Sunday, September 30, 2012

"If the answer is 'No,' then it has to go."

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 30, 2012

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”

If the answer is, “No.” Then it’s got to go.

Let me say that again.

If the answer is, “No.” Then it’s got to go.

Kind of sounds like I’ve got a Johnnie Cochran thing going, doesn’t it? But it’s true. If you’re going to create something of incredible power and beauty, there’s one rule you have to follow:

If the answer is, “No.” Then it’s got to go.

Maybe this story can help me explain.

You can have a good argument about what the most impressive sculpture ever carved is, but any conversation has got to include Michelangelo’s David. Not only is it exquisite in its beauty, it’s absolutely enormous. David is 17 feet tall and weighs more than six tons.

What you might not know is that Michelangelo wasn’t the only artist to work on David. In fact, David was commissioned and the huge stone block for it was quarried and dragged to Florence 11 years before Michelangelo was even born. You see, the original contract to carve David was given to Agostino di Duccio, a student of Donatello. He worked on it for two years and very roughly started to shape the legs, feet and torso. But then his master, Donatello, died, and for reasons nobody quite knows, Agostino stopped.

And so this 17-foot tall, 13,000 pound partially carved block sat there. And it sat there. And it sat there. This huge, haphazardly carved block of marble stood virtually untouched … for 35 years. Until finally, the commission to finish it was awarded to a 26 year old artist named Michelangelo, who had just finished another beautiful work, the Pieta, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Michelangelo worked on it for two and a half more years, and what he finished with was the masterpiece we know today. There’s a story that soon after the public unveiling he was standing by David and someone asked him, “How did you do it?” “How did you succeed where others had failed? How had you made something so magnificent out of something that had been carved up and discarded and given up on for more than three decades?”

“That’s easy,” he said. “I simply chipped away everything that wasn’t David.”

That’s all.

He simply looked at every piece of that enormous block of marble and asked, “Is this David?”

And if the answer was, “No.”

Then it had to go.

I’m not sure there is a better parable of following Jesus, a better image of discipleship than this story of the great artist and that enormous partially carved and then abandoned block of marble.
That’s because there is a masterpiece inside each one of us. Inside each one of us is a creation of deep and profound beauty just waiting to be revealed. And like that giant piece of stone, we have been worked on and worked over by lesser artists. Artists who maybe saw something in us but not the deepest beauty that lies within. Artists who didn’t know how to bring it out.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Listen Deeply. Speak Plainly

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 9, 2012

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Listen deeply. Speak plainly.

Breathe in. Listen deeply. Breathe out. Speak plainly.
Breathe in. Listen deeply. Breathe out. Speak plainly.
(inhale) Listen deeply. (inhale) Speak plainly.

Listen Deeply. Speak Plainly. They go together. They are the heart of what it means to be not just individuals following Jesus, but to be the Body of Christ. Listening deeply and speaking plainly is what the family of God does.

Growing up in Tucson, Arizona,  my family was loving and my family was caring. What my family wasn’t, was close. We didn’t share a lot with one another. We didn’t listen deeply and speak plainly.

What I’ve come to realize is that there were barriers inside my parents. Barriers that kept them from speaking plainly and listening deeply. It wasn’t their fault. In fact, fault is a really unhelpful way of looking at things like this. They came by it naturally. We always do.

You see, my mom grew up at China Lake, a Navy secret city in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California where her dad was working on the Polaris missile. Only recently has she shared with me what that was like, and it was a life of secrets. Of not only don’t ask and don’t tell but if you accidentally overhear, don’t listen. Recently, she told me of a time when a plane that her father was supposed to be on before he gave up his seat to a subordinate disappeared, was missing for months and was later found crashed in the mountains with no survivors.

“We didn’t talk about it,” she said. “Ever. That’s just how it was. You didn’t talk about things.”

My Dad grew up in England during World War II. His older brother, Jack, joined the Royal Air Force and was shot down and killed over Germany. His parents closed the door to Jack’s room and shoved all their feelings about it down inside.

They didn’t talk about it. Ever. That’s just how it was. You didn’t talk about things.

And just as my parents learned those things from their parents. My brother and I learned them well from ours. People used to say how well we got along, and it’s true we never fought. But it’s also true we never talked. I remember one time he had pulled some prank in high school and another kid had turned him in and he had to go to court. It was a process that took several months, but I only discovered it when someone at school said, “Hey, your brother’s court date is today, how did it go?” and I said, “Court date? What court date?”

I was talking with my mom on the phone yesterday asking her if I could share these stories. We talked for awhile – not just about the stories you’ve just heard but about some of our feelings behind them. I realized that it was only in the past 10 years that we all were having conversations like this. That we were starting to speak plainly and listen deeply. That we’re starting truly to become a family.

And it’s all about: Speak plainly. Listen deeply.

And somewhere inside, we know that, right? Somewhere inside we know that the best moments in life come when we speak plainly and listen deeply.

Speak plainly. Listen deeply is wonderful. But before it’s wonderful, it’s scary.

Think of a time you’ve “gotten something off your chest” with someone you care about. There’s a reason they call it “getting it off your chest.” Because afterwards we can breathe easier. It’s liberating. But it sure doesn’t start out that way. First it can be terrifying. The very idea of speaking plainly can be so terrifying that the fear binds us and silences us … or maybe on the other end of the spectrum causes us to hit and run, say our piece and leave … and not stay around to help the other person listen deeply, or to listen deeply ourselves.

Think of a time you’ve listened deeply to someone you care about. And maybe you’ve finally understood something about them that you never understood before. It’s wonderful. It takes the relationship to a new level. But before it’s wonderful, man, it can be frightening. Think about it, are there any four words that dig a bigger pit in your gut coming from someone you care about than “We. Need. To. Talk.”?

Yet it’s absolutely the key. Speak plainly. Listen deeply. This is nothing new. Communities and families thrive when we speak plainly and listen deeply, and we die deaths slow and fast when we don’t. It’s been that way for thousands of years. And we know it from this morning’s Gospel.

The healing Jesus performs this morning is not of some random malady. The man brought to Jesus is deaf and has a speech impediment. He has barriers to the two most important pieces of being in community. He cannot speak clearly or listen deeply.