Midweek Faith Lift
October 9, 2019
Why Parables-What’s With That?
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
I was blind, but now I see. What a powerful statement that is! Do you know the story behind the hymn, Amazing Grace? It was penned in 1772 by English poet and Anglican clergyman, John Newton, who had been in the British navy as a conscript. After he left the Navy, he became a slave trader but then he had a very rough crossing through which he prayed to make it home. He did make it, but then abandoned the slave trade and became a clergyman. This hymn began as a poem about his spiritual awakening and realization that trading in human beings was immoral and he wrote it for a sermon. It was later put to music in 1835 by an American composer, William Walker. Even without words, the melody is quite stirring. Let’s take a listen:
It is not hard to imagine how that sound of bagpipe and melody would carry across the vast miles of the open high desert in Arizona.
When I was a student at St. Andrews in Scotland, I learned that bagpipes were designed initially to signal in Scotland from one highland clan to another, mostly that a battle was about to begin. If they are played inside at full volume, the sound is deafening. It was a call to rally the troops and to charge down the hillside onto the plain below to battle an opposing clan. The plaid tartans worn by the Scots were all about identifying the men who were on your side, in your clan, so that you did not shoot the wrong guys. All the plaids have a meaning and purpose—black watch plaid was worn at night, in the dark for the night watch so the sentry on duty could not be seen by the enemy. Wow! What in the world does this have to do with the parables? And Jesus?
Well, when you hear the hymn, Amazing Grace, so familiar to all, how do you think about it? Many who hear it think of it as a wake up call, and it truly is impossible to sleep through bagpipes! We live in interesting and challenging times; times where everything old is new again, even as we gather in our internet silos, as isolated as the Scots were on their separate highland hills. We imagine the worst of the “other” and we see the “worst” in the other, even as we can also embrace the “worst” of our humanness without even knowing it!
What is it like to be blind, and then finally wake up and see what our individual stubbornness, righteousness, mindlessness has done to others? To see what it has done to ourselves? We live in times of great blindness and of potential great awakening, don’t we? The real question is what do we do once we truly wake up? I remember an interview of Maya Angelou with Oprah Winfrey, where Dr. Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” That is also a very powerful statement, because, I have known better and done nothing, which is not much progress in the long haul, is it?
I have been that go along, get along gal who just wants to be liked, accepted and doesn’t want to rock the boat, at least not to the point where you really piss someone off! Love them, keep them happy, draw that line at the place of the greatest chance of survival, never mind that deciding just to survive is a pretty low bar. But that is often where I have hung out, not liking conflict, so waiting for someone else to speak up and take a stand. Ouch! And I thought I was pretty self-aware….of course until I wasn’t.
And that is the moment of grace, the moment of waking up, even when the light is too bright and I am more blinded by it than able to see by it. That is the moment of Amazing Grace and that is why Jesus spoke to people in parables, stories about common things they could understand. He wanted them to see, to wake up to their blindness and really “see” with their hearts. Here is how it went down:
The Purpose of the Parables
10 Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (NRSV)
Ok, we really want to see and hear what Jesus is teaching us so that we truly get it and it becomes our new filter for how we engage with others, with ourselves and with the world. Jesus says that the secrets of the Kingdom are just that, secret and hidden, not easily discernible or recognizable. He tells his closest followers, the disciples, that they are in a prime spot, for they are close to him and they can “get it” even as he knows that they often do not. And even as we attempt to “follow Jesus” we too, frequently, do not “get it” immediately!
Jesus tells them the reason for using stories is to help his listeners “perceive” the deeper meaning of his teachings and to “understand” what it means to put them into practice. He really wanted the disciples to “get it” so they could be teachers of his message. And he wanted as many people as possible to also understand what he was teaching them, so he used stories about everyday situations and items so they could get it. When we perceive the deeper meaning of things, we then understand them at depth and we are indeed healed. That was the message of Jesus, that this deeper understanding heals us.
Ok, God, so bring it on! I don’t like how this relationship is going, how things are going down, so I am willing to see. Open my eyes! Well, would that it were that simple! Sometimes, actually often, I don’t realize my eyes were blind until after that fact, after I have blundered in the darkness. And then, when I do see, and I do know better, it takes courage, understanding with the heart, to speak up and do what I am truly called to do. How does that look for you? When have you been called to speak up in a way that made you very uncomfortable, but it was truly the right thing to do and you knew you had to do it?
Brene Brown, in her book Braving the Wilderness calls that place “high lonesome” and it is not the most fun place to be. I was recently there during our Great Lakes Conference last week. One of the presenters was going on and on and on and had clearly not paid any attention to the time frame I had sent them in an email or told them about on the phone. And to make it even better, it was someone from the home office, the folks who hold my credential! Ok, Deb, go for broke! They had basically used their time without realizing it, and I had to stand up and stop them….with 41 slides left to go! But they were first, and there were two other groups to go….yikes! Who would be mad about this and how would I hear about it, because for sure I would! And I did stop them, and I did hear about it. Fortunately for me, the Board President stood at the front and supported me! Was it uncomfortable? Is the Pope Catholic? Are there fish in the sea? Bears in the woods??
How did it feel, to stand up and stop the home office folks because they were way, way overtime? Well, it was interesting, because in the past, my stomach would have done flip-flops and my heart would have been pounding, but not this time. I needed to do this and it was clearly mine to do. When people spoke up in protest, I did not feel defensive, nor did I defend myself or feel a need to do so. I did later speak to the person from UWM to apologize and she was initially upset, but seemed to come around. I told her I felt bad about it, which I did, but also that I had to do it, which she seemed to understand. There will be people who will complain on the evaluation forms and one of the chief complainers is on the Conference team for next year! OF COURSE SHE IS!!
What emerged out of that awkward moment was a moment of grace, of forgiveness, whereby we are planning a re-structure of the Report giving time and process to better meet the needs of the presenters and the Conference Body. It was truly a moment of grace! What are your moments of grace, whereby you were able to listen and then act with amazing grace?
Blessings on the Path,