The state of All Saints’ is both small and mighty. I’ll have more to say about that later. But first, a story.
An elderly man, the head of a three-generation family, suffered from advanced dementia. His adult son said he could cope with his father as long as he considered him a piece of the furniture and did not bump into him….The little grandson spoke up, telling his father that he was wrong, that his grandfather was still here.
Pauline Boss, family therapist, researcher and author, tells this story in her book The Myth of Closure. She ends the story with these words: That little boy…knew about both/and thinking while his father did not.
My introduction to both/and thinking began when I read a little book published in 1980 and re-released in 2008, by Parker Palmer. It’s called The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life. A Methodist who became a Quaker as an adult, Parker Palmer has been one of my primary spiritual teachers over the past forty years. I am still formed and informed by his wisdom.
Parker explains how, in the words of Nobel Prize winning physicist Neils Bohr, that “the opposite of a fact is a lie. But the opposite of one great truth may be another great truth.” The question is: How comfortable are you or I with holding two opposite truths in a both/and - rather than in an either/or - way? Let me put the question differently: How comfortable are you - how comfortable am I - with paradox?
Both by his actions and in his words, both by what he says and by what he does, Jesus shows us what it means to be “the author of our salvation,” as our Eucharistic prayer says. Jesus is the author of our salvation because, as Mark’s Gospel tells us, he taught with authority (1:22). Jesus authors - he creates new life, both in us and for us.
Now, if Jesus is truly the Lord of our lives, if he is really our ultimate authority, he’s in charge. In both his talk and in his walk. In both his dying and in his rising. In both his divinity and in his humanity. He’s a paradox, this Jesus. That’s one reason why it’s so hard to follow him. Every. single. day.
When we do follow Jesus, he is the one who shows us how we can be saved from a world of sin, sickness, and suffering. The word “save” actually comes from the same root word as salve, which older folks know is an ointment that helps healing. Whether our illness is in our minds, bodies or spirits, or in all three, Jesus both saves and heals.
My new #1 spiritual teacher these days is an Episcopalian who will visit Memphis next month. Dr. Catherine Meeks recently retired as founder and executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta. You can find details of her visit in a special flyer that will be part of All Saints’ February newsletter.
In her most recent book, The Night is Long but Light Comes in the Morning: Meditations for Racial Healing, Catherine Meeks speaks in her first meditation of the challenge Jesus offers a lame man lying at a pool of water known for its healing properties. That lame man had been laying there for 38 years, waiting for someone to come along and help him to some of those healing properties. He complained about not being able to get into that pool whenever the angel who brought healing would arrive.
Jesus saw what was going on with this man and simply asks him, Do you want to be healed? Dr. Meeks says that, for us, “in order to move forward, we must resolve the inner conflict of wanting to be healed but hoping to remain the same. This question, ‘Do you want to be healed?,’ rings loudly,” she says, “for all who inhabit the planet,” and not everyone will have the courage to say yes to the healing our God invites us to receive.
She also says something else, something about the paradox of both/and thinking: It is a challenge to learn to hold competing truths in (both) your head and (your) heart….(Here’s) an example. The civil rights movement was very successful and made this country better. On the other hand, it failed to address systemic racism in the way that was necessary to completely change deeply rooted structures of oppression, which continue to exist. Both of these statements happen to be true. When one can hold this type of understanding (both) in one’s head and (in one’s) heart, and find the energy to stay in the space created by it, much good can be achieved.
That’s not easy. It may hurt both our heads and our hearts to try to be “both/and” about some of the things or situations in our lives. Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald put it this way: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function (my emphasis).” I agree.
Now, when I think about the state of All Saints’ Church, this church that is both small and mighty, I think about another church that was small and mighty: the very first church, that first band of Jesus followers. I’m talking about the twelve disciples.
In addition to a dozen guys who gathered around Jesus, there were women, too, including Mary, Jesus’ mother, and others. Those original women and men, those first disciples were not great in number. But look at what they set out to do - and did!
A church whose numbers are small does not need to mean that church is without influence. Over the years All Saints’ has made a real difference in the lives of countless people who have found a home here, including me and both David and Mary, two of my siblings. The music, the garden, the outreach All Saints’ has offered all these years continues to make a mighty, little impact in the Sea Isle Park neighborhood and beyond.
So what say ye, disciples of Jesus at All Saints’? What’s your plan? In 2024, how will you live more fully into being “both small and mighty”? I’ll be watching, praying and cheering you on, no longer as your priest in charge, but as a priest “at large.” May God continue to richly bless this community of faith in the years to come. AMEN!
The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg
January 28, 2024