You’re never too old to learn something new.
Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, South Carolina, to honor 257 dead Union soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial – as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children, where they marched, sang, and celebrated.
That’s good news. It might bring tears to your eyes. It’s also tragic news. Jim Crow set in and these 2,800 children lost their freedom. Who grieves for THEM? They rose from slavery and were buried. Will they rise again? Christ lives, dies, and rises from the dead. Dostoevsky has Christ return to the living in 14th century Spain, only to be imprisoned again.
We need double vision to track the rise and fall of freedom and salvation, of Christ’s presence, death, and elevation. We need double vision to track the ups and downs of our personal fortune, decade by decade, day by day. We need a knack for love, joy, and celebration, a knack for grief, surrender and resistance. That’s what it’s all about. One flows to the other and back as smoothly as the tides in Back Cove or as violently as the tides in Eastport. Sometimes the rise and fall is vertical: “He who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us.” 2 Corinthians 4-14 But for that we need a knack for surrendering to the Lord.
Belief, in its way, is surrender, surrender to the improbable. It’s improbable I’ll be raised from the dead. Even if I was raised to believe I will rise, I’d hesitate to say it’s certain I’ll elevate. I might hope, trust, pray, or have faith I’ll be raised up. But I’d need faith precisely because, in any everyday sense, it’s improbable I’ll be raised. The disciples found an empty tomb. I don’t expect my friends to find my tomb empty. Belief, here, is surrender to the improbable belief that I’ll be raised from the dead — just as Jesus was improbably raised from the dead.
I don’t care if I’m raised from the dead. You can have too much of a good thing. I want to be raised from the tomb of lovelessness, of loneliness. That means surrendering to God’s improbable Unconditional Love. Why me, with all my blemishes and foibles? I used to think surrender only meant running from a fight, quitting, an unmanly thing. But now I see surrender in love, which is a good thing.
It’s important to fight attacks on our way of life. It’s also important to surrender to Unconditional Love — and to love of friends. I surrender to their words, moods, and heartbeats. I listen and lower my guard. Fighting has advocates; surrender has few.
The Book of Job shows a knack for fight and surrender. Job is under attack. He resists God and his friends. Then, out of the blue, like a rising tide, God takes his breath away, and Job surrenders. The storm brings forth creatures great and small, sunsets and dawns, valleys and streams. Overwhelmed, Job gives up. It’s like a surrender to music. I let music wash over me, have its way with me. If God is music in stars over water, I surrender – melt away. When Job stops fighting, he says: “I retreat; I’m quiet; I melt away.”
In classical music you fight to be alert and then give way to the ‘cello — you yield, surrender. We surrender to poetry, to the serenade of birds, to the smile of a 2 yr. old in pew 18. Giving way is a supreme good. We need wisdom to guide us through doubleness — when to fight and when to melt away.
In laughter we surrender. Did you know God laughs? It’s reported that Hafiz, a 14th century Persian poet and holy man, said, with a twinkle, “My Lord told me a joke. And seeing him laugh has done more for me than any scripture I will ever read.”
God isn’t too up-tight to laugh. He — or She — can melt away in laughter. Maybe not belly laughs. Laughing Buddha has an impish smile. In giggling we collapse. Hafiz sees God surrender to the charm of a humorous tale, become vulnerable, put big power to one side. As they laugh together Hafiz and God become intimate, arm in arm.
If you can’t surrender when you’re wrong, and have to fight even true accusations, you’re lost. Overcome by laughter, my stiff upper body melts away, my face and voice break up. A self-assured person can laugh at himself. He needn’t always dominate. Mr. Comey says his Inquisitor never laughs at himself. Tammy Duckworth, Senator from Illinois, a veteran and double amputee, fights back against the libel that those who don’t applaud him are traitors. Little D, little cadet bone-spurs, as she calls him, only knows how to demean, bully and boast. She’s funny, calling him cadet bone spurs. She can laugh as she fights.
God can sound like a bully. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” But maybe God isn’t full of wrath. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy shows that it can mean we shouldn’t be vengeful. Vengeance belongs on God’s bookshelf, not ours. We should surrender our wrath back to God to shelve among other archaic impulses. A God of Unconditional Love doesn’t put vengeance to use.
Women don’t have a monopoly on vulnerability, yielding, or surrendering, nor do men have a monopoly on fighting or resisting. Men might assert and mansplain, women might listen and defer, but roles aren’t fixed. I might prefer a cradling Mary to a thunderbolt-throwing Lord. Kierkegaard blurs the sexes. He imagines a nursing Abraham, an Abraham weaning his son Isaac. Perhaps God, as Queen Mother, weans us from dependence for the sake of our freedom.
My friend the boxer is a tiger in the ring and surrenders to God. My friend in AA fights the bottle and surrenders to God. In music I fight to keep my technique and surrender, yield, to the ‘cello. There’s a knack to how and when to surrender. We fight for human rights and yield before musical words, the serenade of birds, the smile of a 2 yr. old in pew 22.
Love and surrender can prompt forgiveness. “Forgive them, they know not what they do!” In a haunting tale, Dostoevsky shows Christ yielding to Love and Forgiveness. It’s the 1400’s in Spain, and the Inquisition roars. The Grand Inquisitor spots Jesus in the crowd, and jails him. Later, speaking alone with Christ he explains: I’m more compassionate than you are; I give people what they need — authority, creeds, ritual – I show more love than you did; they just can’t handle freedom.
Jesus listens — Then kisses the Inquisitor on the lips. He is forgiven. The prelate turns pale. He forgives the forgiver. The story takes my breath away. It’s biblical through and through.
Here’s a lighthearted Rabbinic tale about surrender. A boy knits a dozen bright caps to sell at the fair. He wears his favorite, and bundles the rest in a sack, heading through woods on the way to the village. Tired, he naps under the trees and awakens to find his beautiful hats stolen – all but the cap on his head.
The trees sway with cavorting monkeys, showing off their bright new hats. The boy screams, “Give them back!” – they scream down, “Give them back!” He yells “I’m serious! I need them to sell at the fair!” They yell back, “I’m serious! I need them to sell at the fair!” Utterly frustrated he surrenders. Sobbing, he throws down his hat, “Here, take this!” The monkeys throw down their hats, sobbing “Here, take this!”
The battle’s won in giving up. The boy gives up fighting and recovers everything. He gives up and gets back. This is a rhythm of faith.
Here’s a rabbinic parable. I have two slips of paper, one in each pocket. The first says “You’re the most important person in the world: stand up, fight for your values and who you are.”
In the other pocket, the slip says, “You are nothing but dust and ashes; stop taking yourself so seriously.” I’m as inconsequential as the evening breeze. Or “The evening breeze is wonderful! — I surrender to a glory immeasurably larger than I am.”
When I stand up for myself, I’m at the center of the world; when I love or melt into the stars, I’m nothing.
We pray for wisdom here — when to reach for the left pocket, when to reach for the right. When to call on the knack of resistance and rebellion, when to call on the knack of surrender.
What to do, fight or surrender, is often uncertain. But I know for certain this truth:
Without a trusting surrender, without faith and hope, I’ll neither love nor forgive. I’ll remain in a tomb of lovelessness, no matter how many battles I enter or win. And that’s not for me.