The Grey Hat

Ornan’s threshing floor

The Gray Hat

 I love parties, parties of all types. My favorite of course is a party with the food. Wedding receptions for example or banquets, yum! Who we invite to these swaree’s speaks loudly as to who we are. It is interesting to me that Jesus’ ‘parties’ usually always included the ‘bad’ people as well as the ‘good’ people. As a matter of fact in some of his parables his instructions were to “seek out the bad and bring them to the table”. Now being a ‘good’ person myself it is difficult to understand who would intentionally seek out ‘bad’ people other than the police. They have few manners and are always putting their fingers in the dip, augh!

But a larger truth lingers below the surface, chiefly that people generally do not come in such clearly defined packages. To Jesus there are no ‘good’ people just as there are no ‘bad’ ones, there are just …. Well …. People. The bible speaks expressly that all of us without exception have failed God in some way and are in need of His kindness, so there goes the ‘good’ people. The bible also states with equal emphasis that no one is immune from God’s love and that His kindness is a part of us all, so there go the ‘bad’ people. So, who is left? Well I guess the Bood people or maybe the Gad people. The reality of our situation is that the best of us are sometimes guilty of bad things, even horrible things and the worst of us are sometimes guilty of great acts of kindness and generosity. Our hats are neither white nor black but divergent shades of gray.

Life is so much easier for us when we have cleanly defined categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and so we gravitate towards those definitions, often at the expense of those categorized. But ‘easier’ was not part of God’s design. Individuals are far too dynamic, resilient, fragile and complex all at the same moment to categorize. People are a long way from simple or easy. We elude any attempt at ‘one size fits all’ thinking. Any librarian will tell you, a book’s cover is a poor way to judge its contents. It is certain that below the cover of every individual is a story playing itself out.

I bring this up because it is just so easy to surround ourselves with those whom we like and are like us. This is not a bad thing per say but it does tend to exclude those who might bring precious gifts into our lives and those whose gifts are not wrapped in ways we might recognize as gifts at all. I shutter to think what my life would be like without Karen a homeless troubled soul wondering the streets of Manchester yelling at cars on Elm Street. Karen was my friend for over 5 precious years spanning a time in which she worked in clothing ministries in Manchester to the homeless when I first met her, through her years of severe mental illness and finally her death. I miss her still, not just for how we at ‘Main StreetMission’ were helped by her and were able to help her but for the gifts she gave me, gifts of courage, tenacity and compassion. She lived well outside of my comfort zone and I am grateful God gave me the courage to travel there.

The world is full of Karen’s and the world is full of the polished Wall Street up and comers. Weather the right wing tea party or left wing tree huggers, all are stories playing themselves out on an individual stage, all infinitely complex, all of value, all broken by the world, all the objects of God’s love and attention. He is the King of do-overs, the Lord of second chances for all. The bible states that ‘His mercies are new every morning’.  Now that is what I call the ‘breakfast of champions’. These mercies belong to those who commit the sin of pride in thinking they do not need them and those who commit the sin of underestimating the depth of God’s love in releasing them from a tortured past.  There are no white hats, no black hats, we are all broken, and we are all loved.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:7-8

 

Ornan’s threshing floor is a selection of journal entries, sermon parts and pieces and writings by Stephen Carey, pastor of Main Street Mission.

Main Street Mission is a non denominational Christian inner city outreach ministry located at 57 Manchester St. Manchester NH.

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The Uncertainty of Faith

Ornan’s Threshing Floor

The Uncertainty of Faith

It amazes me how difficult and depressing life becomes when I insist on a complete understanding, unclouded by doubt, contradictions, or confusion. In our ‘wickapedia’ society, uncertainty is considered a curse — or at a minimum, a problem for the latest ‘app’ on my smart phone. But there is uncertainty that ‘Google’ cannot touch and a comforting acknowledgement of our limitations and fragile nature that brings a certain peace. When we apply math like logic to the human heart or test tube thinking to the complexity of our nature and relationship with God, we set ourselves up for the disappointment of unrealistic expectations.

I was asked the other day after service my position on creation vs. evolution. My answer was an enthusiastic ‘yes’. Confused, my inquisitor continued, ‘so which do you believe in?’ I responded, ‘absolutely’. No matter what your answer to this question, it is certain that it is a little like a Ford automobile explaining who Henry Ford was. Any answer will be woefully incomplete. I have an understanding of evolution and it is only a partial view. I have an understanding of Genesis and Creation and it also woefully inadequate. How could it be otherwise? I simply was not there for either or should I say both. Further it is short sighted to commit to one view wholly and dismiss the value and understandings of the other.

Later that day at home my wife mentioned to me that she felt sometimes that I do not listen to her.  I believe her exact words were, ‘really hear what I am saying’. So I got out my cell phone calendar and calculator app and set to work. “On this day we talked about this and that and look here on the 22nd, three separate conversations ranging in subjects from…..” It was then that the tennis racket went up the side of my head and thankfully so because I needed a wake up call. Human relationships do not have to make sense in order to be genuine, sincere and valuable. The human heart is far too complex for any math. When I abandon my desire for my wife to make sense to me, I empower her understanding of how she makes sense to herself. My lack of understanding of how she is feeling is no license to selfishly ignore those feelings.

So there we have it. It is ok to not know, to not get it. It is ok to live on both sides of a contradiction knowing that we do not have all the facts and even if we did, it is doubtful we could put them together accurately enough to see the whole picture. Geeze, I can barely get my checking account balanced, much less spot an error on the bank’s part. This is not stratling the fence but living on both sides of it. Emerson said, ‘a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’. Ouch! Inconsistency is the norm in a broken world with broken people.

It is my view that living with conflicting views, uncertainty and doubt is part of faith. If I had no doubt why would I need faith? If I had everything all figured out and felt certain and confident, then why do I need God’s help? Seems to me He should be knocking on my door for a little advise. No, it is doubt that helps us understand that we are not Henry, we are the Ford. It is doubt that helps me love my wife and listen to her, really listen to her and keep my cell phone in my pocket. It is doubt that helps me embrace my own limitations and the constant denial which causes me to think that my understanding is the only understanding worth understanding.

This news is sometimes terrifying to me. As a control freak, I feel the need to know and control everyone and everything around me. This message also brings me great peace because it gives me license to surrender to faith, releasing me from the impractical need to be certain of everything. The expression, ‘let go and let God’ comes to mind. I hope there is no topic which holds no mystery for me to explore, no wonder as to its origin or ending. When we set our beliefs in stone we restrict our ability to explore them. I am free to consider all possibilities. Some I reject, some I embrace, most are somewhere in the middle ground where there is no “yes or no”, “white or black” or cell phone apps. A ground fertile with the imagination of faith.

1 Corinthians 13 speaks directly to this truth. It seems our knowledge was designed to be incomplete from the get-go. God designed us to live in a world filled with uncertainty that only faith, hope and love can fill, a love whose limits are only our hearts willingness to express, a love dripping with the certainty of the goodness of God.

For now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face: Now I know in part but then shall I know even as also I am known. Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1Cor13:12-13

Ornan’s threshing floor is a selection of journal entries, sermon parts and pieces and writings by Stephen Carey, pastor of Main Street Mission.

Main Street Mission is a non-denominational Christian Inner-city outreach ministry located at 57 Manchester St. in Manchester, NH.

Please contact Steve with your thoughts and comments at

StephenCarey@Comcast.net