Praise, Platitudes and Paradox
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
January 1, 2017
Scripture: Isaiah 63: 7 – 9, Psalm 148
About a week and a half ago, I met a friend in Boston to go for a run; I knew that making a plan with a friend would ensure that I actually went for a run and got a decent workout in. After I met her and we got changed, I of course put on my shoes.
As I put on my right shoe, something did not feel quite right . . . it felt like my right foot was uneven on the bottom, like my shoe was worn away on the inside or something, but just in one spot at the front. I briefly considered taking the shoe off but I did not. I decided, well someone gave me these shoes and they were free so maybe they just are not a very good pair. I think part of me was convinced something was wrong but the other part of me thought, “It just is what it is.”
My friend and I decided to do some push-ups and sit-ups before we got to running; what this meant for me was that there was more time for me to dwell on my right shoe situation. . . but I continued to tell myself, “It just is what it is.”
So we pushed up and sat up and finally ran just a short distance. By the end of it, we were ready to relax over dinner. As we sat there and had great conversation, my mind wondered. I realized – “My Charlie card is in my shoe!” If you don’t know, the Charlie card is the Boston bus pass. I kept telling myself, “It just is what it is,” when in actuality I could have very well given myself a more even run. But rather than just seeing what I could do, I continued to tell myself, “It just is what it is.”
This old platitude sent me right into stagnation. I sent myself to a world with uneven running shoes that night even though that did not need to be the case. And yes, this is a small example, but can you remember the times you have said, “It just is what it is. . .”
And I would guess there has been at least 1 or more times that you have later realized that . . . well, it ISN’T what it is . . . And even more, you have maybe realized the ways that such sentiment has placed you at odds with your best self – Your best self, which actually, is divine.
I wonder if there were platitudes in the ancient near east . . . I know that they haunt us today, keep us from greatness, keeping us from divinity. I decided to do some web-based crowd sourcing and use facebook to find out what platitudes really bother people. Besides, “It is what it is.”
Here are the answers I got:
“Anything that has to do with ‘God has a plan.’”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“Boys will be boys.”
“Anything involving the phrase, ‘Seeking closure.’”
“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
“You only live once.”
“Life is short.”
“God just needed another angel.”
“It is what it is.”
And the most popular, “Everything happens for a reason.”
So . . . which one of these makes you cringe? And what about these sayings makes you most upset? Is it how often they are used or the obvious problems with each of them? Or maybe it is gross generalizations which set up troubling paradigms that we seem not to be able to shake?
It is what it is . . . so . . .War is not a problem,
It is what it is so….health care does not need reform
It is what it is so. . . I am powerless in my own situation
It is what it is so. . . people cannot overcome addiction
It is what it is so. . . we need not push back against wrong we see in the world
It is what it is so. . . there is no reason to respond to the earth crying for help.
“Time heals all wounds.” Implying all wounds will heal which many of us know is not true.
“God has a plan.” Implying that there is no need for us to do anything or make any change in our own life.
“Boys will be boys.” Implying that young boys and men cannot control themselves or sometimes even treat others with respect.
“God just needed another angel.” Implying that an untimely death is an okay part of life when our REAL suffering shows us otherwise.
“Everything happens for a reason.” Implying that we are puppets and God is a puppet master. . . .
Friends . . . I do not know about you, but my God is no puppet master. I am troubled by these platitudes and the way they often leave us feeling powerless and thereafter stagnant.
“You only live once . . . so I’ll throw moderation to the curb and disrespect the divine body I have been given . . .”
Do you see how they affect us? We need to recognize their impact on our lives and ways of being in the world.
When we recognize the way they affect us we can push back, not just for ourselves, but for our families, our friends, our neighbors, and for the divine. Our task is large, to fight these platitudes and ideas which are so ingrained in our everyday ways of being. With the scripture we are given today and this as our New Year we look to figure out how we can praise God, even in a world of troubling platitudes.
We praise God. We praise the divine knowing that naming such truth will point us to action. The discovery we will make is that if we are able to lose ourselves in divine action, speaking truth, and showing love for neighbor, for God, we will find ourselves. Our praise points us to action, action which pushes back against troubling platitudes. And friends, this loss of self for the effort of finding one’s self, this the paradox of faith. This paradox is born through our praise, as individuals and as a community. This faithful paradox, born in praise, will help us show the world a God who is bigger than platitudes.
And gosh, doesn’t the world need this?
In Isaiah’s words we hear an introduction to the redemption God shows the Israelites time and again in the wandering wilderness. See though the Israelites lose sight of God, God is ever-present. And in Isaiah this text is not just a basis for praise but also one for setting up lamentation and petition. Praise, lamentation, petition.
In the Psalm we hear of God’s name, God’s holy name and how the earth ought to praise Yahweh. All the people, all the creatures, even the rocks!
We praise, lament, and petition. We praise. Our praise helps us question platitudes; our praise helps us move toward the divine paradox of loss and gain. Praising, in faith, we move towards the divine, the newborn Christ. We praise together. Amen.
Attridge, Harold W (ed.). The Harper Collins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated (New Revised Standard Version – With the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Student Edition). San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 1989.
Harold W. Attridge (ed.), The Harper Collins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated (San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 1989), Amos, 1978, 992.
Attridge, Luke, 992.