If I Had A Hammer
by Peter J. Luton, minister, East Shore Unitarian Church, Bellevue, Washington
Much of ministry
The words of UU minister Susan Manker-Seale remind us that our churches and our ministries to one another are about raising up what is good and right and beautiful. About nurturing what is healthy, rather than dwelling on what is diseased. We affirm that promoting good truly does combat evil, and that praising what is right produces more and sweeter fruit than damning what is wrong. And so we need to be optimistic. We can be realistic, but hope must always be part of what we're about as a religious community. Hope for healthy spirits and communities, hope for happiness and a world made more peaceful through our loving, compassionate, justice-building hands. And so, in my efforts to encourage speaking well, I have often praised the Quaker saying about "going for the God in the other person, rather than shooting at the devil." As Unitarian Universalists, many of us strive to begin our engagement with the world by honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Both are commitments to speaking well of life.
But sometimes…sometimes I just wish I could be blunt, brutally honest, even, dare I say it, to speak with no sweet regard for how someone might be taking my words. A while back I was feeling niggled on, nibbled at, picked upon and pecked apart by a thousand details, trifles, petty complaints, irritations, and fussy-butts demanding not only my attention but my sincere recognition of the importance and significance to them of each piddling thing. I found myself imagining myself alternately laughing and yelling at each person as he or she dumped another piece of twaddle at my feet. I could almost hear my voice saying: "Oh, grow up!" and "You expect me to care?" and "Go away! Leave me alone." Not very ministerial, I have to admit, but then I remembered that Jesus, after all, told the physicians to heal themselves. And he walked away from the crowds when they got too demanding—walked across water, as I recall. And he regularly yelled at hypocrites for honoring the letter but not the spirit of faith.
Haven't you ever felt sick and tired of suffering fools graciously? Haven't you just wanted to whack them upside the head and say, "Shut up, you superfluous waste of space!"? Or am I alone it that little fantasy?
We don't have time for nit-picking; we have too many other important things to do. We have wounded people to comfort and heal. We have children to raise in the ways of peace and love and truth and beauty. We have justice and equity in the wider community to establish. We have the liberating gospel of liberal religion to share. We have laughter to voice and joy to express and gratitude to offer. We have life to live.
So I've been thinking about what I would do and say if I were really able to speak my mind and impose my will. I've been pondering what it would be like if I had a really big hammer—if I were just able to take the blunt instrument approach to solving all problems. I've toyed with the idea of accepting the appointment to sit on the throne, to be King or (dare I dream it?) God. And if I had the authority and power and didn't need to be nice and didn't care what people thought about me, and didn't worry about losing my job or my family, then perhaps this is what I'd do.
First, I'd fix something that has seemed to me a fundamental flaw in the universe since third grade. It involves the times tables. I think that 6 X 0 ought to equal 6, not 0. If you have six and you increase it zero times, you still have six. I think if we cleared that up, a lot of things would be different around here. It may seem trivial to you, but it's important to me, and if I were in charge, it would be important to you, too.
Second, I'd address a problem in our own Unitarian Universalist house. If I could, I'd tell the humanists and the theists to stop bickering. I would tell people to get over the old theological debates about supernaturalism, God, the limits of reason, the knowability of the truth. I would make Unitarian Universalists respect and appreciate the variety of religious experiences and ways of knowing that abound in the world and in our own faith tradition. We have too many other important things to be doing to waste our energies nit-picking one another to distraction over issues about which absolute certainty or infallible truth cannot be known.
If I were King, I'd declare—as did King John Sigismund of Transylvania, our one and only Unitarian King—that religious freedom is the law of the land and that no one can coerce or condemn another person for what he or she believes. And I'd go it a step further; I would require that people not only tolerate, but also wholeheartedly rejoice in each other's spiritual paths.
If I were God, I'd let myself get worked up. I'd get worked up by people's stupidity and selfishness and narrow-mindedness. I think it is our inability or unwillingness to grow our minds and hearts and souls that is the root of all evil in the world. I think psychiatrist and author Scott Peck was right when he said laziness is the real original sin. Spiritual, moral laziness and the choice not to engage with ideas and people and ways of being in the world that challenge our all too often all too narrow perceptions and prejudices. Spiritual and moral laziness and the choice to not grow, but to remain safe and comfortable, encased in our cocoons. I think prosperity and privilege breed laziness. I think Americans are very prosperous and privileged. We can be very lazy. We believe we've already got the answers and created paradise on earth. Our narrowness fosters intolerance.
Intolerance is something that I wouldn't put up with if I were in charge. Intolerance in our world, in our nation, in our state, in our community, in our churches, all of it is an abomination in my sight. Intolerance is born of ignorance parading as truth. Intolerance feeds much that is wrong in our world. It feeds racial, ethnic and religious oppression, war and discrimination. Intolerance justifies dehumanizing people who are or appear to be or might be different. It gives sanction to hate and to not caring what happens to other people because they are somehow inferior, other than, beyond the pale, outside the acceptable norms of civilized society.
If I were God, I would show favorites. I would give favors and treats to people with a sense of humor, especially those who can laugh at themselves, and to people who like babies and animals and thunderstorms, because they are afraid of nothing. I'd have a special place in my heart for people who try hard, people who take responsibility and don't complain and whine.
Whiners would not fare well in my creation. If I were in charge of things, it would be a serious crime to say "Yes…but.…" We have been given such fertile and creative minds and sets of emotional and intellectual and spiritual resources that it is just galling to me when we let ourselves be stuck and unable to envision ways beyond our current predicaments. "Yes-butters" refuse to help themselves, and they refuse to make it possible for others to help them. Yes, I know I'm supposed to be more sympathetic, and I assure you that in real life I am, but when I'm functioning as the Supreme Deity—whack, down comes the hammer.
If I were in charge, I would not be a helpless and powerless whiner. I would give us glimpses of the way the world can yet be: I would expose us to things like puppies and babies and music and really good chocolate. I'd send us dreams and visions and tantalizing whiffs of how we might be with one another in peace and fellowship, as when we fall in love or are helped by a stranger or help a stranger ourselves. I'd sprinkle the land with flowers and stark beauty like desert sunrises and sunsets that inspire and soothe the weary soul. I'd give us the opportunity to feel awe and appreciation at the simple fact of being alive. I'd flash beauty before our eyes, and float sugar over our tongues, and send laughter to our diaphragms. In these ways I'd seduce us toward our higher and better selves, our more loving and less selfish selves.
I would also create little ways to embarrass us when we are petty and pitiful so that we remember not to be whiners and irresponsible "yes-butters." I'd make sure others are watching when we walk into lampposts. Our zippers would go south at inopportune times.
I would give people the opportunity to see with another person's eyes, hear with their ears, think with their minds, love with their bodies, so that we would know in every way that we can know how we are intimately and inextricably woven together into a single cloth, a common destiny.
And then I would take my hammer, and tap away at hardheartedness, chipping at the stones in our hearts and the planks on our eyes and the dull cement in our heads. I'd hammer at us as if our hearts and minds and souls were embossed copper until all the rough places were smooth—not flat, but smooth. And I'd tap on our consciousness and our consciences till we chime and resonate with creation, so that we'd never fall asleep to the blessings and responsibilities that come with being free moral agents in the world. And then I'd get a really swell rhythm going, a toe-tapping rhythm so that it would be impossible for people not to sing. And our song would harmonize with the music of the spheres and the hum of the universe, but it would also contain counterpoint and even some dissonance, like the dawn chorus of the birds and the improvisational jazz on Public Radio, so that each voice is uniquely heard and dissonance is not cacophony, but a higher symphony.
If I had the hammer of God, I might even do just what the song says, and hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over the world. If you ask me, God could do worse.