Thy Kingdom Come
“Thy Kingdom Come”
The Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
In 1942 Charles de Gaulle asked the young philosopher, Simone Weil, to draft a new form of government for the nation of France. They were in London working in exile. Some suggest he gave Weil the task to keep her occupied and less likely to annoy him. But it is more likely he asked Weil to form a new idea of government because she was brilliant and would create something unique. Weil is easily one of the most original thinkers of the twentieth century.
In a very short amount of time, she completed the task with a book called, “The Need for Roots.” True to form, Weil’s idea of a France of the future was unique and profound; she thought beyond democracy. Or, better put, she imagined a nation where democracy based upon rights and liberties could become something more, something greater.
To make this case, Weil explained that a democracy of rights is limited to economic reality. Rights are transactional; they are an agreed upon exchange. Take voting. We recognize the right of each other to vote. Ideally there should be an equal right, or fair exchange. What I give and get to vote is what you give and get. How you value my vote is how I value your vote. Although we know there are flaws in this exchange, failures to achieve equal value, this is the intent, the form of our government, the nature of our democracy, transactional rights.
And this is the case with other rights like speech or reproductive freedom or religion. We honor the rights of others as they honor ours. The exchange, the currency, is respect, equality, a shared value. Weil said, this is good and well, but it doesn’t go far enough. This economy of rights can achieve profound things, but it is limited because it is based upon the perceived value and the desire of others to value your rights. Something greater can serve as the basis of our life together than a transactional set of freedoms.
The greater basis is what she called the needs of the soul. Weil believed the soul needs order and liberty, obedience and responsibility, equality and hierarchism, honor and punishment, freedom of opinion and truth, security and risk, private property and collective property. In her book given to de Gaulle, she makes clear why each of these is needed, but she also makes a clear case that these needs are not created by an agreement, they are the essence of what it means to be human. She saw the basis of our life together not as an agreement, but as what it means to be human, the good we all need.
It is not clear if de Gaulle ever read The Need for Roots. It was not used as the basis of a new French government after the war. And Weil died not long after she finished the work. She died at the age of 39 in 1943.
I spent several years working on this theory of Simone Weil and her other ideas, her books and essays. As I did, I kept being drawn to this idea of need, the needs of the soul. There was something about this that seemed so familiar. And then it dawned on me. Weil described the needs of the soul as seven oppositional pairs, whose presence doesn’t cancel its opposite but compliments it. You need both order and liberty; you need security, and you need risk. Not in equal measure always, but they all need to be in us.
Perhaps it was the number seven, but I kept finding my research into Weil’s seven pairs, the needs of the soul, being drawn to the seven ancient sacraments. It was from her work that I came to wonder, what if her vision, her idea of a better way of living, a more profound union— something more than an agreed to exchange of rights, what if her plan was more theological than philosophical? In the end what I came to see from her modern thought was the ancient tradition of the Christian church, the seven ancient sacraments. More to the point, I saw these sacraments not just as rites of the church or Christian ideals, but as the basic needs of all souls, of every human being. What Weil meant for France in 1940s really was what the church uncovered in the early Middle Ages but didn’t know it.
For the next year I worked on a book about this. It’s not a very good book, but it is a powerful idea. What I found as I wrote and contemplated and wrote some more, was that this was true. Baptism is not just naming rite; baptism is the basic need to be known, to be a beloved, to be called out to with compassion. Unction was not just a healing ritual, it was also the most profound of all needs, the need to be authentic, to be whole, to be your own self. And Penance was the need to be forgiven and the need to forgive. The Lord’s Supper was the most common of all needs, the need for work and rest, bread is toil, wine is rest. Confirmation was the need to understand; Marriage was the need for friendship; and, Ordination, well, the need for order.
Writing the book helped me see how this list is a kind of wellness inventory. When people came for counseling or when I came to them in the hospital I could usually find where people were suffering by listening for these seven needs. Great events in life, both positive and negative, now had a measure. Moments like divorce lit up many of the seven. When you get divorced not only is the need for friendship wanting, but so is your identity and your order and usually there is need for forgiveness. The balance of work and rest gets all undone.
When someone is getting married the opposite can be true, or it too can cause disruption. There are reasons why people say things like “the honeymoon is over” and the reasons almost always can be found in the needs of the soul. Again, not just in a negative sense; positive change impacts the needs of our soul as well.
Consider when people retire; consider what happened when you retired. Your identity, your purpose, your work and rest, your friendships, your place in the order of things: How many of these were stretched or challenged or became difficult? Now it doesn’t have to be hard. There are people who reach the end of a career, get a gold watch and find a comfortable chair and that is that. But not that many. Most people struggle. And for all intents and purposes you should be happy, content, relaxed, but you’re not. The soul’s needs are no longer satisfied.
I could keep going like this for a long time. If this intrigues you, I can get you a copy of the book I wrote. Full disclosure: it’s not a great book. But it is a great question: what do we need in order to live in joy? What does our soul need in order to be at peace? The seven ancient sacraments are a very viable answer, a very fruitful possibility. You need all of these to be satisfied.
Last Sunday I was at New Hope Baptist Church for the Martin Luther King celebration. The music was fun. Most of the speeches were inspiring; and there was a great moment when one of our own, Abby Kozo, was recognized for the incredible work she has done during high school. As I was sitting there listening to the speeches and the sermons and more speeches, I did what I tend to do, my mind wandered far away. What I came to find in the soulful sauntering was Simone Weil.
Dr. Owens asked the people who spoke to focus their remarks on what Dr. King called the beloved community. As I listened to people try to capture his vision, I heard something new. I thought, you know when Dr. King called for a beloved community there was an alternative, a much more recognized alternative to his dream. The alternative to the beloved community was the great society. Johnson’s dreams of butter not bombs. The end of poverty and hunger. Civil Rights for all. The great society.
Listening to the speeches and sermons I remembered Weil and her suggested alternative to a government based on rights, something greater than transactional respect of mutual liberty, the idea that we could build a community based upon the needs of the soul. All of sudden I could see the great society as a greater inclusion of rights, a better transaction, a government who did a better job of insuring equality. Which is good and right and true. Nothing wrong with this. Yet, in the next instance, I could see the beloved community of Dr. King, the ideals of love conquering hate, of breaking the cycles of violence that keep us living in fear. I could hear his persistent call for friendship. I could see something more than rights; I could see the souls of people being made whole again.
When I turned to the reading for this week, I thought, “well, I’ll be. There it is.” Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Not one or the other; not one instead of the other. But both. It was as if I could see the great society and the beloved community not as opposed to each other, but as a compliment of each other. Looking to the teaching of Jesus I could see the beloved community and the great society in harmony. Give both.
It is true we can fail at both. Each of these can go horribly awry. But how true they both are. We need to respect one another, to exchange mutual forbearance; we need to guard dignity and the rights of all. And we need to attend to the soul, to the need to be known as a beloved. We need affordable health care, but we also need to be an authentic person; we need a good justice system, but we also need mercy and forgiveness. We need both.
There is a tendency, a bad habit, a weakness in our traditions of seeing what is Caesar’s as being opposed to what is God’s. We speak of a separation of church and state, which is good. But often we see them as something that cancels out the other. They each demand an exclusive allegiance. And what is more, the allegiance to the particular government and a particular God is demanded as well. Yet what I love about the exchange of liberty and the needs of the soul is that they are best seen as a compliment of the other, like we are a union of body and soul.
Today the body of our democracy is imperiled not by debt or corruption or even our differences of opinion. What imperils us is the loss of mutual respect. This is why denying the outcome of elections is not only disruptive, but it also shakes the foundation of our great society. For when we fail to value the rights of others, our rights are no longer of any value. It’s an exchange of equality.
Yet, we too have great need for a return to order, to a work/rest balance, to be whole and authentic. In the swirling mash of social media, we have exchanged the need for truth for the temptation to speak without thought, to shout without understanding.
These challenges are different, but they speak to each other. They need to be mended together. We need to make each whole again: respect and truth. Not one or the other. Not the great society or the beloved community; not the church or the state. But both in compliment where opposites do not confuse or cancel out.
We need give to Caesar and we need to give to God. Amen.
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
January 22, 2023
Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
Senior Pastor & Head of Staff
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