Both Sides Now

Sermon given by Rev. Frank Clarkson, January 28, 2018

"Ours is no caravan of despair," we just sang. This is something I need to be reminded of! Isn't this something we church people ought to remember, that when we are together we should celebrate every now and then? I don’t know about you, but I can tend to be earnest, and serious, and so I appreciate and I need this reminder to laugh and to loosen up a bit. This earnestness is part of who I am, but it’s not all of me. 

And you are this way too, right? Not necessarily the serious part, but you have a face you present to the world, maybe it’s the dominant part of yourself, like being left-hand dominant or right-hand dominant; maybe you are an organizer; if you were a dog you’d be a border collie, and you can’t help but keep trying to herd people in the right direction. Or maybe you’re a singer or dancer, and you just want everyone to hear the music and join in the song or the dance the way that you do. Maybe you’re a quiet person, and you wish that others would see and understand the blessing that comes from just being, in silence. In silence…. Maybe you are an activist, and you find yourself most alive out in the streets, you want to say “Can we just stop talking and planning and processing so much, and do something for a change?” 

I wonder if you are aware of the face that you present to the world, at least most of the time? How would you name it? Anyone want to say that out loud? Is this your true self, or is it a mask? Maybe some of both?

I’m wearing this stole today, that was given to me by folks at a church I used to serve. It has all these beautiful colorful fish on it, and the person who made it did this because she knew that one part of me is that I am a fisherman: I love standing in moving water, waving a fly rod back and forth, hoping that a trout will rise. This love connects me to my grandfather and my dad, who taught me, and to people and places and stories and fish I’ve known. Especially this time of year, it connects me to dreams of summer and memories of wide open country with rivers running through it. 

But there’s a back side to this stole. There’s at least two sides to everything, right? Two sides to a story, at least. Two sides in a game, or an argument. Two sides to a border. Two sides of town, usually. Two sides of the aisle in our government. There are many sides to each of us; different identities, different roles we play. 

The back side of this stole, you probably can’t see it from where you are, but it’s pirate fabric—the kind you might find in a child’s room, if they are in to pirates and sailing ships and daggers and buried treasure. The choice of this fabric is no accident. It represents a different side of myself, something you may not know about me! I don’t show it often, and I didn’t even know it, really, until a few years ago. I was serving that church, and was asked if I would play a part in a variety show, as a pirate. So I did. I had good help with hair and makeup, wore a black wig, had more of a beard than I could ever grow, looked kind of ruggedly handsome, if I do say so myself! And I had such a good time, pretending to be a pirate!

A couple of days later, a church member came up to me and said, “It must have been really hard for you to play that part.” Was she was saying was it seemed so out of character, or so un-ministerial? I wanted to say to her, “Are you kidding? I loved letting the pirate side of me come out and play for a change!”

It was not only fun, it felt good to be less politic and polite, to be bolder and brasher than I usually am, to let my inner swashbuckler come out and play. I hope you know, I do have boundaries, and I won’t be showing up here as a pirate. Nor is this something I do in secret in my spare time. But it reminds me, and I hope it reminds you, of the invitation we have to live more fully into our whole selves. To let the hidden parts of ourselves come out and play too!

There are other sides to each of us, sides we tend to not show the world. Maybe parts of yourself that you were told were less than beautiful, that you really didn’t need to show. But come on! Life is too short and our world is too in need of all of you—all of you—for you to hold back who you are. We need you! Both side, all sides now! And we need you to bring as much of your whole self to this work of loving one another, healing and blessing our world. And don’t you need to be more whole, more fully who you are? Haven’t you had enough of pretending and hiding? As David Whyte says

If you wanted to drown you could, 
but you don’t, because finally, after all
this struggle and all these years, 
you don’t want to anymore.
You’ve simply had enough of drowning
and you want to live, and you want to love.
And you’ll walk across any territory,
and any darkness, however fluid,
and however dangerous to the take the one
hand and the one life, you know belongs in yours.
(David Whyte, “The True Love”)

You are the only one of you there is, on the whole earth. And you are only here for a limited amount of time. What will happen if you don’t let your light shine as fully and as brightly as you can, while you’re here? What parts of yourself are you holding back from the world? What parts will be lost if you don’t share them? (My gratitude to Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen for articulating this idea in a sermon.)

Sometimes we divide ourselves into different types of people, and this can help us know ourselves better, help us to get along with others, and make sense of a complicated world. But the reality is, we are way more nuanced and complex than any typology can describe. As Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes.” 

What I’m inviting you to remember today is that there is more to you than what you show the world. I want to encourage you to bring those hidden parts forward, to work on developing sides of yourself that you may have held back until now.

I tend to be more of a contemplative than an activist. I like the idea of living a fairly quiet life. Yet here I am, in a calling that asks me to be a public person, at least some of the time. And we’re living in a day when hiding out in church is not an option—too much is at stake. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that our nation and our world need people of faith to not only pray, and be good to one another inside these walls, but to practice our faith by getting out into the world, getting our hands dirty, doing something to make things better!

Some of you are activists, and I am so grateful to have you in our midst. And I wonder about you—are you getting enough quiet time to renew and restore your souls? I worry about you, that if you don’t have ways to ground yourself, you can burn out, and not be of much use to anyone. 

We are different kinds of people, and the invitation is to see our differences as a blessing and not a curse. To realize that we need one another. You who are quiet visionaries, we need you. You who are organizers and activists, we need you. You who like to work behind the scenes to feed people or teach the children or keep us moving forward, we need you. Our world needs you, needs all of the parts of you that you are able to bring forward and share. 

Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed says “this is the central task of the worshipping community: to invite the Spiritual Presence; to unveil the connectedness of all humanity through the story of life; and thus to reveal this universal truth.” This truth that we are all  connected; that we belong to one another. This truth, “once felt,” Mark says, “inspires us to act for justice.”

Psalm 139 says, “I am wonderfully made.” Do you know this about yourself? That you are a beautiful miracle, wonderfully made? The ancient Hebrew creation story says God created humans in God’s own image, and when the Divine Presence saw this, that Presence saw that it was good. And not only good, but very good. Do you know this about our diversity—that it is very good?

I ask, because when we we see ourselves as wonderfully made, when we gather up the diverse parts of ourselves and let our light shine, when we see that the light is not only in us, it is in all of us, that we are kindred souls, making our way together, then we will be inspired, compelled to give our hearts and hands to the work that lies before us—this work of justice-making. This work of healing and blessing, as we know how and as we will learn how, using these gifts we have been given. This work of joining hands and moving forward, together. This work of justice-seeking, this work of being free, this work which needs all of us, and all we have to offer, so we can find our way home.