Our GPS (Godly Positioning System)

Apr. 26, 2015

Acts 4.5-12; 1 Jn. 3.16-24; Jn. 10.11-18

The 23rd Psalm reminds us that the Lord is our shepherd...and that he leads us beside the still waters...and that he guides us along right pathways. It's almost like God gives us a guidance system, kind of a "GPS"...but not a global positioning system, rather a "Godly Pointing Structure". It gives us a sense of where we are in relationship to God and our world...and most of the time, I think, we know if we are lost or found. If we need directions, we can seek and find. But our GPS is frequently in the "Off" position. I hear people say things like, "Oh, I'm not religious, but I am spiritual." It's like saying the heart works even if the head doesn't. Like philosopher Blaise Pascal said, "The heart has its reasons which reason does not understand". How do we get our spiritual bearings? How do we find where we need to go? How does the Lord lead us to the still waters?

I heard an interesting story about Navy divers. Navy divers who do really deep dives can be in places that are so dark nothing can be seen, not even a hand in front of the face. In such circumstances...it's hard to feel the effects of gravity and a diver can become disoriented and not know literally which end is up. In such situations frequently people panic and wind up swimming further down rather than back to the surface. That's when divers are taught to put their hand next to their breathing apparatus and feel which way the bubbles are going...because the bubbles always rise to the surface. It's a method that can be trusted.

People have sought answers for the big questions in life by seeking advice from psychotherapists and guidance counselors and séances and religious leaders...but for many of us the questions are the same (you know, the big ones about life, and death, and love, and struggle, and faith, and hope, and fairness). Although the answers can vary substantially, when you hear one that sounds true, it's like finding the direction of the bubbles. You just know it's right. That's why I think our churches need join the conversation about what is true and engaging. But often we're not seen that way.

There's an apocryphal story about a bishop who came to Yale University to speak to some of the freshman class, and the bishop used the letters of the university Y-A-L-E as his outline. He talked for an hour on the "Y" of youthful sin; the "A" avarice, "L" lust, and the "E" envy, it was so boring some wanted to slip into a coma, others just slipped out the back, but one young man was literally prostrate in prayer. The bishop went up and asked him, "Please tell me what I said that moved you so deeply?" The student said, "Bishop, I was just thanking God that I went to Y-A-L-E and not to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology." Sometimes that's the way the church sounds...long-winded, obtuse, and regressive--not consensus building or inspiring.

Many people see the relevance and importance of the spiritual questions, but think that religion has lost its spiritual power. So that today, holy men and women are as likely to be writers, artists, or courageous political leaders as to be persons of the cloth. It works the other direction too. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began to speak out against the war in Viet Nam...many people asked, "He's the voice of racial equality, what does he know about war and peace?" But, you see, that's the point; the Good Shepherd leads us into even strange and foreboding places...if that's where the Lord wants us to be for "His Name's sake". But when religion is only there to bolster the status quo, when religion is only there to comfort and not to challenge us, and when religion turns a blind eye to inequality and injustice...then we're only in the dark with everyone else, without a direction or even a desire for the truth about the larger questions. Our actions need to be informed by our spiritual awareness. George Washington at the formation of our country said that both reason and experience show that we cannot act morally without spiritual principles undergirding our choices.1

Many today are concerned about the rancorous divisiveness that afflicts our common life, and the inequality, and the great changes that are afoot in our country. For example, the number of people who participate in our public life has gone down incredibly: there are ¼ fewer people who vote today than a generation ago, there's almost a 50% drop in the number people who belong to any kind social organization, the United Way reports that contributions are down by 50% since the mid-1960's, today only half as many people entertain others in their homes compared to 1975, and about 70% fewer families say they even share a meal together as a family.2 These are all indicative of the great shadow over our common life. Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton recently published an article about Muncie, Indiana in the National Journal entitled, "In Nothing We Trust". Muncie for many years has been typical of America as a whole. And in Muncie... and all across America there's been a growing mistrust in public institutions. In Muncie, only 23% said they trust the banks. Only 19% trust big business. Years ago, when Walter Cronkite said, "And that's the way it is" one felt they'd received the news, not propaganda. Dr. Laura Hansen, a sociology professor, said, "We've lost it--that basic sense of trust and confidence--in everything". Something's definitely missing.3

So, how do we get our spiritual bearings to move on from here? How will the Lord lead us to the still waters? I think it must begin with the heart's reasons--our GPS has got to be "on". It begins in the discovery of what we have in common--our humanity...our aspirations, hopes, and dreams. Then we have to facilitate the interpersonal bridges that allow the building of trust between people. And the trust must be based on common rules of fairness and morality. That's the direction of the bubbles for me. When we discover the common ground, build trust, and share common moral rules...we will find we are one flock with one shepherd...and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord together.


The Rev. WA Ray St Thomas Church Diamondhead, MS 04/26/15

Notes:

1Charles Murry, Coming Apart. NY: Crown Forum, p. 200

2Ibid, 241.

3 Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton, National Journal, April 19, 2012