“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
I believe George Carlin said that.
I had this quote on a bumper sticker on my ukulele case and would carry it around through airports on my school visit and festival tours around the US. It was my own little sociology experiment – a study in perspective and how people make meaning. I would run the uke case through the TSA scanners and one of the security guards, she’d say something like, “Isn’t that the truth!” Then I’d sit down at the departure gate next to a guy in a nice business suit. He might be talking with a client on his cell phone (you know, loudly enough so we could all hear). He’d finish the call, look down at my uke and then lean in to me and say (more surreptitiously), “Isn’t that the truth.”
I’d get pretty much the same responses wherever I set the uke down.
Until one day, when I was at an elementary school and set the uke case on the stage. After the performance, a First grader came up to me and asked, in as honest a voice as I’d ever heard, “Who are the stupid people?”
Do you know who the “stupid” people are?
If I’m honest, I know who they are. But if I’m really, reflectively, deeply honest, I know “they” and I have much more in common with one another than I am often willing to stop and acknowledge.
I wonder if some aspect of that willingness to recognize myself in another, much less to recognize the presence of God in one another, is what is missing in our sense of freedom in this great country of ours. We so easily separate ourselves from one another, often without too much thought. I wonder if it’s all just too complicated to try to empathize with one another’s needs or crises, or with a total stranger’s crises and fears or even “their” lack of understanding and empathy toward us. Or if it’s just too hard to let go of my comfort zones or my “stuff”. We are creatures of habit, after all.
But I wonder if that’s not what tends to create a culture of freedom that is more about individualism than community (except for that community which shares my opinions and experiences) – if it is not more about my personal rights than about our interpersonal rights and responsibilities.
It’s certainly complicated – freedom always is, I think. The more we try to draw the lines, to keep things “black and white”, the more we fall into playing power games than creating community. Taking sides and lining up teams is certainly easier I think (even when we don’t always end up on the winning team).
And yet it seems that the message of Jesus’ life, and God’s invitation to us, is to live in a life of relationship, with one another, with all people, and with creation – in short, to co-create and participate in the Kingdom (“the kindom”) of God here and now – as complicated and challenging as that may be.
Freedom is a curious and complicated matter. How free am I? How free are we? How free do we really want to be?
This Sunday, July 6, I’d like to explore some of this with you.
The eleven:eleven band is back. Dace Sultanov, our resident world-class cellist, has returned from a tour in Australia. The amazing singer songwriter Christa Russell is going to inspire us with a little Aretha Franklin! And we’re going to take a look at something the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, which I’m sure you’ll think sounds as much like a stand up comic routine as instruction for the church… but sometimes there’s real wisdom to be found in the irony of our words.
I hope to see you Sunday!