Moral Imagination

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about the Holy Spirit. We started with John 3:8, the Spirit blows where she will—and compared our lives to a kite, where we must be tethered to the ground, but not too tightly tethered, because we have to be able to be picked up by the Spirit. And then we considered the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control, and asked the Spirit to come into our lives, to help us manifest these gifts.

Go fly a kite.

So I tried to draw a picture of the Spirit in our lives tried to answer what it looks like when the Spirit is at work in our lives. And now, I want to talk about how the Spirit gets in and does her job.

Our text today is found in 2nd Corinthians 4 and 5—and I chose this passage because it shows so well the existential crisis of our kites—that our life is lived as contradiction. As Paul says, “we have this treasure in clay jars.” Clay jars are so fragile, no one would pack their treasures in them. Paul says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” And we know that this is all AFTER the Spirit enters.

This sermon is called moral imagination, because that’s what we need in order to survive this paradox called life. Moral imagination can be defined like this: the ability to envision ways to be both moral and successful.

Moral imagination starts with understanding ourselves. Some of you might be familiar with Mary Pipher—she wrote Reviving Ophelia several years ago—and has recently come out with a new book called Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. She says, “Our lives are changing constantly in significant ways and knowing where we are…means having a strong sense of ourselves and our own needs in shifting situations.”

How do we understand ourselves? It starts with taking stock of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go. It means assessing our resources. It means EVEN looking at the things that are messy, those things we are not proud of.

If we do it just right, we’ll be less constrained by those rules and regulations in our heads, and we may just discover ourselves “to be bigger people than we had imagined.”

The next step in finding our moral imagination, finding our life in God, rocking our kite, is making intentional choices. Just this morning, I’ve made 100s of decisions. I decided to actually wake up when the alarm went off. I decided NOT to go to a yoga class. I decided to put bananas, spinach, and mango in my smoothie. I decided NOT to put yogurt in. I decided NOT to call in sick. That was all before 7:00 am. Some folks say we make 35,000 decisions each day?

Many of those are unconscious, but part of the goal is to make them conscious, to be intentional in those decisions.

Can we take some time to be more reflective? Can we make choices more in line with our values than on our emergency needs? Can we, like Paul says, choose to walk by faith, rather than sight?

One of those choices is to build a good day. Again, Mary Pipher:

“Building a good day is about making good choices involving our emotions, thinking, and behavior. We can craft days with meaningful activities, satisfying routines, and time with friends and family, and acquire coping strategies that allow us to deal with stress. We can cultivate our sense of humor and, as we sense the fierce urgency of time, we can learn to see our own life in proportion to the whole of life in order feel grateful simply to be alive.”

Those choices extend to staying connected and useful. And imagine, two good days, or three, or 30…

It’s difficult, though. There is a lot of life that we cannot control.

But what we can control is how we approach our lives. Mary Pipher calls it “crafting resplendent narratives.” It means telling the story of your successes rather than your failures. It means taking those terrible things that have happened to us and re-writing the stories to talk of our resilience rather than our victimhood.

Mary Pipher says that “We could define wisdom as the capacity to skillfully select our narratives,” and when we do, “we experience our lives as filled with meaning. This is, she says, “how life becomes sacred.”

And how we become grateful. You won’t be surprised when I remind you how being grateful changes the flow of your life. In her book Grateful, Diana Butler Bass says, “Emotions are random things. Love, sadness, joy, fear. Very few are predictable, and most move like winds through our lives. They depend on what we have eaten or how long we have slept, long-term problems and immediate circumstances.” Emotions are random—even gratitude, as an emotion… But gratitude as a practice is different.

When we practice gratitude we find ourselves, well… we find ourselves.

In a conversation with Tad Gulley this week, he reminded me that the people of Bhutan are the happiest in the world, and that they believe they are happiest because they contemplate death regularly—5 times a day, in fact. Tad told me about an app called We Croak that remind its users to think about the fact that we are going to die… We don’t know when and how, but each moment should be used to prepare.

I downloaded the app, and one of the first quotes I received was from Zadie Smith, “The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful… and decide what you want and need and must do.”

It is not just our lives that need this deep meaning. It is also our church. We must understand ourselves, make intentional choices, create good days, foster community, tell resplendent stories, and practice gratitude. This is the same way that organizations make meaning.

The practice of these things, well, they are the practices required for moral imagination. And our future is dependent on us practicing these things together to build the future.

As of yesterday morning, this is where the sermon stopped.

But the rest came from our ministerial candidate at his ordination council yesterday.

You know, our candidate is a good example of how this Spirit works. He grew up in a church where each Sunday’s sermon was on the evils of abortion and homosexuality. And, as you may know, he is gay.

When he finally came to terms with it, it shattered his faith. But bit by bit, he has rebuilt his shattered faith, has taken his experiences of a fundamentalist church who preached hate, and is becoming a minister of God in a church, in a city, in a county, a preacher who preaches love, justice and compassion.

But it wasn’t magic. It was the Spirit and a lot of work. Work like therapy, where he learned to tell a different story about his life. Work like building community, building his own framily, friends made family. Work like making conscious decisions about where to put his energy and love.

That’s the Spirit.

Dear church, two weeks ago, you decided you wanted to follow where the Spirit leads. Last week, you invited her in. This week, will you start the work of moral imagination?