Spiitually Speaking – June 2019

How Picky Are You?

by The Reverend Jeremy Rutledge
Circular Congregational Church—Charleston, SC

Years ago we visited the island of Kauai at Christmastime. It’s an absolutely beautiful place that time of year with blue skies and very warm water. Migrating humpbacks begin making their way back home. It’s a very popular season.

We learned how popular it was the hard way, when we realized we had forgotten to rent a car. We called every place on the island, but there were no cars available. Public transportation didn’t go from the airport to the North Shore where we were staying. So, I did what any pastor would do. I desperately petitioned…Google.

Searching for local car rentals, I came up with a U-Haul place that mostly rented trucks. A guy named Irv answered the phone. I explained that I was from Hawaii and just wanted to get back to the island. He listened patiently and finally asked, “How picky are you?” I immediately answered, “not picky”!

Irv said that, in that case, he was going to let us have his car. It was kind of old, but the rate he quoted had me smiling. He offered to rent it for the price you’d pay to rent a mask and snorkel at one of the fancy resorts. When we finally got to Irv’s place, we saw that the car was a dented purple Saturn. It had purple sparkly paint and a few Hawaiian decals peeling off the back window. It was love at first sight.

We still talk about Irv’s purple Saturn. The front passenger seat was stuck in the reclining position, so two out of three of us had to sit in the back. The old radio barely worked, but the driver could tune it to Hawaiian music on the AM dial and lower the windows to catch the breeze. Everywhere we went, we fit right in. No shiny new Hertz or Avis at the beach park or the grocery story…just an old beat-up local car with some slippers and beach mats in the back. What we loved about the car was how delightfully dented it was, how beautifully its decals peeled, and how we felt like we were a part of the scenery—in a vehicle that had seen its share of blue skies, warm winters, and migrating whale seasons. We loved its personality. We loved its imperfections.

It has me thinking of how people are like that. In my work as a minister, people often confide in me. They share with me things they don’t share with anyone else, show me sides of themselves they don’t show in public; and I find them beautiful in their own ways. I have come to love people with all their imperfections…and maybe because of them. In fact, I have come to see our scrapes, scratches, and scars—not as imperfections at all, but rather as the things that make us who we are.

As I have learned to appreciate the imperfections in those who have come to see me, I have also learned to appreciate them in myself. So the truth is: This minister has been ministered to by everyone I have listened to—and by everyone who has shared with me from his or her own struggles. The truth that I have learned is: Not one of us is the shiniest new model. We’re all dented purple Saturns. And thank God for that…really.

At Circular Church, we say that everyone is—in essence, good. We are born that way. When we look at a baby, we see a person that is just right. Nothing needs to be changed, and nothing needs to be forgiven. We just celebrate the person. Many of you have seen us baptize babies here, and so you know that we simply affirm and delight in who they are. We commit to walking the path alongside them as they grow in faith, hope, and love. They’ll get bruised up along the way. They’ll live, laugh, love, and suffer like we all do. Yet the scars won’t make them damaged so much as make them human. They’ll be like old Saturns in no time: delightfully dented, beautifully peeled, part of the scenery.

Humor is part of our theology too. Laughter is a way of taking ourselves lightly. But at the same time, I do not wish to diminish or disregard the real sufferings of life. Sometimes our personality—sometimes what makes us uniquely who we are—has come at a great cost. Some of the scars are unbearably deep. The great Zen poet Leonard Cohen wrote in his song Anthem:

“Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

That is a theological statement…because my favorite people are the cracked ones, the dented ones, the bruised ones, and the broken ones.

The usher in recovery, smiling and offering visitors a bulletin. The pianist just back from a trip, jetlagged yet playing so soulfully. The kid after a hard week at school, coming to the front to sit on the steps and give an offering for others. The reader standing at the lectern, grieving a great loss in his life—yet reading the words with heart and conviction. The most important news is this: we’re all just vessels for a greater love and light. We’re all just dented Saturns carrying people to a place they can breathe again, feel whole again, find themselves again as beautiful children of God and lovers of the earth.

When Irv asked me how picky I was, he was referring to cars. “Not picky”, I said. But with regard to theology, I am very picky. You should be too! I pick essential goodness, and I celebrate every person. I honor and dignify your dents and scrapes. I love you just as you are—and I believe that the Divine loves you like that too.