Sunday, October 18, 2009

"It's not about you, or me": Two sermons make a two-man "play"


I don’t review sermons on the “drama” blog very often, except when a sermon has a dramatic impact, or is like a play. That happened today at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC.

The sermon by Dr. Randall Ashcraft was “It’s not about you.” He added, “or about me”. He did not mention the start of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life”, or Warren (controversial at President Obama’s inauguration) at all for that matter, but the message was the same. The supporting scriptures were Job 38:1-7, Hebrews 5:1-10, and Mark 10:35-45. The sermon mentioned the "fall" in the Garden of Eden as like using "knowledge" as "power", that is "the knowledge of good and evil" (that is, of "WHOIS" good or evil) as a reason to become distant from others. He gave some examples, such as the Madison Avenue oxymoron, "An Army of One", indeed interesting given the "unit cohesion" arguments used to justify "don't ask don't tell".

We do have a paradox. The signature mantra for both libertarianism and progressive liberalism (the Obama kind) is “personal responsibility.” Another related concept is “equality.”

But the “communism” of early Christianity started out as the antithesis of modern ideas of individuality. The Gospel took up the plain truth that within any society people are very unequal in talents and circumstances, let alone outcome. It was a flexibility, a malleability to serve others for a higher purpose that marked the experience of the faith. Incredibly, this led to Western thought that made individualism as we know it possible and meaningful. One reason is that there are countless examples of problems in the modern world that go beyond the narrow meaning of “personal responsibility” or the libertarian notion of harmlessness, public health being one of them.

Then graduate student (international relations) Mark Royce, in green liturgical scarf, speaking from the lectern, gave a Stewardship Testimonial that really did come across as a brief one-man play. He spoke in a deep “preacher’s voice” that seem to come from Puritan times, as if right out of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He spoke of an upbringing, one side spiritual and religious, the other secular, humanistic and nearly agnostic. His movement into the world exposed him to the competitive, individualistic and presumably “secular” world which he presented in a metaphor based on chess players on Dupont Circle [or Washington Square Park in New York, for that matter]. (Remember how the late Bobby Fischer used to say that when he won a tournament chess game, he would see his opponent’s “ego break”.) Today’s presentation was a moral calling back to the spiritual.

All of this is in marked contrast to a brief youth sermon last spring at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington by an graduating high school honor student, on the theme of "perfection."

Of course, social conservatives know the “compromise”, the “family”, within which karma is shared and quantum uncertainty is the moral norm. Because social structures are so easily abused by those in charge, the bridge between the “family group” and the “individual” might have to become the notion of a new “social contract.” More about that in future posts.

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