I delivered a sermon this morning about how the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) might inspire us to create a New Year’s Resolution focused on being the person we wish to be not because we owe it to ourselves but because we wish to better serve God. The podcast will be up later if you want to listen and I will update this post when the audio is available. In the meantime I want to address the final piece of the sermon, a quotation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
In 2008, the Archbishop was part of an interfaith conference in Seattle, WA called Seeds of Compassion as part of his speaking tour with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. During one of the panels, a young man, around the age of 12, asked, “How can you learn to not be so hard on yourself… for a mistake?” It’s a big question and certainly not only on the mind of merely children but of persons across the age spectrum and across the world. Here’s a portion of Archbishop Tutu’s answer (emphasis mine):
God has all of eternity to work on you. You and I are a work in progress! And if we slip — this is one of the wonderful things about God — God doesn’t say… you know, if you make a mistake… ‘Bah! Good riddance to bad rubbish!’ God picks you up, dusts you off, and says, ‘Try again.’ And when you mess it up again, God says, ‘…Tough luck. Come on, let’s try again.’ Dusts you off… ‘Come on, try, try, and try…’ Because this God is a three-miles-per-hour God walking at our pace.’
This image of God, this understanding of God, has been a powerful one for me these past four years. A lot of it had to do with the way Archbishop Tutu delivered it. It was extemporaneous, improvised, yet genuine, true. It was delivered to this young man with care and that care rubbed off on all who heard it that day and in the video archives (how I heard it after seeking out information on the aforementioned tour). For me, I go back and forth between the kataphatic and apophatic traditions which say we can understand God better through our words and images and figurative language and we cannot confine God by our ideas and language so simple reverence is the most holy way to understand God, respectively. On the days I swing more toward the kataphatic tradition, one of my favorite ways to think of God, and how God relates to me, is that “God is a three-mile-per-hour-God walking at our pace.”
With regard to how this fit in a sermon about New Year’s Resolutions, I preached about how we might see making change not just for self-improvement but for our theology of and faith in God (and our faith in God’s faith in us). If we do that, we could run the risk of not only feeling like we let ourselves down if we don’t hold true to the resolution we might also feel like we’ve let down God. In response, I would lift up the above words of Archbishop Tutu as means of comfort and empowerment.
I am unable to access the video archives of the conference anymore and I don’t know why [UPDATE: I found it! Check it out! 02.12.2013]. It’s a bummer because that means I might not see this wonderful moment again and if anyone can help me I would appreciate it so much. I did watch it several times, though, over the years and I know what he said very well (even his cadence and rhythm). We’re also blessed that a young man named David who attended the event was inspired enough to write up a transcript of what Tutu offered to the young man who asked the question (my quotation above is based off his transcript with slight adjustments).
A final note: I’ve been holding on to this way of understanding God in my back pocket for years now waiting for what felt like the right sermon. While I think it fit the right sermon, I regret keeping it to myself for so long. If you like this, please do better than I did!
Do you have a favorite image of God? Do you have one that doesn’t appeal to you?