“Conventional wisdom,” I thought while in the shower, “isn’t.” Isn’t wisdom, I mean. And almost by definition.
If just about everybody thinks it, if it’s conventional, then it probably isn’t wise. Otherwise the world would be a better place. I used to think the most difficult part of life would be figuring out the wise course of action. Granted, that has proved to be challenging. But I’m often flummoxed by the amount of character and guts it takes to act in line with the wise course of action. I think it’s more difficult to do the wise thing than to think it.
I suppose reading “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” again, and listening to John Lewis on Fresh Air yesterday, and President Barrack Obama today is what’s pushing my thoughts in this direction. These three move from knowing wisdom to acting wisely, courageously, boldly.
Yesterday, my status update on Facebook let out some of my wonderings: “Gregg wonders if, as a pastor, I would have spoken up in the Civil Rights movement. And what should I be speaking up about now.” To tie in with what I’ve been writing here…”Do I have the courage to act wisely and not just know wisdom? Because true wisdom is not going to be conventional, or status quo, or universally popular.”
Most likely I would not have known about Henry Ward Beecher if it weren’t for my high school friend Debby Applegate’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography. With the rose colored glasses of history, Beecher is remembered as an early abolitionist, theatrically buying the freedom of slaves in worship services. But Debby’s book paints a much more nuanced and complicated picture. There were times when Beecher seemed to flip flop and pull back, times when his strong voice of principle developed laryngitis…especially when some of the wealthy donors to his church were on the other side of said principle. I reflected on this in an e-mail to Debby when I finished her book a few summers ago:
I really understand Henry’s seeming “flip flops” on the slavery issue, his sometimes radical pronouncements, his sometimes surprising conservative, middle of the road backtracking. Being a pastor takes a tremendous amount of self-definition to not be swayed by how people in the congregation respond (or how you think people will respond) to a particular issue. I find myself often having strong, radical feelings about various issues, and am so aware of how a church has so many pulls toward tempering those feelings. I long for some of Henry’s courage to speak boldly…but I long for it to be not to increase my own “star power”, but to truly bring about change in our world.
Yes. I’m being pushed there again, to act with courage in true wisdom, willing even to buck convention and status quo.
“So help me, God.”