Notes from Pastor Beth

Wisdom for Our Times

Dear Ones:

During this time of social distancing, we’ll get to try some new things – like this blog. Yesterday it seemed in only a matter of hours to go from “we can still gather if we’re very careful,” to “it’s almost a civic duty to stay at home to protect not just ourselves, but our entire community. Below is what would have been my sermon today. I’m excited to see how this works!

We are living in strange times, aren’t we?  I’m guessing that every generation, every era, probably every decade, has a moment when they can say “we’re living in strange times…”  I truly think that between the political divisions among us and the Coronavirus pandemic -and the tornadoes right here in Nashville – these days might qualify as our strange times. Things are intense, y’all!  So if ever there were a time to turn to scripture for wisdom – it’s now.

From Proverbs 1: 20-23:

20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.

This passage is usually extended all the way to verse 33 – the end of the chapter. In a nutshell, the longer passage says this:  When we don’t listen to wisdom – the obvious things happen – it doesn’t go well.  It’s common sense, expressed in ancient Hebrew poetry: if you consistently do dumb stuff – you’re going to experience the consequences of that.

In the Hebrew, this is poetry.  I know we have a lot of writers and poets in Telos – and this may not sound all that poetic.  For our purposes, just know this:  What sounds linguistically clunky in English in this passage was beautifully written and sophisticated in its original language.

All of that is to say this: our passage tells us that Wisdom has a LOT to offer us – and we tend to ignore her – and we have to live with the consequences when we do.  Here she is – in the streets, in the gathering places, begging people to listen to her – letting them know that if we heed her, we will live much more satisfying lives.

Okay, does that mean that if we seek to live by Wisdom – we get a pass on any and all problems and suffering? No.  It’s poetry – not a magic formula. But when we treat our relationships, our faith, our finances, our work, our civic lives and our communities with wisdom – the logical consequences of that are: we can avoid SOME kinds of suffering that are brought on by living foolishly.

But what about knowledge?  How does that fit in here? Knowledge and wisdom are both necessary to living a faithful, fruitful, meaningful life, but they’re not the same.

What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is not putting tomatoes in a fruit salad.

But it’s not that easy, is it? When it comes to navigating knowledge in our times, particularly on social media – it’s far less straightforward. Fear fuels so much of the public conversation about Coronavirus and politics and climate change and on and on and on – it’s hard to hang on to a commitment to knowledge in the form of truth and wisdom in the form of rational decision-making.

There is a significant number of people who really don’t care about truth and reason – they are content to take anything that catches their attention and hooks their emotions and share it far and wide as if it were true. Lately, being ignorant and reactionary is almost a point of pride with some people. As people of faith – we need to not be those people.

Like most of you, my friends, my relatives and my social media feed are pretty purple – a mix of red and blue. On both sides of the political aisle there seems to be a zeal for “cleverness” that quickly reduces itself to pettiness. I confess to enjoying political humor and satire, I’m not claiming to be somehow immune to posts and memes and all the things about politics and the Coronavirus designed to pull at my emotions and keep me in an anxious, reactive state.

But I have to wonder if our rapid consumption of easily accessed social media is coming at the expense of truth and wisdom and our national unity. Actually – I don’t have to wonder.  It’s been decisively documented by the US intelligence community. There are nations, Russia being the prime example, who are actively trying to keep us volatile and reactive, counting on us to continue being drawn into quick responses based on heightened emotion that further fuel the conflicts among us. And, according to some recent research – they’re getting better at it. They don’t discriminate between red and blue at all. The topics around which Russia is trying to sow chaos are: patriotism, immigration, gun control, abortion and LGBT issues.  They are putting out the most extreme views on these issues – all the extremes – all sides. They are not concerned with truth, let alone wisdom. Their goal is to keep us angry, afraid, suspicious of one another and emotionally reactive. Wisdom is begging us, in this passage, to do better, to be more discerning, to be wiser in the way we process information.

Truth matters – particularly in public discourse.  I could call out various elected officials for their disregard for facts.  But they don’t care what I think, and it would just result in making some of you mad at me for criticizing your favorite politicians and others of you feeling smug and self-righteous because you think I’m on your side. So I won’t call anyone out specifically, but I will say – truth matters.

What if the combination of knowledge and wisdom means setting aside the intense emotions, taking a few deep breaths, learning to separate fact from opinion, and cultivating a little skepticism about anything that seems a little crazy and foams at the mouth.

I believe that one of the most important parts of heeding what Wisdom is shouting in our scripture passage is to be very careful to check the veracity, the truth, of anything before we repeat it, either verbally or post it on social media.

As a nation, we’ve allowed ourselves to be lured into a shouting match of slogans and calling it political process.  We’ve devolved into a battle of sound-bytes that has little to do with substance, and everything to do with playing on our emotions – especially our fear and our sense of self-righteousness.

You know, last Tuesday, when people showed up by the thousands to help those hit by the tornadoes – when you brought so much stuff to donate my car was FULL – we saw what we could really be about – what being HUMAN is about:  just helping one another.  Nobody asked for anyone’s political party affiliation before offering help. Nobody refused to help someone because they were wearing a particular political hat or t-shirt. We were at our best. We were being compassionate.  We were being wise – because wisdom knows that when some of us struggle then all of us need to help out

I’m going to share with you what I’ve adopted as my personal policy to insert some wisdom into things I say or share on social media – this is how I’m planning to approach any intense issues, including politics and the coronavirus pandemic.

Using the word THINK, there is a question for each letter of the word. It’s designed to get at the truth and to help us make wiser decisions about the information we pass along.

T – is it true? – have I checked with several reliable sources before I spread it as truth?

H – is it helpful?  Does it meaningfully contribute to a discussion?

I – is it inspiring? Will reading or hearing this make people more likely to want to be part of the solution?

N – is it necessary that I share this?

K – is it kind? (does it at least avoiding name-calling or making sweeping assumptions about people who disagree with me…)

It’s a little corny, but I’m guessing that if we all put things through this filter before we speak or post – it could help us to “heed the reproof” of Wisdom as our scripture says.

These are intense times, y’all.  It’s a presidential election year.  The coronavirus and Covid19 are consuming us with fear. As people of faith, as followers of Christ, we owe ourselves, our God and our community a commitment to being wise. We don’t have to have all the answers.  We’re going to be okay.  Not so much because “we’ve got this,” but because God’s got us.  Amen.

Usually at Telos at Southminster’s Worship Gatherings, we break into small groups for some discussion. Since we’re all doing the social distancing thing — we’ll have those discussions here, in the comments section. Be wise in what you post — this is far more public than the sanctuary where we usually are. I believe, however, that we can still have robust and faithful discussions.

The Questions for today:

  1. Share a “happy” and a “crappy” from this week and a way that we can pray for you this week.  Remember to keep it to a “tweet” size.
  2. What is one thing that challenged, irritated, surprised, blessed, or provoked you in today’s post? What would you like to know more about?
  3. What could you do to be wise about politics in this election year, and about the coronavirus pandemic?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *