Letters From Our Pastor

Good Advice Is Wisdom in Comfortable Shoes

December 31, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

The best advice I ever got on a horse came from a nun, but I didn’t take it.

We were at Churchill Downs for a special event. Sister Mary Margaret and I were standing in line waiting to place our bets on the third race. She turned to me and asked, “So, Michael, who do you like in this race?”

“I think I’m going to put my money on Trinity to place,” I said.

She shook her head sadly. I knew immediately I’d gotten the wrong answer. I just didn’t know why.

“Never bet on a horse with a holy name,” she said. “They’re always dogs.”

“Are you sure,” I asked, hoping for a little redemption.

This was a real nun. Unsentimental. Faithful to God. True to her order. And reasonably tolerant of whatever man Holy Mother Church deigned to choose as Pope.

She looked at me with eyes that seemed capable of bearing a world of disappointment. “If a horse can’t run, Michael, they give it a holy name. Pulls in the suckers.”

We placed our bets. Trinity came dead last. No joke. Dead last. And a sharp elbow and a sly smile punctuated my folly.

“Where can wisdom be found?” asks a biblical searcher. We often think first of high places. Epiphany celebrates three kings bearing gifts and calls them wise.

When I retired from a seminary presidency I was told that my IQ would rise in the estimation of many folks around the church because a past-president of a seminary is always smarter in the church’s eyes than an active one. This hasn’t been my experience, but who knows?

Wisdom, I am reasonably sure, is intuitive. I mean by that, it is the product of distilled general knowledge combined with genuine experience put through the mill of patient generous reflection. I am tempted to say that it is a product of critical thinking, and critical thinking may be involved, but wisdom smacks too much of grace and humor to simply owe its existence to critical thinking. Any fool can be cynical.

Real wisdom often raises a rueful smile.

My old friend Lewie Donelson, for example, once told me, “Never bet on the first tee with a guy with squinty eyes, a deep tan, and a one iron in his bag.” There’s wisdom behind that mischievous twinkle in Lewie’s eye.

Someone else has said, “Never play poker with a fellow named after a city. So why are so many bits of wisdom about gambling?

I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure they have their roots in Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” He likens a soul in Purgatory to a man who sits staring long after his partners at dice have departed. He’s lost, Dante says, every throw. And, sitting there, he is broke, sad, and left rehearsing every toss of the dice. “Sad,” Dante says, “but sadly wiser.”

I heard a sad-eyed analyst on the news just this morning talking about the uncertainty we experienced in 2020, and then a professor from Harvard talking about the illusion of control as though she had thought of it for the first time. But anyone who has paid attention to life at all knows that life is uncertain and beyond our control. We try to harness the fates. We try to fix the wheel of fortune to spin in our favor. And some lucky few delude themselves into believing that they have bent the world to their will. Until their luck runs out, the wheel of fortune comes off its axis, and fate blithely ignores their plans.

Then they have a chance – and so do we – to find wisdom walking around the neighborhood, just waiting to be found.

On Advent

November 30, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

Dear friends,

Every culture and every faith has some way of marking the end of the old and beginning of the New Year. And these different cultures and faiths observe this annual passage at different times.

We have become accustomed to celebrating the arrival of the New Year at the stroke of midnight on December 31st. The Ball drops at Times Square, the champagne flows, and with a kiss for luck a new year begins.

Except, for us as Christians, a new year has already begun on the First Sunday of Advent. In the Christian faith the New Year begins with that peculiar combination of longing and anticipation we know as hope. Something like New Year’s Resolutions are included because Advent, like Lent, is a season for reflection and repentance.

Advent represents a decisive ending, not with a bang but with a whisper*, a whisper that something truly new is in the air. Advent leans forward, with expectation for a better world, not just a better year.

When we wish one another a hopeful Advent, we’re really saying Happy New Year.

So Happy New Year!
Michael
*(apologies to T. S. Eliot for changing his famous line)

The Dignity of Difference

November 16, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

Last week Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, died at the age of 72. Rabbi Sacks was a champion of tolerance in an increasingly intolerant time. Given the rancor and divisiveness of recent days, I thought it might be helpful to mull over one of his most powerful ideas.

In perhaps his best known book, “The Dignity of Difference” (2002), Rabbi Sacks countered an argument popular among many religious leaders today, that lasting peace can only be achieved if everyone shares their beliefs. Rabbi Sacks observed, “Tragically, that path does not lead to peace.” Rather, we need “a way of living with, and acknowledging the integrity of, those who are not of our faith.”

I believe we could extend his wisdom well beyond religious faith. Public leaders of all sorts, including political leaders, would do well to recognize that it is not similarity that characterizes creation, but difference. The Creator has a real knack for diversity. Apparently God is not satisfied with a single form of anything, but loves variety.

Several years ago, in a conversation with the board of the seminary I served as president, we were discussing the value of diversity in our student body. We wanted the seminary to be a “big tent” where people from many traditions and backgrounds, representing many different views of the world, could study together and grow together in faith in God. In a sense, we wanted our school to serve as a living example of God’s creation, where we could learn to live together with respect.

One of our trustees observed that we ought to avoid the word “diversity,” however, in pursuing our goal because it had become a political hot-button word. We discussed this concern, and realized along the way that the word had been declared off-limits precisely because some people want everyone to be the same as them. I can’t remember who, but someone came up with a phrase for this: “Uniformitarianism.” We decided that diversity was too good a word to avoid. So is variety. So also difference.

Rabbi Sacks’ idea of a world rich in its diversity and rich in its respect for others corresponds to philosopher Paul Woodruff’s conviction, “If you desire peace in the world, do not pray that everyone share your beliefs. Pray instead that all may be reverent.” In his book, “Reverence” (2001), Dr. Woodruff goes on to say that “without reverence, things fall apart. People do not know how to respect each other and themselves.”

We’ve all read and heard so many pleas for civility in the past several years. Perhaps the cure for the lack of respect for others lies in reverence, that sense of proper proportion in the presence of God, the Creator, whose positive passion for diversity and variety and difference is visible wherever we look in this world. As Rabbi Sacks also said, “God has spoken to humanity in many languages…. No one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth; no one civilization encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind.”

The Unkindest Cut

November 2, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins
Kindness has taken a beating in recent years. It’s never had an easy time of it, but the past several years have been especially brutal.

Lately I suppose kindness has a tough time of it, in part, because it chooses not to wear any armor plating at all. It just walks in with eyes and ears attuned to connect and to respond to others with decency and grace, both of which have been in short supply.

The Apostle Paul places kindness dead-center of his description of the “fruit of the Spirit.” He writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

I love that little twist of humor the apostle places at the end of this statement, “There’s no law against this!” No indeed there isn’t, although certain aspects of our culture will never respect these qualities.

A couple of ideas come to mind as I read this passage from Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit.

First, St. Paul isn’t listing a set a individual virtues to which we are called to aspire, nor is this really a list of separate virtues at all, as though the Spirit produces the “fruit of kindness” in some and the “fruit of self-control” in others.

St. Paul is describing here a single fruit that bears all of these characteristics. The list is not a “list of fruits,” but of the qualities of a single fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit tastes like this. Hmmm, the taster says, “I’m getting – wait what is that on my tongue – joy. Yes, that’s it, joy, and peace too, and now forbearance and kindness, and what’s this! goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

St. Paul is like the wine lover who breathes in the fragrance of a perfect white Burgundy and says, “I’m getting freshly sliced apples,” then takes a sip, rolls it around, and notes, the structure, the mineral clarity in his mouth, and the perfect dry finish, and tries to put all of this into a single phrase.

Second, St. Paul is saying something very interesting about the way the fruit of the Spirit arises in us. We don’t strive to achieve it. The fruit simply is the natural product of a heart open to God’s Spirit, God’s meeting us directly, “mystically,” to use a word John Calvin favors.

When we empty ourselves of our preoccupation with ourselves, our preoccupation with our opinions and compulsions and fears, our preoccupation with how we will be perceived by others, and we allow God to enter into our emptiness, and we let God’s love replace all the “vain things that charm us most,” as the hymn writer says, the fruit begins to grow. And that fruit tastes like this: “joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

But “why,” we might ask, “is love not in the list describing the taste of this fruit?” Because Love is the source of “the fruit of the Spirit,” divine Love, the Love Who is God, the Love Who flows like a mighty rushing stream from God the Eternal Source and God the Eternal Word and from God to us. The Love Who is God is the animating power that makes us fruitful.

This is all pretty theological talk, I realize. But it is far from abstract.

Have you ever noticed how when we become increasingly reactive, thoughtless, prone to rashness, in anger or fear or a combination of the two? And what flows from us in those moments isn’t usually something of which we will later be proud.

In that moment, when the most primitive part of our brain is sparked, when all we feel is the bitter taste of Adrenalin, when fight or flight clouds our vision with fury or terror, or both, it is a real struggle to rise above simple reactivity. Or let’s take an even more basic situation: when we have cultivated the habit over a long time to feel disgust or offense or disdain toward certain views and opinions, it becomes increasingly harder to meet others with anything other than a readiness to react.

We could go on and on piling up examples of how we find our emotional trigger fingers twitching, our safeties off, and our minds shut. There’s very little room for the Spirit of God in a heart so fearful, reactive, angry, closed.

We’ve found ourselves for almost a year in the grip of a viral epidemic. We’ve been much longer in an epidemic of reactivity. It is fed by factions, various interests, partisan politics, greed, and selfishness, and a hundred other unseemly realities and some of the zaniest unrealities ever entertained. Most of us can go from apparent calm to throwing a shoe at the television in forty seconds. This is not fertile ground for the “fruit of the Spirit.”

And now I am going to say something crazy. There has never been a more perfect time for us to bear witness to the love of God than now. Not by going door to door cajoling neighbors into metaphysical positions by or standing on a street corner handing out little pamphlets or holding high tech revivalistic carnivals, but by simply allowing God’s Spirit, the God Who is Love, to grow his fruit in us. Christians don’t demonstrate their faith by arguing and fighting and shouting and calling attention to themselves and their grievances.

They will know we belong to the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth if we are captive to the God Who is Love, and if we will allow God to nurture his fruit in us. It won’t fit on a bumper sticker unless you’ve got a really wide car, but it’s time to “Give joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control a Chance.”

A Short Pastoral Update on the Pandemic

October 28, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

Friends,

A few days ago someone asked me, “Well, how’s the church coming with post-pandemic plans?” After receiving medical attention for my whiplash, I responded by reminding my friend that while the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans have moved to phase three in their response to COVID-19, we are all still very much in the grips of a worldwide pandemic which has taken the lives of over 220,000 people in our country alone. The comment, however, made me realize that I might should say a word or two about what we’re up to as a church.

WORSHIP
Cautiously, we are taking the first steps toward allowing for in-person worship this Sunday, November 1. Reservations have been flooding in since they opened Monday morning.

I want to reiterate two things:

  1. If you are in an at-risk group, please continue to enjoy the service of worship remotely;
  2. If you decide to attend worship, please follow all guidelines laid out in the published protocol.

CHURCH OFFICE
While phase three permits staff to return to the office, I continue to encourage them to work remotely as much as possible.

Our church office is not open in the way it was prior to the pandemic.

  1. If you need to meet with a particular staff member, please make arrangements ahead of time with that staff member so that they know that you are coming.
  2. We all miss the wonderful fellowship and community we enjoyed together when folks dropped by just to visit, and we eagerly look forward to doing this again, but until this pandemic is over, it’s just not possible to do this.

    I was joking with someone this morning that in almost twenty years of teaching leadership, management and church finance in a Presbyterian seminary, I never thought to teach a course on “Leading a Church in a Pandemic.” Well, nobody did. We’re all of us in uncharted territory.

Our staff, in addition to carrying their usual load, has been given many varied tasks for which no one has been trained.

Our members, who have been dealing with months of lockdowns, trials and difficulties, and while still facing so many unknowns, have been stressed in ways none of us probably ever anticipated.

Therefore, I want to encourage us all to be patient with one another. Kindness and generosity of spirit are the words for the day. We will get through this together. The greatness of Saint Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church has always resided in its capacity for grace.

God bless you!
Michael

A Child at Home

October 20, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins
As a young minister in the Church of Scotland, as Assistant Minister of the Beechgrove Church of Aberdeen, it was my responsibility to conduct many funeral services. Church of Scotland parish churches are required by law to provide funeral services and marriages to anyone who lives within the bounds of their parish whether or not the persons making the request are church members.

Beechgrove Church was a large parish church and its parish was enormous. Some of the families with whom I dealt after the death of a loved one were active members of the church and I knew them well; some only showed up for Christmas Eve; some had not entered the doors of any church since their baptism; some had never been baptized. According to Scottish law, we were required to provide the essential ecclesial services of funerals and weddings for anyone in the parish who asked.

Some ministers chafed at this law. And, for good reason. In a large parish, it meant that you had multiple funerals on many weeks. And this did steal away valuable time ministers might have dedicated to so many other aspects of the life and ministry of their congregations. But I came to appreciate the wisdom of this law.

It gave me an opportunity to serve as the minister to people who otherwise might never hear the comfort of the gospel, who might never be exposed to the power of God’s love expressed in the Psalms and the hymns of the church.

What particularly struck me was that when given the choice of biblical texts (and I always wanted the family to choose biblical texts important to them), every single family, whether active in church or not, asked for Psalm 23. It was so deeply embedded in the culture that even the unchurched knew about it.

We would read it, and pray it, and we always sang it. And the hymn version of Psalm 23 I came most to love was the great paraphrase by Isaac Watts.

The closing verses of Watts’ paraphrase go like this:

“The sure provision of my God

Attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode,
And all my works be praise.

“There would I find a settled rest,

While others go and come;
No more a stranger, of a guest,
But like a child at home.”

For so many of the families who gathered to bury loved ones, this text sounded a theme previously unfamiliar to them. In the House of the Lord, we are not strangers, nor even welcome guests, we are God’s beloved children, “at home.”

Those who came to bury their loved ones heard, sometimes for the first time, that their relationship with God is not defined by keeping some sort of contract whereby God will act graciously toward us if and only if we enter into a legal transaction with him, promising to believe certain things, and do certain things, and reject certain other things. Instead they heard the great good news that Jesus Christ came into the world to reveal God’s loving heart toward us, a heart more abundantly gracious than we can imagine. Our relationship with God, in the terminology of one of Scotland’s greatest theologians, is filial, not legal.

This coming Sunday is our annual Scottish Heritage Sunday. It coincides with Reformation Sunday which commemorates the beginning of the Protestant Reformation which swept across Europe in the sixteenth century. Today of all days, it is important for us to remember: It isn’t guilt or fear that drive us to God, it’s love that draws us. And this Sunday we will sing what I suspect is the best-known hymn in Scotland.

Patience

October 6, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins
Some time back I made the mistake of praying for patience. What’s the old saying, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

Well, I’m still waiting for patience. All I’ve got to say is this: God is taking his own sweet time. If patience doesn’t emerge soon, I may just have to complete my life’s journey without it.

As some of you know, I paint. Not useful painting, of course. Not rooms and ceilings and fences, but the other kind: with oils, canvases, and so forth. My wife, Debbie, as you also know, is an accomplished watercolorist. She’s also fairly accomplished on the patience front too. She takes months and years carefully learning techniques from art teachers, practicing, working at the craft of her art. She takes weeks with a single painting. And if it doesn’t come up to her standard, she scraps it and starts over.

I get frustrated if a painting doesn’t emerge quickly and do exactly what I want it to. Paintings that take days, I find especially painful.

I’m taking a tutorial right now with an extraordinary artist. He requires that I submit two pieces in progress for him to critique. For each piece, I need to describe what precisely is challenging me most. I need to estimate how close to finished the painting is. And he requires that we work from a reference photo. I don’t work like that ordinarily. I’m not a by the book painter. My method is to fail and to fail and to fail until what I’m looking for emerges.

Today, I painted by the book. My reference photo is a picture I took at the Met of a painting of the Seine River in winter by Claude Monet. My goal is to produce a painting in my own abstract expressionistic style grounded in the form of Monet’s painting. I painted for four and a half hours today, and would estimate I’m just under half-way finished with the painting.

I’m sort of miserable right now. The painting is not where I want it to be. It is not where it will be this time tomorrow. And I’m having a hard time just letting it be.

I know that Epictetus, my favorite Stoic, once said, “Nothing great is accomplished quickly.” But I still find it annoying that even my mediocrities take so much time.

My point.

We have been together, dear friends, for twenty months. It has been a joy and an honor serving as your interim senior pastor. Our search committee for a new senior pastor has been hard at work throughout most of these months. If the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t come along when it did, I’m pretty sure you would have sent me on my way last summer with a handshake and a nice slice of Chantilly cake for the road. But among the many things this pandemic changed was the timeline for our PNC.

They are still hard at work. They are making good progress. But it will still be awhile before they finish their work.

I’m not going to encourage you to pray for patience. You never know what God will do to you if you pray that prayer. But I will encourage you to pray patiently for the wonderful members of our church who are hot on the trail for our next pastor. This committee covets your prayers.

The PNC is doing their work with discipline and care, intelligence, love and imagination. They are taking no short cuts. They will not settle for less than the very best senior pastor for our congregation.

And, as some of you know already, although my second contract will end at the close of December, I’ve promised to stay with you through next Easter to buy the PNC more time.

Nothing great is accomplished quickly. Patient or not, according to our timeline or not, God will bring us God’s choice for our next senior pastor. And quickly or not, that will indeed be great.

Hearts Troubled, and at Peace

September 28, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins
Let your heart be not troubled. Don’t be afraid. You trust God. You can trust me too…. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give you peace unlike what the world offers. Let your heart be not troubled. Don’t be afraid.” (From St. John chapter fourteen)
We know so little. We don’t even know for sure where these words (traditionally attributed to Jesus) came from. When asked who wrote the Fourth Gospel, known to us as “The Gospel According to St. John,” the venerable early Christian martyr Polycarp, who had known the historical apostle John, was reported to have said, “It was a long time ago, and no one knows for sure.”

Wherever the saying from the Fourth Gospel originated, however, it has remained in the Christian canon of holy scripture because it rings true. But, I have to say, it also runs counter to the most common impulses of many Christians, and a lot of other folks too.

Jesus places the focus of our trust on God. Specifically, Jesus places our focus on the God who in Christ’s supreme act of self-sacrifice revealed God’s open, loving heart to all humanity.

Life is ever-changing, inconstant, unpredictable. It is contingent upon a multitude of factors beyond anyone’s control. And if we place the focus of our trust on the rising and falling fortunes of this world, our happiness, our hopes, and our joy inevitably we fall victim to the relentless changes of life, and to the turning of fortune’s wheel.

Jesus’s teachings in all four gospels touches on this point quite often. Do not treasure the things that are corruptible, the things that rust and rot or can be stolen. Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be found, says our Lord.

Is Jesus a kill-joy? No, he’s very much a pro-joy. He’s apparently even pro-happiness. He’s a fellow who knows how to have a good time, New Orleans-style. He is a wine bidder and a friend of sinners. I suspect he may have been something of a nuisance with the karaoke machine at the local bar too.

But Jesus’s teachings in all four gospels warn against the perils of hitching our hearts to the perishable. He warns us against the disquiet that rules the hearts of those who long to know and control their future. Jesus takes critical aim at our illusion that we can plumb the ultimate telos, the world’s end, the final judgement, his return and so forth. And, in these teachings of Jesus, in particular, I find a wisdom we need to recover if we want untroubled hearts.

The peace offered by the world is tied directly to one’s ability to control the changes of life and to see where the bends are in the road ahead. The peace offered by the world is the peace that says, “Put all your eggs in the basket; mark it breakable; and watch that basket as if your life depended on it!” The peace offered by the world promises us that as long as we can stay on top of everything, we’ll be just fine.

Of course, we all know, this is no peace at all. Indeed, this is the path of lifelong, debilitating anxiety.

I’ve noticed something happening to lots of us in recent days. Our moods are souring. Our hopes feel diminished.

I’m noticing usually gregarious friends avoiding conversation for fear that they will say something that leads to painful disagreements. Months of isolation, a world at the mercy of an unmerciful disease; political divisions that thrive on hostility and that have the ability to make even the most common-place actions and thoughts grist for a partisan political mill; civil unrest that has inspired soul-searching among many but has also provoked polarization among others, who, in fact, share far more than separates them; and a bitterly antagonistic election cycle that is being used as an excuse for threats of violence by various partisans: all of this is bad enough.

Making it all worse, however, is a cult of instant opinionating and prognosticating that dominates the various media, causing many people both to hang their hopes on (what the Book of Common Prayer called) “the diverse and manifold changes of this world” and on the unknowable future.

When I open the editorial pages of my favorite print news sources (I avoid television news except for the weather report and sports), overwhelmingly I meet civil prophets trying to read the tea leaves of the moment to determine whether this candidate or that one is likely to win election, whether the economy is unsteady but doing pretty well, fundamentally sound despite the restlessness of certain markets, or doomed to fall to historic levels, and that’s just for starters. Wars and rumors of war persist. The moon, if not turned to blood, is at least debated as a resource to be mined. History run amok. A planet in crisis.

If writers of editorials gave up the prediction game, they’d have almost nothing to say. And they would give it up, I am quite sure, except for one thing: most people enjoy torturing themselves by enthralling their hearts to that which will bring only more misery and disquiet.

I told someone several months ago that I now watch less news than I used to. Their reply assumed that I have become less concerned about reality and more irresponsible.

In fact, I feel considerably more in touch with reality and I feel even more capable of responding to the actual needs around me than when I depleted myself with the daily habit of worrying and wondering what was going to happen next in the world.

It seems to me that Jesus was more a sage than a prophet; and, according to ancient Jewish sources, the sage is more important to the life of faith than is the prophet. And Jesus’s wisdom lies in trusting God, and not placing our trust or hope in this changing world around us; it lies in loving creation and humanity with complete abandon; responding to the needs of others as we cross their paths or they cross ours, and examining the ways we live together to try to insure that goodness and justice and mercy can be wrangled out of (what Kant called) “the crooked timber of our humanity.”

That sounds wise to me, and it may just be the path to joy and peace.

Journey Inward, Journey Outward

September 14, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins
The lectionary has me thinking a lot about the exodus of the children of Israel.

They traveled outwardly from Egypt, where they had been forced into slavery, across the Desert of Sinai to the land God promised them. But, as we all know, the children of Israel were not able to complete their outward journey until they completed an inward journey too. And, indeed, that first generation of liberated Israelites had to pass away before a new generation could make the journey inward, become ready to assume the full burden of freedom, and complete the journey to the promised land.

Again, these thoughts have been on my mind this week.

Providentially or serendipitously or by mere chance, a book I probably haven’t thought about in twenty years or more presented itself to me as I was preparing to write this week’s order of worship: Journey Inward, Journey Outward by Elizabeth O’Connor. It tells the story of The Church of the Savior in Washington, D. C., a congregation that inspired many other churches around the country to reclaim the church’s role of a center for mission and ministry in a community. In that, of course, it is very much like our own Saint Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Going through O’Connor’s book again after so many years, I came upon a passage underlined in pencil.

“God is Lord of history. He speaks in events. He does not choose the mighty, but the weak. He does not choose Rome, but Bethlehem — not a throne, but a cradle — not a crown, but a cross. In March, 1965, [God] was not different. He still looked to the lowly. He addressed the churches of America through an unlikely town and an unlikely people. He did not choose Washington, D.C., but Selma, Alabama; not the country club there, but a Negro church in a remote section of town; not astronauts who were circling the earth, but a little band of people who traveled on foot the fifty miles along U.S. Highway 80 between Selma and Montgomery. And across the country, churches which could not find life in the symbols they had, found a new and living one in that line of marchers. It might die as other symbols die, but for a time, which may still endure, it had the power of every living symbol, to transform, and change, and heal.”

Let’s hold on to that last phrase, “the power… to transform, and change, and heal.”

If we feel weary and sad by the acrimony in our world today, I wonder how God must feel. We have such promise. We do. We were created with such gifts. We have been lavished with such abilities and capacities. Why do we have such a hard time achieving justice with peace? Why is it so hard to forgive, much less forget? Why do some folks believe that to work for reconciliation means an avoidance of hard truths? Why do others feel that we must make a choice between supporting the legitimate law enforcement and the lives of black neighbors? Why must the virtue of freedom be promoted as though it can exist without responsibility to others?

A couple of days ago, I laid aside my newspaper. And gazing out the window I wondered aloud if there is any way we can go forward as a people. Later the same day I read a short essay about Gore Vidal’s classic novel, 1876. Writing in the upheaval of the late nineteen-sixties and not long after Watergate, Vidal made the case that the year 1876 was the low point in our republic. I would have put it at 1861 or 1862, probably. We did have a civil war. Or, maybe, I would have rated the years of Andrew Johnson’s administration or Andrew Jackson’s, or the Great Depression, as our low point.

There have been many times in our nation’s history when people believed there was no way forward. Thus has it ever been, that our own generation is the one that feels the lash, the hunger, the thirst, the fear felt by that ragged first generation of Israelites wandering in the Sinai Desert.

I believe deeply that our “Outward Journey” forward will depend in large measure upon our “Inward Journey” spiritually as a people. Having experienced the fifties as a child, the sixties as a teenager, and the seventies onward as an adult, I have seen us rise to moments of great challenge. You have too. We witnessed an American president stand among the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York to plead for us to seek justice, not revenge, and to bless and not scapegoat people of other faiths. That is a symbol I shall forever treasure. We witnessed a black man address a vast crowd made up of the tapestry of American ethnicity after being elected President of the United States. And for one shining moment I thought America again would show the world the way forward.

Today, as ragged as we may feel, tracked by a disease that knows no mercy, confronted with complex social issues, struggling with violence and the threat of violence, but finding ourselves also among people of good will speaking out for justice for all, I am more convinced than ever that we have enduring symbols that have the power to change minds, and that the Spirit of God even more than our symbols can journey into the human heart to transform even the most callous, the most frightened, and the most hateful soul.

God can and will transform us all. That is God’s promise, not mine.

Tired and True

September 8, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins
Misreading may say as much about our mental states as Freudian slips.

A few days ago a catalogue arrived from L.L.Bean, the Maine outdoorsy outfitters. It was their fall catalogue full of duck boots, cozy sweaters, socks and the best darn house shoes ever invented. Emblazoned across the cover it said: “TRIED AND TRUE.”

That’s not what my brain read, however.

My brain read, “Tired and True.” To which I nodded my head soberly until I realized that I had misread it.

This week a cartoon in the New Yorker said it all for me. A little girl toddles into her parents’ sitting room, and asks her parents, “Are we there yet?”

I remember with fond nostalgia March of this year. We all went into a temporary hibernation that we thought would last a couple of weeks. Memorial Day come and went, as did the Fourth of July, and now Labor Day. And just when I had begun to think we would emerge (very pale!) from our caves, today’s headline tells me that COVID-19 is on the rise in twenty-two states.

I’d really like to find the person who prayed for us all to gain patience right now and have a little talk. Apparently they’ve got a direct line to God. I’m not sure, however, if I’ve gained much in patience. But, I’m “tired and true.”

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends. Please help us find ways to serve those who are suffering the most in this pandemic. Please pray for our health care workers, our doctors and nurses and the army of support staff that keep our health care system going. I know they are even more tired …… but true.