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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

The Grace of Not Taking Ourselves Too Seriously
July 5, 2018

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” So we are serenaded in the classic 1935 musical, “Porgy and Bess.” Ask drivers caught in holiday-fueled traffic jams this week what they’re feeling, and you may be more likely to hear something like James Taylor’s “Traffic Jam.” The ability to let go of a harried sense of urgency, in most cases, is an important marker of living well.

Another way to put it is that an increasing ability to take oneself less seriously is an indicator of spiritual growth. In theological terms, my ability to affirm God as the center is directly related to my readiness to acknowledge that I am not the center. Centering our world on ourselves is a cardinal mark of childishness. It is the essence of what Paul identifies as the antithesis of love when he says, “When I became an adult I put an end to childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

This week Tammy and I get to experience the joy of three grand celebrations. First, we celebrate Canada Day on July 1, this year marking the 151st anniversary of our “home and native land.” Then we join in the festivities of our adopted country on July 4 as it marks its 242nd year of independence. While much more unites our two countries than divides them (recent tariff wars notwithstanding), there is some truth to the old joke about American revolutionary hero Patrick Henry, famed for his slogan, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Were he Canadian (goes the joke), he probably would have said, “Give me liberty; but if that doesn’t work out, that’s OK too.”

Our third big celebration this week is our wedding anniversary on July 6. We picked the date so close to Independence Day only because it made it easier for people to travel to our wedding; we have since discovered that it is nice to have a national holiday built in to our anniversary festivities! While our countries’ birthdays are important milestones, the celebration of our marriage holds far greater immediate significance for us. One of the lessons we have been learning in our marriage, and will continue to learn for a lifetime, is the grace of being more attentive to each other and less focused on ourselves. Not taking ourselves too seriously is the way of wisdom and maturity, and instrumental to a life well-lived.

This week I opened my mail to see the current issue’s theme splashed across the cover of one of my favorite magazines, The Presbyterian Outlook: “Preisthood of All Believers.” Editor Jill Duffield apologized profusely by email for the egregious typo, noting that the production team had been especially harried to get this issue to press before they all went to General Assembly last month. Actually, she said she “appallogized.” Bless her for not taking herself too seriously!

Recently Tammy and I worshiped in a congregation that published in its bulletin a plea for more room for the local “Food Panty.” We had a good chuckle, and I recalled some of my own history publishing worship bulletin typos. One of my all-time favorites was when I inadvertently dropped the first letter in the standard liturgy heading that we published in each Sunday’s bulletin, “Presenting our Tithes and Offerings.” (Let’s be honest – sometimes we do “resent” them!) At least I didn’t pass into the bulletin the typo published on the cover of the choral anthem octavo we sang one Sunday, “Immoral, Invisible.”

I have noticed that many of those who are most upset over the government, or society, or their church, laugh little. I have learned that those who easily laugh at themselves tend to be far more trustworthy than those who do not. The ability to laugh at life begins with our readiness to laugh at ourselves.

Of course, we make mistakes; but God doesn’t give up on us over them, any more than God gave up on King David over mistakes far more egregious than most of us will ever make. Paul declares that in Christ, God is unwilling to count our trespasses against us. (2 Corinthians 5:19) How much less do we have any need or right to count our offenses against each other, or even against ourselves!

And so, over this holiday season, I invite us to practice the ancient healing art of laughter. Not at others, but at ourselves. Not in derision, but in delight. One of the slogans I remember from my earliest childhood goes, “The family that prays together stays together.” I’d like to suggest a corollary: The family that laughs together grows together.

Yours in holy laughter,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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