comment.” Does anyone in our culture, in particular politicians, influencers, sports stars, celebrities, pundits, journalists, “religious” types know of this wise phrase, one so rarely spoken in 2024? “No comment.”

Or how about, “I’m not sure what I believe.” Or “I don’t know.” Or “I really don’t have an opinion on that.” Or “I don’t think what I have to say is all that important.” Or “I’m still thinking about it, praying about it.” Or “I’ve actually changed my mind. I was wrong.”

The irony is not lost on me that I have been an opinion writer for almost thirty years, and I’ve been a preacher of opinions, and paid to have an opinion, for more than thirty-five years. But I am not so sure anymore just how helpful that is. To have an opinion and to feel compelled to share it with anyone, with everyone.

LISTEN TO ME!

Does the world really need one more opinionated person and opinion?  Does this world really need another blowhard candidate, with an overinflated ego, basking in the creepy adulation of his or her minions, at some stage-crafted telegenic rally, preening like some latter-day Mussolini? Is that what we need in a leader right now? How does that help anything or anyone in this mess of a planet on fire with so much conflict, violence, and self-righteousness? Do we really need to care about what a university or a toilet paper company or a sports team or a celebrity or a self-important billionaire thinks about the current hot issue of the moment?  

I’m not so sure. 

Opinions, millions of opinions are ours’ for the consuming every single day, heck every single second on all of our screens. Whatever opinion we seek to affirm, our opinion is just a click or a tap away. But is the creation of so much broadcast opinion improving what ails us? Stopping wars. Making peace between faiths.  Running a country well and with competence. Seeking the common good. Saving the planet.

When it comes to sharing just what I believe I need to be a little wiser and a little humbler and a little quieter. My faith tells me I need to go to a silent place on a regular basis. To listen to God and not just presume to speak about God. My faith teaches me that if the strength of my religious belief depends upon on my need to tear down another’s belief, that’s no faith at all. My faith reminds me that I have one mouth but two ears, I need to listen much more, and talk much less. My faith convicts me that just because I have an opinion does not mean I actually have to say it out loud. Foist it upon others. A wise spiritual mentor of mine once taught me a strategy for figuring out when to speak and when to go mute.

“Ask yourself three questions. Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Does it need to be said by me?”

Of course, this is all just my opinion about opinion. I could be wrong.  But what heaven on earth it might be, if for just one day in our world, no one, not a soul, expressed any opinion about anything or anyone.   

Shhhhh. Quiet please. Listen. Learn. Hush. Pray. Amen.     

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.