The Doing of Being
Women Making News
This was a difficult week for women in the news. First, came the arrest of Lisa Nowak, the 43-year-old Naval Academy graduate, mother of three turned astronaut. In case you were spending all your time reading about the yellow snow falling in Siberia, Lisa is that woman who turned the right stuff into the wrong stuff. She drove from Houston to Orlando allegedly carrying a knife, a BB gun, pepper spray, latex gloves and rubber tubing. These were not personal items for her next space launch. Lisa had recently divorced her husband and hoped to start a romantic relationship with fellow astronaut, William Oefelin. However, a rival, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, stood in Lisa's way. Since she could not jettison into space without NASA noticing a missing astronaut, Lisa decided to drive from TX to FL to confront Shipman with the pepper spray and BB gun and possibly much worse.
Before the nation had a chance to digest all the crazy antics of these space station travelers we learned of the tragic death of Anna Nicole Smith, 39. You would had to have been a monk on Mt. Athos not to know who this blond bombshell was. Anna Nicole grew up in a small TX town, dropped out of high school worked as a waitress, a clerk at Wal-Mart and a stripper. Her career took off when she sent in photos of herself to a Playboy search contest. The press unofficially coronated her the next Monroe. She was chosen as the Playmate of the Year in 1993. Two years later she made news by marrying ninety year old billionaire J. Howard Marshall.
Even if you read my blog on my tardy study guide this week, you may be wondering how I see the connection between these two women and today's Scripture lesson. Please allow me to connect the dots.
In Anna Nicole and Lisa Nowak, I see two women who sought success and the admiration of others. They worked very hard in their chosen professions. They both reached for the stars in their own ways and both realized their goals in the short term. However, their success, also, exposed a glaring weakness that neither platinum blond hair dye, breast implants, financial fortunes, mental intelligence, physical prowess or discipline overcome. Both were hurting women. Anna Nicole's hurt is more exposed. Ever since she was a small child, Anna Nicole told people that she was going to be the next Marilyn Monroe. However, her parents divorced two years after she was born. She was raised by a maternal aunt. Anna Nicole's mother went through two other marriages before she was twenty. Broken homes break a lot of hearts. Little girls need the love and wholesome affection of their fathers when they are teenagers in order to build a positive self-esteem. You will seldom if ever find a young woman stripping who had a positive relationship with her father.
Unlike the high school drop out Anna Nicole, Lisa grew up in Rockville, MD, a member of the high school track team and co-valedictorian of her high school class. She graduated from the Naval Academy and in a statement released by her class officers was considered “a great classmate and friend'' who “...never hesitated to lend a hand or assist someone in need. She has been an incredible role model as a Naval Officer, astronaut and mother, and has shared her success with many others...'' After Annapolis, Lisa would become a test pilot.
These in themselves were no small achievements. Yet, Lisa did not stop there, she gained entrance into the space program, became a wife and a mother of three. So after all her accomplishments, how did she suffer such a break down? Astronauts take pride in their self-discipline, they set goals and they let nothing stand in their way. So how could Lisa let her life fall apart?
Lisa's breakdown may have come in her goal oriented personality. Nowak had pursued a career in space travel since she childhood. She achieved that ultimate goal last summer. The space shuttle is scheduled to be retired in 2010. A replacement ship will not be ready until several years later. The astronauts have been told that second and third spaceflights will be difficult to obtain. Many of them have had adjustment issues. These overachievers suddenly have no goals. Lisa's misstep may have been in setting the love of William Oefelin as her next goal.
The tragic demise of Anna Nicole and Lisa illustrate the tragic consequences of lives with misplaced priorities. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus constantly tries to redirect our focus and attention. He keeps reminding us that fulfillment in this life will not be found in gaining the admiration of others. We will not find our greatest reward through over-achievement and the accomplishment of spectacular goals. Nor will be gain acceptance with God in the doing of wonderfully religious activity. In the section that has come to be known as the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that we will only be blessed when are priorities in life are not directed at enjoying the plentiful but savory the wants, the incompleteness, the unfulfilled.
The poor, not the rich are blessed. The hungry, not the well fed are satisfied. Those who are willing to mourn with others, not the happy, light hearted crowd will find eternal joy. These are very different priorities than the priorities of our society. Be careful about spiritualizing the meaning of these terms as Matthew has done. When Luke writes about poverty he is writing about the economically poor. When the physician directs his words at the hungry, he is writing to the feeling that resides in the belly not the soul. When Luke refers to the hatred of the world he is not talking about bans against singing Christmas hymns in schools and lawsuits over the public display of the Ten Commandments. He is referring to the bitter resentment that stings with a whip and nails people to a cross. Luke hears Jesus say that the blessed of God will be those who know suffering even in a land of plenty.
The blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated. Yet, how can we be poor unless we are willing to give away our wealth? How can we be hungry unless we go without food so other might eat? How can we weep unless we are willing enough to care so much that we risk losing? And how can we be hated unless we are willing to stand for what we believe?
We should be careful about judging either woman as different from ourselves. They are an exaggeration but I use their tragedies to highlight a point. They are no more guilty of misplaced priorities than anyone of us in this sanctuary. We may not be as rich as Anna Nicole after the court award her a share of J. Howard Marshall's estate but compared to the majority of the world's population, you and I are very rich. We may not be disciplined overachievers, like Lisa, but we all have egos, still think that if we work hard enough God owes us something. It is easy to lose sight of Kingdom priorities when we are constantly surrounded by earthly delicacies. The temptation is to nibble. We assume that there is no harm is merely sampling a tempting treat but soon our sampling has become a gluttonous gorging.
Being Not Doing
The second weakness of Lisa and Anna Nicole was in their obsession with doing rather than being. Had Lisa directed her over-achieving discipline toward religious deeds, we might have called her a Pharisee. She probably would appreciate Paul's pre-conversion zeal, more than his post-conversion morality. Anna Nicole wanted to present the image of a loving caring, grieving widow during the hearings to determine how to divide the estate of J. Howard Marshall. Several of the photos of her leaving the courtroom have hear wearing a diamond studded cross. Anna Nicole never understood that simply wearing a cross never made a person religious. Lisa Nowak never understood that a person can only do so much. Eventually the stress of motherhood, wife, and astronaut overwhelmed. Both women mistakenly substituted the doing for the being.
That is easy to do in any type of life, religious or non-religious. Rather than build character, we find it easier to build resumes. The politician and military leader feels more successful than the philosopher or poet. The politician has an election she has won and a military leader a battle. But what does a philosopher have but a life of contentment? That plus $4.25 will buy a Starbuck's Espresso.
When Sarah graduated from Wenatchee High School, the school held a special ceremony to read off the accomplishments of the graduating class, noting their sports letters, academic awards, school clubs, service projects, scholarships and anything else to build up the students. One of the comments made by a vice principle caused me to cringe. He remarked that he was impressed by all of the activities of each of the students and how they were such overachievers. I wanted to scream for several reasons. First, because I knew that many of the students were members in name only of many of the listed clubs. They had never attended any meetings. They had not participated in any planned events. They had not done any of the work. They were only present to receive the award and the listing on their college application. Secondly, few of the activities and awards developed the character, the inner qualities of the student. The student was not necessarily a better student for having served, participated, achieved or accomplished.
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, it is not about the doing but the being. He does not tell us how much money we must sacrifice to become poor. He does not tell us how many meals we must give up. Nor does he indicate how many visits we must make and tears we must shed before we learn to weep. He does not tell us those things because the person who is blessed by being poor would never think to consider that his donation is a sacrifice. The woman who gives another mother food is so blessed to help someone more needy that she never complains about being hungry. Likewise the man who sits with a husband whose wife has just died, feels touched by the tears of the grieving spouse, never once considering his own discomfort over death.
We do not live by the Beatitudes. They are not something we obey. They are principles that overcome us as we allow the love of Christ to transform us. We can produce economic poverty by giving away are money but what good is it if we are jealous of others? We can create discomfort in our stomachs by going without food but what good does it do if we continue to be envious of the 4-star meals that others enjoy. We are to do in the Christian life. We are to give of our financial resources sacrificially. We are to feed the hungry. We are to weep with those who weep. We are to stand firm in the faith even when others do not understand and in their confusion hate us. But our goal is never in the doing but in the being.
The Greatest Sermon
The sermon on the mount has often been called the greatest sermon ever preached. However, it was never a sermon but a collection of teaching. Once it revolutionized a society by setting the priorities of God's people and radically transforming them into disciples of Christ. Today too many people treat them much like that cross that adorned Anna Nicole's neck. They have become meaningless jewelry by which we impress others. However, if we allow them to set our priorities; if we allow them to change us we will discover the real blessing of God.
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