The Gospel According to Carole King: "Beautiful"

Our Director of Music, Melissa Heieie, performed Carole King's "Beautiful" in our Gathering today. Amazing.  Seriously, amazing. Unfortunately, our recording equipment was still hung over from the New Year celebration.  

Here is a recording of "Beautiful" by Carole King herself.  Take a couple of minutes to listen to it as you are reading through the sermon.

I.

This church exists to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals and groups, locally and as far as we can reach across the globe. When we talk about a positive difference we have in mind something tangible. We are not out to win ideological debates. We are not trying to expand our particular theological tribe, though we hope that all may know God is love/Love.

 
I cannot do much of anything to help others unless I see myself as a worthwhile instrument, a worthy catalyst.  If I see myself as value-less then I'm not going to believe I have anything or much of anything to offer anybody else.   


The Jesus Movement has inspired untold numbers of charitable, benevolent acts--which is precisely what Jesus was about.  We have to wonder how many more such acts might have been inspired had there not evolved a segment in the Jesus Movement early on that concentrated on teaching people self-loathing. This little group became lots of groups, unfortunately, all of which were preoccupied with trying to emphasize the alarming degree to which human beings, especially themselves, fall short of their potential morally and spiritually; thus came the enduring image of unworthy sinners of no value to themselves or society but amazingly loved by God nonetheless. And hordes of people through the ages bought into the kind of thinking that left them seeing themselves in just this way.

 
If you happen to wonder who is to blame for having started this kind of destructive thought process we would have to trace it to none other than the Apostle Paul who had latched onto a stream of human degradation in the prophecy of Third Isaiah.  As Third Isaiah saw it, 


We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on God’s name, or attempts to take hold of God; for God has hidden God’s face from us, and delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Thanks for that memorable assessment of us, Mr. Prophet, Sir!  


Paul was a self-loathing person in many respects. He somehow, though, managed to rise above his self-loathing enough to give of himself to others and even polish a little self-aggrandizement from time to time. To be able to love others when we hate ourselves is quite rare, I think.  Paul included images in his teachings that left people who didn't happen to have his personality unable to rise above the forever-blemished self-image that plenty of his comments caused.  In a letter to his friend and protege, Timothy, Paul wrote:  


This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus the Anointed One came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Poor guy.  He wrote this about himself to the Church in Rome:


For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker, the Unitarian Universalist theologian who was a part of the “Living the Questions” program that many of us here were involved in a few years ago, said what I think a wounded Apostle Paul would never have been able to say:


...all the dimensions of our being carry the potential to do good. We celebrate the gifts of being human: our intelligence and capacity for observation and reason, our senses and ability to appreciate beauty, our creativity, our feelings and emotions. We cherish our bodies as well as our souls. We can use our gifts to offer love, to work for justice, to heal injury, to create pleasure for ourselves and others….We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of each person as a given of faith—an unshakable conviction calling us to self-respect and respect for others.


Whose thoughts do you want to carry home with you?  Paul’s or Rebecca Parker’s?  I would say with great confidence that a small group of people who love themselves and who are trying to make a positive difference in the world of necessity can accomplish more than a whole army of people who have been taught to believe that they aren’t worth very much.

Carole King:

You've got to get up every morning
With a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You're gonna find, yes you will
That you're beautiful, as you feel


(Carole King, “Beautiful”)

 

 

II.

Waiting at the station with a workday wind a-blowing
I've got nothing to do but watch the passers-by
Mirrored in their faces I see frustration growing...


(Carole King, “Beautiful”)
  

I was glancing through some news headlines recently.

 

  • “Some of our biggest frustrations in life from work environment.”  (People who work for churches excepted, of course.)
  • “Frustrations with US airlines soaring”  
  • “British Prime Minister fighting to fix EU frustration in 2016”
  • “Trash Talk Can Lead to Frustration, Aggression in Sports”
  • “Frustration may be children's most significant obstacle to achieving goals”

I found this while surfing the web trapped in zero movement traffic near DC recently:  “Baltimore-DC Traffic Frustration Blog.”  I have to say that realizing there were so many ongoing disgruntlements with that traffic frustrated me more than I already was!

Unchecked frustration can lead to dire consequences for the frustrator and the frustratee.  Someone can become so frustrated especially over repeating aggravations that she or he can have a breakdown or a stroke.  And many of the tragic shooting incidents in our country have been carried out by someone who is frustrated seeking a way to express anger over the frustration.  If the target can be the actual source, fine; but, if not, any unsuspecting person or group will do.  

On New Year’s Day I sat with my older son at a trendy brunch spot in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, which put us a very short distance from the epicenter of the Freddie Gray riots. The recent hung jury in the trial attempting to achieve justice in dealing with the first of six police persons accused of involvement in the torturous death of Freddie Gray has only stirred up more anger and not just from African Americans by any means.  

Jarrett said, "Dad, people, lots of people, around here are really frustrated.  It's becoming undeniable that many police persons, not all, but many including some African American police persons treat poor African American people taken into custody in just these abusive ways all the time.”

If we’re going to make a difference in our world, we can begin right under our noses and stand up to injustice--starting with the smallest of injustices because when the smaller ones slide, the larger ones become all the more difficult to challenge.  Being denied justice leads to significant frustration by individuals and groups.  The world cannot be well while segments of the human family are denied justice.

I have often asked myself the reason for sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby

(Carole King, “Beautiful”)    

If we would make a difference in the world, we will also have to attend lovingly to those around us who are sad.  Basic human needs must be met first; then justice must be guaranteed to the greatest extent possible.  By that I mean, for example, that Jesus lived in a milieu in which Rome called the shots for the oppressed people over whom they ruled. Not every totalitarian situation allows for wiggle room, but in Jesus’ situation it did.  Given the opportunities for the Jews permitted by the Romans, justice had to prevail for the Jews in those matters over which they did have control. 

A major part of healing the world, though, is through compassion shown to those who hurt.  After basic needs are met to the greatest extent possible, an immigrant has still lost a home and a homeland; she or he has feelings about that.  I cannot make those feelings go away, but I can perhaps ease the load by letting the immigrant know that her or his sadness matters to me.

More locally, let me praise again those of you who make it a part of your concern for other members of our spirituality community here to write notes of concern and support when they are hurting. Most recently I and my family in Tennessee have been the recipients of your care as there has been much sadness related to my Mom’s suffering and what caused it at two separate nursing care facilities. Thank you.

Generally, we can’t do anything to fix the big situations or circumstances that bring people pain--a death or some other major loss, an illness, a crumbling relationship, a rebellious or distant and uncaring child, and so on.  But we can offer expressions of concern, and those go a long, long way to bring some light into the darkness.  You know this to be true if you’ve ever gone through circumstances that made you sad.
    

The world can definitely be a better place if sadness is minimized.  If I stand with you in your darkest hours, all darkness will not dissipate, but your load hopefully will be lightened.  The Apostle Paul, at a better place than when I last referred to him, asked a sobering, two-pronged question of the Christians in Corinth:  “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?”

 

III.    

I was on the train a lot just before and on New Year’s Day.  The warnings about reporting anything as much as a tiny bit suspicious were incessant and presented through every medium available in Amtrak stations.  The summary of the warnings was this statement:  “We are all in this together...LITERALLY.”


You’ve got to get up in the morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart

(Carole King, “Beautiful”)
    

Richelle Goodrich pulls it all together in a stirring, memorable way:

One smile has the power to
Calm fears...
Warm a cold heart.
Invite a new friend...
Lighten heavy loads.
Promote good deeds.
Brighten a gloomy day.
Comfort a grieving spirit.
Offer hope to the forlorn...
Lift the downtrodden soul.
Patch up invisible wounds.
Weaken the hold of misery.
Act as medicine for suffering...
Fulfill the human need for recognition.
Who knew changing the world would prove so simple? 
    

Carole King again:


If there's any answer, maybe love can end the madness
Maybe not, oh, but we can only try


(Carole King, “Beautiful”)
    

How can any one of us show love to the greatest number of people?  

  • If you’re Donald Trump, you can drop out of politics, promise not to write a memoir, and then move to a deserted island.
  • If you’re the Lululemon Company, you can give up once and for all on see-through yoga-wear.  (Thank you in advance for not asking me how I found out about see-through yoga-wear!!!)
  • If you’re ISIS, you can read the WHOLE Qu’ran.
  • If you’re a Christian or a follower of Jesus otherwise, you can actually acquaint yourself with the teachings of that wonderful Jewish guy, Jesus.

Some duos simply go together. We simply cannot imagine one without the other. In fact something is unsettling if we encounter one without the other.  A Cagney without a Lacey?  A Penn without a Teller?  A Laverne without a Shirley?  A Mutt without a Jeff?  A Felix without an Oscar?  A Will without a Grace?  An Oprah without a Gayle?  A Myers without a Briggs?   By the way, Briggs was the daughter of Myers, and they created the famous or infamous Myers-Briggs Personality Test for one reason; that was to help the world by getting people to understand and appreciate each other.

When I encourage anybody who claims to have any kind of an affiliation with Jesus to be sure that she or he actually understands the teachings of Jesus, I recommend beginning with not a full reading of all four Gospels in Christian scripture, which would only take a few hours if one were to undertake it. But I recommend starting with a summary of Jesus' teachings, meditating on those for a good chunk of time and then pressing on to expand one's awareness.

I know of no better place to go for a summary of Jesus' teaching than to an incident reported in the oldest Gospel we have--namely the Gospel of Mark--where a scribe shows up without a Pharisee to hear Jesus teach.  A scribe without a Pharisee or a Pharisee without a scribe was virtually unheard of, virtually unimaginable, but here one was. And as he listened to the number of people asking Jesus questions about this ancient Jewish law and that ancient Jewish law and so forth.  A scribe who specialized in knowing those ancient laws and understanding them and prescribing ways for observing those laws apparently became fatigued with the whole exercise and asked Jesus for a priority list. 

"Okay," he said to Jesus, "so maybe not everybody is able to take in all laws at once.  Where would one start?  Can you give us a prioritized list, sir?"

Jesus surprised the scribe, I suspect, by saying, "Not only can I give you a priority list, but also I can give you a summary of the innumerable ancient laws in two admonitions."  

“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Amen.

Silverside ChurchComment