Shuck and Jive

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Love the Whole Mad World--A Sermon

Love the Whole Mad World
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

January 2, 2011

Gospel of Jesus 19:11-13

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), Mark 4:21; Matthew 5:14-15; 7:16; Luke 6:43-44; 8:16; 11:33; Thomas 32; 33:2-3; 45:1

Jesus used to say:

“A city sitting on top of a mountain can’t be concealed.”

“People don’t light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket but rather on a lampstand, where it sheds light for everyone in the house.”

“You’ll know who folks are by what they produce. Since when do people pick grapes from thorns or figs from thistles?”


If It Is Not Too Dark

Go for a walk, if it is not too dark.

Get some fresh air, try to smile.

Say something kind

To a safe-looking stranger, if one happens by.

Always exercise your heart's knowing.

You might as well attempt something real

Along this path:

Take your spouse or lover into your arms

The way you did when you first met.

Let tenderness pour from your eyes

The way the Sun gazes warmly on the earth.

Play a game with some children.

Extend yourself to a friend.

Sing a few ribald songs to your pets and plants -

Why not let them get drunk and wild!

Let's toast

Every rung we've climbed on Evolution's ladder.
Whisper, "I love you! I love you!"

To the whole mad world.

Let's stop reading about God -

We will never understand Him.

Jump to your feet, wave your fists,

Threaten and warn the whole Universe

That your heart can no longer live

Without real love!


Hafiz was a poet in the 14th century in Iran. He had memorized the Qur’an at a young age. Legend has it that he memorized it fourteen different ways. He became a court poet. He wrote poems about romance and life and later his poetry took a spiritual bent. He wrote about God whom he called “Beloved”.

He apparently had some sort of spiritual experience of enlightenment at a still later age. Most of his poetry was written during this time and it had the authority of a spiritual master united with God. Orthodox clergy didn’t care for him and opposed him throughout his life. They even attempted to deny him a Muslim burial. But he achieved much popular support.

Ralph Waldo Emerson called him a poet for poets.

His poetry is playful and musical. He invites, cajoles, and teases the listener to fall in love with Life, with the Beloved, with “the whole mad world”.

His poetry has known a number of translators. Daniel Ladinsky is the translator of the poem we used in worship today. His translation is somewhat loose, but free-flowing and contemporary sounding. As with all translations we get the benefit of the creativity of the original author and the translator.

There are some parallels with Hafiz and Jesus.
  • In both cases, we know little about their lives from a historical perspective.
  • Both were regarded as mystics of some sort and had many legends and myths written about them.
  • Both were opposed by the religious and political establishments.
  • Both enjoyed popular support.
  • Both were artists with words.
  • Both articulated and embodied in their own way, creativity.
  • Both inspired their hearers to embody creativity as well.
It is our creativity that enables us to love the whole mad world.

What is creativity?

According to Random House, creativity is:
the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.
Why is there creativity in the first place? British science fiction writer Brian Aldiss writes:
Whatever creativity is, it is in part a solution to a problem.
Developmental psychologist Barbara Biber connects creativity and personality. She writes:
There is a very important and fundamental relation between learning and personality development. . . . The two interact in a "circular process." Thus, mastery of symbol systems (letters, words, numbers), reasoning, judging, problem-solving, acquiring and organizing information and all such intellectual functions are fed by and feed into varied aspects of the personality—feelings about oneself, identity, potential for relatedness, autonomy, creativity, and integration.
Civil rights activist, Sarah Patton Boyle, connects creativity with service:
Service ... is love in action, love "made flesh"; service is the body, the incarnation of love. Love is the impetus, service the act, and creativity the result with many by-products.
That last is sounding almost spiritual. “Love made flesh” with creativity as a by-product.

Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox, has elevated creativity to one of four spiritual paths. Creativity makes us human and is the driving force of the universe itself.

Another theologian, Gordon Kaufman, in his two books on the topic, In the Beginning…Creativity, and Jesus and Creativity, makes the case that the word “God” does not describe a supernatural being or a “divine person” as such, but is a symbol for creativity. In other words God is creativity, or creativity is God.

That is about as elevated language as we can find for creativity.

The point that I am attempting to make with these quotes and definitions is that creativity is essential. It is not the private property of professional artists. It is crucial to human flourishing and survival. It is the answer to the problems we face as a species at this interesting time.

Perhaps our most important task is to encourage, inspire, and unleash creativity among ourselves, especially among our children. The world needs confident, humble, people who are able to trust and rely on their creativity. Oddly enough, formal public education seems to favor standardized testing instead. It regards higher education as little more than job training.

This should be a clear signal that formal education is not enough to give our young people the tools and personality needed to move us to a sustainable future. We need parents, grand parents, and everyone else we can think of to teach and to inspire creativity.

I was encouraged when I googled the word “creativity”.

I found the website, which is about exploring creativity in our everyday lives. It included links to articles and exercises.

From there I found a link to Buffalo State (SUNY-Buffalo) and found the International Center for Studies in Creativity. You can get a Masters of Science degree in Creativity and Change Leadership. The program is designed to help professionals become transformational leaders in their organizations and communities.

One of the authors of Creativity for Life, Tera Leigh, has a website called Tera’s Wish. Just a quick glance showed a number of exercises to help folks unleash their own creativity. These exercises include journaling, making a life map collage, and starting a creative mentoring group. I found it uplifting just looking through the website.

Creativity is giving ourselves permission to fall in love again with life and with our own lives. To love the whole mad world.

There certainly are many forces that seek to stifle creativity. Our modern society is beset with many demons. One of which is television advertising. We sit motionless, except for perhaps moving junk food from hand to mouth, while beaming in countless 30 second messages. Every message says the same thing. “You suck”. You suck until you purchase the right hairspray, toothpaste, and dining room set. None of it will be enough. The point is to create dissatisfaction and therefore desire.

Rather than solve problems, create an identity, or dream our future through creativity, we learn through consuming and ultimately, addiction. The solutions are not solutions at all, but at most a temporary numbing of the pain. It is a vicious destructive cycle.

But it is broken by creativity.

When we break that cycle by doing subversive things like going to the library, visiting a museum, or composing a poem (no one else has to read it), we are awakening. Creativity is giving ourselves permission to have lots of ideas. Obviously, not all of them will be good ideas or ideas that will go further than simply being named. That is not important.

We generate creativity, especially with children, by encouraging ideas without evaluation. Music and arts educator, Abby Connors, in an article entitled, “How to Help Children Stay Creative” writes:
Taking time each day to share a relaxed, fun idea-generating activity, in which ideas are accepted without evaluation, can greatly increase students’ creative thinking skills, as well as their confidence in sharing their ideas with others.
Some of these ideas include simply reading a story and letting the children offer their ideas of what would happen next. Or bringing out some shakers, rhythm sticks, and coffee can drums and letting the children find different ways of making music with them.

The practice of creativity is the key. We don’t know beforehand what the solutions to our problems (from personal to global) will be. We can’t. We need to practice so it becomes second-nature, so we can trust it and ourselves, is the generation of ideas. That comes by letting them bloom.

We can take a lesson from the sheer number of seeds that a tree produces. In Montana we had cottonwood trees on our little farm. It would look like snow when each seed (a potential tree) would be blown about by the wind. Each seed looked like a little wispy cotton ball. Not every seed became a tree. I can’t even imagine what the math would be in terms of number of seeds produced to trees that reached maturity.

That is nature’s creativity. The tree doesn’t evaluate or choose just one seed to send forth. It doesn’t worry about what its neighbors think. It explodes with generativity. Humans could take a lesson from the trees.

Don’t hide creativity. I think this might have been the message in many of the aphorisms of Jesus:

Don’t evaluate creativity and therefore stifle it.

Let it happen
  • like a light on a lampstand,
  • like a city on a hill,
  • like fruit from a plant and seeds from a tree.
This new year, summoning all the authority I have as Minister of Word and Sacrament, I hereby encourage, tease, ignite, jab, goad, incite, excite, stir, spur, prod, propel, galvanize, foment, egg on, inflame, instigate, motivate, stimulate, and nudge you to unleash your creativity.

This whole mad world needs some love.

You have the creativity to do it.


We played this song for communion:


  1. I love it.How did he know about evolution,or is this just how the translator interpreted his words?

  2. Thanks, Deborah. I think that is part of the translator's paraphrase. It would be good to find other translations and compare them.