Pastoral Letter: What is Greatness?

Dear neighbors,

Democracy, equality, civil rights, rule of law, freedom, decency, honesty–so many of our core American values are under attack, it will require us rising to true greatness to save and restore them.
The earth’s fragile environment on which all life depends is rapidly deteriorating, and the deterioration is because of systems that our civilization has created for our comfort and ease.  It will take true greatness to rise above our immediate self-interest to do what is in our ultimate self-interest and redesign our way of living to save and restore the earth so life may continue beyond our generation.
So what is true greatness and what can we do to rise to it now?  The answer is not obvious, so please bear with a lengthy posting.

This is why we need the wisdom handed down through spiritual traditions. Our society gives abundant evidence daily of what our foolish selfish egos think is great.  The love of power, wealth and fame is the same today as it was when the Greek philosophers, the Hebrew prophets, the Buddha and Jesus saw the emptiness and harmfulness of that false kind of greatness.
They would not be surprised to see where it has led America and the earth today.
Spiritual traditions are quite clear that rudeness and boasting are not greatness, violence and meanness are not greatness, glorying in being rich at the expense of the poor is not greatness.  The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
This Sunday in worship we will hear the prophet Isaiah describe the sacred kind of greatness.  It is a force of healing, liberation, nonviolence, justice and peace.  We will hear how Jesus began his path to greatness.  It was by humbling himself to be as low as the lowliest, giving up his selfish ambition, opening instead to the Spirit to guide and empower him.  He proved throughout his ministry that true greatness of spirit is to serve with love and compassion the most vulnerable and those in greatest need.  It is to stand firmly against the oppressiveness of great empires and small meannesses of great egos.
All the spiritual traditions believe in the possibility of human society evolving to true greatness of spirit and living by the universally accepted laws of the Golden Rule, love of neighbor and compassion for those who are struggling.
And yet all too often those traditions are dominated by unevolved egos that seek greatness by putting down people of other traditions or beliefs.  They create divisions whereas the spirit of the universe is “the continuing community-creating reality that moves through history,” as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it.  Helping people see our oneness and live as one is true greatness.
Our choir will sing John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s song “Imagine” this Sunday.  It may seem shocking for a church to sing “Imagine there’s no heaven…and no religion, too.”  But what the song envisions is a world where heaven and religion are no longer used to oppress people and create divisions between neighbors who think or feel differently.
John Lennon imagined what the Prophet Jeremiah foresaw, a time when we will no longer need religions to help us rise above selfishness, violence and greed.  Jeremiah prophesied that one day humanity will evolve to a new level of consciousness where the laws of the spirit will be written on our hearts.
Until that day, we need spiritual communities that help us live up to the ideals of true greatness, meaning humbleness, self-sacrifice and serving the people, creatures and corners of the earth that need it most.
That kind of greatness is our greatest hope as a nation and world.
One of the things I love about Strafford is how much of this greatness we have here.  Think of the Lions Club people-of-the-year and the recipients of the Strafford community-building award. Think of Neighbor Helping Neighbor and all the neighbors who help their neighbors informally.  Think of the Select Board and all the other volunteers who give countless hours to the town.  Think of the people who rush to help when our house is on fire or when our climate is on fire.
We do not have towers of silver and gold, we have love of neighbor, and that’s truly great.
Thank you so much,
Pastor Tom Kinder

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