Not Knowing Left from Right

I remember when we lived in downtown Los Angeles, Jai and I were the dorm parents at what had been a boarding house, Dorcas House, next to the church.  College-age women who were interns at the summer program and for our tutorial programs we sponsored during the school year lived there.  The guys lived in the apartment on the second floor above the church.  It was even worse shambles than Dorcas House.

We really had no experience at this, but we were a “mature, older couple” who would make sure these girls were safe and sober.  It was an eye-opening experience.  As I say, there are no failures, only learning experiences.

We assigned teams responsible for keeping the common areas downstairs picked up and sharing in preparing evening meals.

There was one woman who didn’t even know how to make Jell-O.  As I had been cooking for my college roommate and myself, and then for Jai and I, I could not comprehend the ineptitude of these people when it came to the kitchen. 

Some of our housemates did not know a spoon from a spatula, didn’t not know their right hand from their left in the kitchen.  Interpersonal dynamics were often as chaotic as egos rubbed up against one another.

And cat poop all about, from several of the girls’ cats.  Did I mention that?  And the plaster of Paris clogged drain in the kitchen because, that seemed the best place to put the leftover remains of an art project?  Must have been a good idea at the time.

We now have an entire nation that is about as clueless as those young people in the Dorcas House kitchen.  And as clueless as Jai and I had been at being house parents.

We’re like that great city of Nineveh to which Jonah was sent – a large urban population of some hundred twenty thousand souls, a hapless people that “doesn’t know their left hand from their right.”

Nineveh has nothing on us for shambles.  We in America these days would give them a run for their money when it comes to folly.  This is the most divided we have been since the Civil War.  The legacy of grift at the highest levels staggers the conscience.  Incompetence is mind-boggling.  We’re a clueless people, not knowing our left hand from our right.  Wandering in a great darkness of the BIG LIE.

Incompetence of Alex Azar, former Health and Human Services secretary is criminal.  He and those placed in charge of the worst health crisis in over a century are a failure at every level.  They have over 400,000 dead Americans on their hands to prove it.  This need not have been.   Is that staggering death toll enough proof of ineptitude for America?  Tell me, Alex, tell me, Donald – how is 400,000 dead a great success?  By what measure?

As we begin the inauguration of a new administration, the FBI must now vet national guard and police forces, because their commanders cannot guarantee at whom they will be pointing their guns.  How many QAnon crazies have infiltrated the ranks?  How many white supremacists?  One National Guard sniper commented that it was a sad, sad day when he had to worry whom to be scanning as a potential target – someone inside or someone outside the security perimeter. 

How was it that the FBI was able to quickly round up so many insurrectionists who trashed our capitol?  Easy!  They all took selfies and posted them on Facebook.  The cops have the videos.  They left a trail of breadcrumbs all over the internet. Guys, was that with your left hand or with your right?  Not your best thinking.

We’re a nation that doesn’t know its left hand from its right hand.  And we’re dying as a result.   Every bit like those clueless and disolute Ninevites.

Seeing the chaos of those insurrectionists surging through the halls of Congress and prowling about the Senate chamber – is it any wonder my mind took a road trip down memory lane to Dorcas House at that little downtown church in Los Angeles some fifty years ago? 

We’re presently dying like flies in the midst of the worst pandemic in a lifetime, and half of us refuse to wear masks or social distance.  It’s all a Democratic hoax, they proclaim.  We attend Superspreader events in large crowds and then wonder how it happened that grandma’s stone-cold dead two weeks later.

Now, I ask you.  Is it any wonder that Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh?   Nineveh?   Seriously, Lord???

This would not have been on anybody’s top-ten pulpit list.  It’s like what one friend early on asked me soon after I had arrived out in the desert for my first church appointment, “Forney, what did you do to the bishop to get sent out here?”  When I told him that I had actually requested the desert, he probably thought I was as hopeless as those Ninevites.  Not a good career move.

Little did Simon and Andrew know what they were getting into when they left their nets to join up with this itinerant preacher beckoning from the shore.  James and John, never would their days be the same.  And you and I? 

All we can say that, in some inchoate and mysterious way we answered, “Yes.”, This is what we enlisted for when we affirmed that call to join the Jesus Movement, s call from darkness to light, from falsehood to truth, from bondage to freedom, from death to life.  Maybe not the best career move in the eyes of the world.  Yet,this is our call each and every morning when we awake — given afresh with the rising sun and a cup of java.

This is a journey that none of us takes alone, but in the company of others who challenge and encourage us.  It’s in and through this glorious company of the saints of God.

As we move forward as a nation under the leadership of a new president, the call to each of us is similar. 

President Biden has received bipartisan support from our former presidents (well, almost all of them).  He will need our support and prayers.

Upon President Biden’s address, Bill Clinton said that “everybody needs to get off their high horse and reach out to their friends and neighbors” to try and make unity possible. “You have spoken for us today,” he continued. “Now, you will lead for us. And we’re ready to march with you.”

Obama told Biden that he’s proud of his former vice president. “You and Kamala need to know that you’ve got all of us here rooting for your success, keeping you in our prayers,” he said, with Bush and Clinton in agreement. “And we will be available in any ways we can as citizens to help you guide our country forward. We wish you Godspeed.”

Martin Luther King framed the challenge somewhat differently in his last book.  The choice before us is either CHAOS or COMMUNITY.

Will we choose the chaos of climate catastrophic or will we recognize global warming as a problem on our doorstep confronting all of us?  Will we choose LIGHT from the lamp of knowledge or will we retreat into infantilism, crying FAKE NEWS, FAKE NEWS. 

Little time is left.  When those climate tipping points come, they will be sudden and cataclysmic.  A mass methane release from that which is frozen at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and under the northern tundra, will put us on an irreversible path to melting all the planet’s land ice.  Does a sea rise in relatively short order of around 90 feet sound cataclysmic enough?  It would be enough to impact eighty percent of the world’s population that lives within 200 miles of the ocean.

Choose the LIGHT from the lamp of science.  This is not fake news.  Even if you didn’t hear it on Fox or didn’t read it on Facebook or in a tweet.  Our call to discipleship is to TRUTH.  It is to heed the urgent warning.  Rejoin the Paris Accords.  Push for tough public policy equal to the threat.   Our call is to be the biggest, loudest pests our representatives in Congress have ever encountered.  Join Citizens’ Climate Lobby – the most effective group addressing global warming with a tax on carbon.  Before you poo-poo this, do your own research.  Check them out. Whether you join or not, this is your call to follow. Or choose Bill McKibben’s  God is calling you to be part of the solution.

Our call to discipleship is to put aside egos and find places where we can cooperate to rebuild our economy.  Push for economic policies bold enough to address the pain of those who are now entering their eighth month, their twelfth month without a pay check.  It is to fight for them with the same fierce urgency as if we were the ones to discover an eviction notice stapled to OUR front door. That is Jesus’ summons to us today.  He’s calling to make common cause even with those with whom we disagree to get something done.  To find ways to be bold together.  It is the call to make trouble.  Good trouble.  Necessary trouble.  This is our call from darkness to LIGHT, from falsehood to TRUTH, from chaos to COMMUNITY, from death to LIFE.  Choose LIFE that you and your grandchildren may enjoy the fruits of this wonderful life.

This call to follow is discerned in the pain of those who have lost dear friends and family in COVID-19.  Our call is to remember.  Remember and mourn those whom we’ve lost.  Then recommit yourself do all you can to stem this tide of this pandemic.  If your neighbor’s not taking it seriously, your call to discipleship is to be a complete pain in the behind.  Get in their face.  It is to insist on competency and equity in rolling out vaccines to the most seriously impacted communities.  It’s not about you.  It’s about us. 

No privatized theology of “me and Jesus in the bushes.”  You don’t “Come to the Garden Alone.”  You come to a feast ladened table prepared for ALL of us.  A table sagging under gospel bounty.  A privatized spirituality is a perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Our call is about developing the spiritual resources to sustain the Beloved Community, and to reflect the face of Christ in our midst.  Passing the Peace is more than catching up on the latest gossip, though that too.  It’s the sacramental expression that we belong to one another.  The same for our call as American citizens.  I cannot be who I am meant to be unless you are fully who you are meant to be – the theology of Ubuntu.

Look about.  The pain you see may be your only call to follow – the only call you are going to get from Our Lord. The pain of the world is your summons.  That call is as clear as that clarion call those fishermen heard over two thousand years ago.  As clear as the nose on your face.  Those who have ears to hear, LET THEM HEAR.

And in that call to heart and mind, to conscience and date book and checkbook  – in that call is ETERNAL LIFE.  Whether you are Jew or Gentile, Buddhist or Muslin, Christian or None-of-the-Above – in your answer to that summons is BLESSING and ABUNDANCE — the only life worth living.

The choice is yours – are you part of the problem or part of the solution, part of God’s redeeming work, or part of the world’s distraction?  Part of chaos or community? 

Set before each of us in these days of peril is an open door to God’s abundance.  Choose LIFE over that which numbs and kills the soul.  Choose LIGHT over the dark and despicable.  Choose TRUTH over the convenient lie.  Choose FREEDOM over bondage to that which is of no consequence. 

Enter into that Glorious Company of the Faithful — that Glorious Company of Apostles and Martyrs, seen and unseen, who surround us every Sunday with their witness and prayers as we gather in Christ’s name.  Those who run with us. Gracious Lord, may your Church ever sit at the Right Hand of all that is Holy, all that is Beauty, all that is Compassion, of all that is Justice. (with apologies to the lefties out there).  Amen.

January 24, 2021, Epiphany 3

“Not Knowing Left from Right”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31;
Mark 1:14-20

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