Monday, April 30, 2012

The Wisdom to Know the Difference - Richard R. Crocker

The Wisdom to know the Difference

Richard R. Crocker

Rollins Chapel

April 29, 2012

Psalm 27

This is the last word on wisdom and the first word on courage. I will try to speak about both of them, briefly. My comments are intended to provoke thought and discussion, so I hope many of you will be able to attend the dinner discussion following worship.

I may surprise you to know that while the word “wisdom” (Sophia, logos) occurs very frequently in the Bible, the word courage (ometz) occurs very rarely. We might well wonder why? Is it that wisdom is more important than courage? I think not. I think, rather, that wisdom is a larger category; that one who is wise is also, necessarily, courageous, but that one can be courageous without necessarily being wise.

Perhaps the most common conjunction of these two words occurs in the prayer written, we think, by the very famous 20th century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. I am sure you have heard it. It is also called the Serenity prayer, and its popularity shows how deeply helpful it is to many people. It is: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This prayer has penetrated into many lives through the agency of Alcoholics Anonymous – a group that has made the recitation of this prayer a part of almost every meeting. It is both popular and profound. Indeed, it speaks to every one of us.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sustainability Matters, Still - Kurt Nelson

Delivered at the 2nd Annual Sustainability and Social Justice Dinner at Dartmouth College.  Dedicated especially to those born in or after 1991…

My sincere thanks to the organizers of this fine event,
it’s a pleasure to be back.
Thanks to the panelists so far.
And thanks especially to all of you for listening.

I want to tell you a story,
because I think it’s relevant.
But it’s also perhaps a bit odd.

So I’d like those of you who were here last year,
to take a minute,
and explain to your table mates,
just how great and trustworthy I am.
We’ll wait...

and I was one of about 1300 people arrested,
in front of the white house,
for participating in civil disobedience,
around the keystone XL pipeline.
Which was, I’ll admit,
a pretty awesome thing to participate in.
In a few short months
we went from public ignorance
and “no brainer” approval,
to massive media coverage,
a widespread movement,
and complicated victory.
It’s a pretty amazing – if imperfect –
story about the efficacy of demonstration and organizing.
But I’m not going to tell you that story tonight.

Old and Foolish … Young and Wise - Steve Swayne

Steve Swayne
22 April 2012
1 Kings 3:3–15
Wisdom has long been associated with age. Many believe, to shorten the oft-told joke, that it takes lots of bad decisions to garner the experience that leads to good decisions, which, in turn, ripens into wisdom.
Yet we also know that age is not guarantor of wisdom. Each one of us can name people in our lives — relatives, friends, perhaps ourselves — for whom age has not brought an increase in wisdom. Evidence exists all around us that it is possible to be old and foolish.

The evidence is less apparent that it is possible to be young and wise, in part because of the association I mentioned at the outset. We are inclined to believe that being young and being wise is oxymoronic.
Thinking of things oxymoronic makes me think of my own college years, not because they were oxymoronic but because they took place at Occidental College, affectionately known as Oxy. I majored in music, focusing on piano performance and composition. In my senior year, I wrote a series of songs on poems from the 1896 collection A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nietzsche and Christian Wisdom - Peter Blair '12

1 Corinthians 1: 26-30 
Rollins Chapel, 4/15/12 
Frederick Nietzsche is often considered one of the most able critics of Christianity ever to have put pen to paper. I personally do not find his arguments compelling. But for all his faults, Nietzsche understood much about Christianity that many contemporary people— both Christian and non-Christian—fail to understand. Nietzsche disliked Christianity so strongly in part because he believed that Christianity had initiated what he called "a slave revolt," in which the weak and powerless of this world rose up against their naturally strong, intellectually superior, aristocratic masters. This slave revolt, he thought, was to be regretted.
Much of Nietzsche's actual historical speculations are wrong, but he captured the spirit of the Christian message better than many. He understood that Christianity was radically opposed to the logic and wisdom of the world. Not that Christianity holds the world to be evil. Christ said, "I have not come to condemn the world, but to save it." The world is, at root, good.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Even if it doesn't feel that way... Kurt Nelson

Easter Sunrise, 4.8.12
Mark 16: 1-8

One of the wonders of the social media age,
is that so long as wisdom is less than 140 characters,
it comes to us easily.
Here's a bit, that has come to me often this week 
from Clarence Jordan, a theologian and activist:

“The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship; not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”[i]

It’s a lovely sentiment, which resonates with me,
in many many ways.
The only problem, and it’s a significant one,
is that I don’t always feel spirit-filled or carried away,
or that my heart is full.
Sometimes I’m tired.
Or grumpy.
Or angry or despairing.
Maybe you are too?
And when I am,
the idea that the hope of the resurrection rests in me,
in us,
isn’t joyful.
It’s burdensome.
And thus, even harder to grasp,
grumpy, and tired as I already am.

Speaking of which,
it’s cold out here, isn’t it?
It’s kind of dark still,
wasn’t this supposed to be a sunrise service?
I thought spring was supposed to be coming…
And what’s with all these barren trees,
and brown plants,
Who planned this service?

But of course,
spring is coming.  The sun is rising.
We know it is, even if we can’t yet see it or feel it.
love is working in us,
even if it doesn’t feel that way.

“Partly Prepared” by Aaron Colston, ‘14

 Easter Sunrise
4/8/12, Dartmouth College Green
Text: Mark 16: 1-8

When the women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ, it dawned on them that they were partly prepared. They have brought the anointing oils and spices but have forgotten the stone that must be rolled away. Yet the women don’t turn around and end their journey toward Christ; despite their lacking, they go on.
Just as the women lacked the preparation to roll the stone away, we too, lack. We lack rest, time with our friends and families, time to study. When we feel we should have one we lack the right answer to a good question, and more often than not, we lack a kind word. We lack the will to trust, and--when we need to most--the will to love our neighbor. But the women teach us, as they carry little else but their oils and spices, that just because we know we lack doesn’t mean we should stop where we are. If anything, it is a calling from the other side to keep going.
We may think that giving the little we have--whether time, word, or love--is giving  the  “partly prepared.” But look at what happens when the women came to the tomb “partly prepared”: the stone is rolled away, they learn that Christ is risen. It is as if someone tossed their voice into the canyon and the canyon bellowed back, or as if someone has planted that mustard seed, and it has burst into a full tree; in light of what happens in return, giving little is hardly “little” after all.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wisdom and the Resurrection - Richard R. Crocker

Richard R. Crocker
Wisdom and the Resurrection
Easter, April 8, 2012
Rollins Chapel, Dartmouth College
I Corinthians 1:18-25 (26-31)

I am attempting, in this sermon, to address both the theme of our term’s services, which is wisdom, and the occasion, which is Easter Sunday. Wisdom and the Resurrection, I’ve called it. And it certainly is not a stretch to connect these two subjects, especially when we look at these powerful verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”(v. 23)

There can be no stronger statement: what the world counts as wisdom has been shown in Christ to be foolish, and what the world counts foolish has been shown in Christ to be the very wisdom of God.

Now there are several things to explore about this passage. First, for those of you who were here last Sunday and heard Kurt expound upon a similar theme, using other verses from this same epistle, you will remember that Kurt confessed dislike for Paul’s contrast. He does not want to give up on worldly wisdom, and he is suspicious of any who disdain worldly wisdom in a too eager embrace of religious foolishness – foolishness which does not turn out to be the wisdom of God but is simply foolishness. And, heaven knows, there is enough simple foolishness in the world – foolishness that is not simply entertaining, but foolishness that has very harmful consequences. So, if we want a test to distinguish wisdom from foolishness, perhaps we should look at the consequences of our beliefs.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Foolishness – Kurt Nelson

Rollins Chapel, 4.1.2012
1 Corinthians 3: 18-23

I think it’s fair to say
that I have hated this passage for much of my life.
 “The Wisdom of the world is foolishness with God.”
It’s so direct. 
So simple.
So troubling.
And has so often struck me as wrong.

For you see, I’m an unabashed fan of worldly wisdom.
Not an uncritical fan, mind you.
But still, Education.  Science.  Evidence.
I’ve always been rather comfortable with these things.
And think them rather important.
And so I’ve blamed, in particular,
this passage,
- and I’d say justifiably -
for a good measure of our contemporary troubles.
Seeing evidence of it in Christian anti-intellectualism.
In bad sermons.
And bad-faith politics.
And especially in undermining science and psychology.

It’s a favorite passage to preach on,
for seminarians struggling with
scholarly criticism,
of theological stuff.
Or maybe just struggling with their grades.

It’s a favorite allusion,
of those seeking to undermine scientific consensus,
about human choices’ effects on the environment.
I think it’s behind accusations of
“false theologies”
which seek to balance love of God
and care of Creation.

And I think it’s behind our ability to deny many people,
access to the full life of the church,
simply by virtue of their sex
or sexual orientation.
Despite all we’ve come to learn,
about the nature of gender, sex, and sexual orientation.

I have, in short,
 blamed this passage for our collective, Christian myopia,
 And thus, I have wished this passage away.
I’ve desired to excise it from the text.
I’ve ignored it.
I’ve challenged it.
But still,
there it is.
A thorn in the side of worldly wisdom.

And like many such passages,
at some point,
it challenged me.
It spoke to me.