“Labels are just an excuse to stop thinking.”That is one of those quotes I read years and years ago, I believe in the writings of the great linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and have never forgotten.
We can be so quick to label each other, and in so doing loose sight of the person behind the caricature.I find that so…sad.
Can a person ever be summed up, so neat and tidy, by a label?
I don’t think so.But what a label can do is give us a neat and tidy way to dismiss and discount others, and perhaps to make us feel superior to them.
I thought about this at our recent Diocesan Convention.I thought how easy it was for all of us—my self certainly included-- to label, one way or another, those who differ from us.You can think of how easily that it is happening now in American politics, or how such labeling is so prevalent in the blogosphere.
And I thought how when we do that, we stop learning from those who, precisely because they are different than we are, can teach us what we cannot teach ourselves.The result is that we continue set in our ways, even if, truth be told, those ways stopped serving us well long ago.
The phone rang last night at about 12:30.In my line of business, phone calls after midnight are never good.
Sunday had been a good but long day, the kind of day that leaves one feeling that every drop of energy he has has been totally and completely spent. So I had gone to bed early that night, before 10, and had almost immediately fallen into a deep sleep.
From some where far off, I heard the phone ringing and Linda scrambling to answer it.And then I heard, “This is her mother.”
Maybe because I’ve made too many of those kind of phone calls myself, my mind—still casting off the final vestiges of slumber induced fog —immediately jumped to the worst conclusion:It must be a state trooper.Had there been an accident?How bad was it?
I was now fully awake and tasted panic rising in my throat.
Fortunately, it turned out to simply be the parent of one her friends.They were all still at our house (whew!), and I guess the parent was calling just to make sure.
At the opening address of the Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia, we heard about protecting the “legacy” of our churches.This idea clearly resounded deeply with the overwhelming majority of those present, and met with ongoing enthusiastic applause.
I wonder, however, how well that argument will work if The Episcopal Church chooses to leave the Anglican Communion.In fact, the simple name change from PECUSA (Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America) as an unambiguous constituent part of the larger Anglican Communion to TEC (The Episcopal Church) as a potentially stand alone organization with its own international presence, gives one reason to wonder if for some we are not already well on our way.
If TEC does leave the Anglican Church—our “legacy”, does that mean she has “abandoned” the world wide communion?That the TEC becomes “dissidents”?That out of love and pastoral care for the “loyalists” who remain, the Anglican Church will need to declare American churches and diocese “vacant” and move to provide alternative churches and structures to care for the faithful that remain?
Let me be clear.Bishop Lee has repeatedly made his commitment to the world wide Anglican Communion clear, and for that I am profoundly grateful.In this diocese at this time, the above is a non-issue.
But we have also just elected a new bishop who will ultimately oversee this diocese, The Very Reverend Shannon S. Johnston.It is my prayer that he will humbly and faithfully continue the legacy of Bishop Lee in valuing our history and attachment to the world Anglican communion and that we’ll never have to actually answer the questions above.
As long as I’m on my nostalgia kick, I thought I might as well throw in another picture I just found as well. It was taken in Ft. Pierce, Florida. I was an assistant at St. Andrews Episcopal Church back then, working for Ernie Bennett (who is also in the picture).
As you may know, there are two big college football teams in FL—the Gators and the Seminoles.And it just so happened that Ernie was a big fan of—you guessed it!—the Gators.
So, a friend (Donnie Wilson) and I headed out into a swamp where we knew there were some alligators around.We took a little fishing rod with a bass plug and cast it out into the water.Sure enough, this li’l alligator came swimming out and tried to eat the lure.We reeled him in, and, very carefully, carried him to the car.At that time it was a federal offense to even touch an alligator, but sort of like the Jake and Elwood, we were on a mission from God.
It was Saturday, and the Animal Blessing wasn’t until the next day, so the alligator went in the bath tub in our apartment.There have been many over the years who have believed, for a great number of reasons, that my wife qualifies to be a saint.In my defense, I did lock the bathroom door behind me.
We kept the alligator hidden under a towel until all the other animals had their turn.And then we presented the Florida Gator, as you see here, for a blessing (you may notice the tape around its mouth).
The alligator was returned to the swamp from which he came immediately following the service, now what might officially be called a... “holy terror”.
For my readers who come this way via The Jesus Creed, I thought you might enjoy this picture of Scot taken in...um... let's see, that would be 1985 (I think!) This was back when Scot was teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
I also happen to have a more recent picture of Scot. Comparing the two, other than slightly less hair (the mustache, I mean) I don't see any difference, do you?
A long time ago in a land far, far away there was a man.He had two sons.Though this man went to church faithfully every Sunday, his sons did not.This made him sad.
“How can I get my sons to go to church?” he asked himself every day.Then one day it hit him; he had a plan.
He knew his sons loved driving fast cars, well, fast.He also knew that the priest at his church had done some racing when he was younger.“Maybe, I can get all four of us together at a track,” he thought excitedly.“My sons will get to know the priest, see he is an ordinary guy who loves cars as much as they do, and he can invite them to church!”
So it came to pass that one day, early on a Saturday morning, the four of them did arrive at the track.Each brought his own car.One son brought a BMW M5, and the other brought a Mazda Miata.The priest’s car, an aging Ford Taurus, was not really suitable for doing laps, so the man insisted that priest use his modified Porsche 911 SC instead.
This, dear readers, presented the priest with something of a conundrum.On the one hand, the aforementioned Porsche was worth more than he made in a year, worth more than even his home, actually.On the other hand, he knew the father was counting on him to drive it fast enough to at least slightly impress his sons and convince them that he was not a total dweeb.
The conundrum grew all the deeper when the priest took to the track; he in the Porsche, one of the sons in the Miata.And even though the Porsche had almost three times the horsepower, and even though he had started his laps well ahead, the Miata was catching up.
So, on a track where it is legal to do, and using the equipment which makes it a reasonably safe thing to do, he took the speedometer well into the triple digits on the straightaways.The Miata could not keep up.
Having now achieved a satisfactory lead, the priest planned to bring the Porsche to a stop.
Except for one thing.When, after just hitting his top speed, he hit the brakes, they did not brake.They did not slow the car down at all.The pedal went straight to the floor, but nothing happened.He was coming into the turn way too fast…He tried pulling on the emergency brake while downshifting, hoping to throw the car into a slide and throttling his way out.
It didn’t work.The Porsche flipped 2 ½ times before coming to rest on its roof.
The man ran over to the car to make sure the priest was OK.He was, and after crawling out of the car began apologizing profusely, offering to repair the damage by making payments for the next 10 years and throwing his children in the deal as well.
The man refused, saying that if you couldn’t afford to play this game, you shouldn’t do it in the first place.He was referring to himself, but later the priest couldn’t help but reflect that had he been equally wise, he never would have been in that mess in the first place.
The sons did come to church.But it wasn’t the priest’s driving ability that brought them.It was seeing their father demonstrate the incredible power of forgiveness.
It’s a lesson that priest has not forgotten to this day…in a land far, far away, and a time long, long ago.