Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Life is My Message

I have long loved this quote from Mohandas Ghandi.  He is reported to have said it in response to someone asking him to sum up his message in a succinct way.  "My life is my message," was his reply.  And so, in a very true and deep way, it was.

"Generations to come will not believe that such a man as this, in flesh and blood, did walk upon the earth."  That's what Albert Einstein said at the end of Gandhi's life.  He could tell that someday, people would imagine that they were listening to legends when they heard about his life.  Perhaps somebody said something similar about St. Francis.  Or Jesus.

But I was recently reminded of Ghandi when my colleague Peter Bowden used a story from Gandhi's life as a starting point for a marvelous piece in his own UU Growth Blog.  The story he used was of the time a woman brought her son to Gandhi, asking him to tell the boy to stop eating sugar because it is so unhealthy.  Surely the boy would listen to Gandhi-ji.  Gandhi said that he would do it, but asked her to bring the boy back to him in three days.  Three days later the mother and son returned, and when the boy was brought before him Gandhi simply said, "stop eating sugar.  It's bad for you."  The mother said, "Why couldn't you have said that to him when we were here three days ago?"  Gandhi replied, "Because three days ago I was still eating sugar."

I like what Peter did with this story, but I found it taking me to a different place.  How many of the sermons I've preached over the years should I have really put off preaching for a metaphorical three days until I'd taken there message fully to heart?  (How many would I still not be able to preach by this standard?)  As I prepare to return to the pulpit in the fall, I'd like to keep the following two principles in mind:
  • Don't tell people to do things that I, myself, am not doing
  • Don't spend a lot of time telling people what to do
The first principle is pretty obvious, in the context of the story, but the second one . . .  Isn't that what most people think preaching's all about?  Well, I don't think I did a lot of that in the congregations I've served thus far -- at least not directly and explicitly -- because we Unitarian Universalists aren't the kind of people who take well to being told what to do by some kind of external authority.  Yet, if I'm honest, I'll bet that over the years I've indicated and implied paths that I, myself, rarely if ever dare to tread.  I'd like to think not, but I'm sure it's true.

And so in this next time 'round I want to be more careful.  I want to hold my own feet to the proverbial fire even more than the congregation's.  I would like, when my time in the professional ministry is done, to be able to answer, should anyone care to ask me to sum up the message I'd delivered, that my life was my message too.

In Gassho,

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David said...

Buddhists talk about several types of leadership. The most desired kind of leadership is "king-like" leadership, in which the leader issues guidance from a position of experience and authority.

But the Buddhists recognize that we can't all (or always) lead from such a position of accomplishment. Sometimes we have to be "boatman-like leaders," riding along with one another, controlling the direction of the vessel as best we can, with as much wisdom as we can, even though we're not really any further along than the people we help.

I appreciate all of your leadership, Erik, whatever kind it is. I'd rather have a compassionate boatman than a condescending king, anyway. :-)

RevWik said...

Thanks, David. I like boatpeople too.

Peter Bowden said...

I'm riding along too! I find that my most well received sermons are those where I share my struggles, the teachings that are inspiring me, and what we can all do to address the issues at hand.