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August 1, 2004 (Pentecost 9)—“Building Souls”

Pastor Fritz Fritschel

Luke 12:13-21

Soul. I want to talk about "soul" today. About building soul. We know how to build barns, warehouses, skyscrapers, freeways and bridges. We know how to build portfolios and investment funds, offshore taxbreaks. We know how to build Strykers, aircraft carriers and missiles, and AK 47s. We know how to build malls, discount stores, industrial parks and corporate farms. The text seems to warn about building bigger and bigger. Now it is time to build soul.

The speaker in the text says: "I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul [psyche, life, self] is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'

I am not going to talk about getting ready for death‹at least not directly. I am not going to advise you about charitable trusts. Or Living Trusts. Or Wills and Last Testaments. Or dying intestate.

I want to talk about soul--that strange word--psyche--the root for the word "psychology". Not necessarily Plato's idea of soul or Aristotle's idea of soul. Or Eldridge Cleaver's, Soul on Ice. Or Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul, or Soulmates. Or William Greider's, The Soul of Economics, as if economics had a soul.

I want to refer to soul food. Food for the soul. I want to talk give a brief description of the menu, the appetizers, the entrees, the desserts for soul. What utensils, spoons, forks do we use for feeding the soul? What are some of the many routes, the avenues, thoroughfares, rivers that take us into the uncharted territory of soul? What are the tools, the loading docks, fork lifts, shovels, that we use for stocking the shelves of soul?

In one of my psychology classes we had an assignment to draw a picture or image of 'the self.' The instructor was not expecting a self-portrait that an artist might draw. What I drew was the multi-colored spiral shape that I showed to the children earlier. I wanted to convey the idea that soul‹that the inner self-- is dynamic, growing, flexible, multi-dimensioned, and perhaps patterned. Patterned in the sense that I know that I keep on reviewing or revisiting obstacles that are familiar. Like addictions that keep on recurring. With each swing of the spiral there may be some new advance, new insight, painful memory, triggered resolve‹but the whole pattern is recognizable by me as my "self". Soul.

And soul, I believe, has certain openings: doors, windows, fissures, cracks, or pores. Like a sphere with many windows. Openings that allow you to listen, see, observe the world around you. The more windows or openings you have, the more you allow yourself to be touched and influenced by the your environment. The more soul you have. The more windows and pores in your soul, the more you are able to radiate through those openings a light of understanding and compassion to others.

So now, the picture of the text, which speaks of the accumulation of goods and material wealth, shifts to the accumulation of soul material. Soul, with its gates and entryways, windows and openings. Soul grows--or shrinks. Soul expands--or withers. Soul flourishes--or languishes. Soul exults--or decries.

You tell me now, how your soul grows! You tell me that you heard the five voices sing last Sunday and your soul didn't grow! You tell me that me that you listen to a friend's tale of pain and suffering and your soul doesn't grow! You tell me that you spent part of a day supporting someone in need of care and your soul didn't grow! You tell me that you explored your own memories and imagination, dim visitors within your own reveries who were eager to become integrated into your consciousness, and your soul didn't grow! You tell me that you seriously spoke with someone who had different values, different traditions, different perspectives from yours---and you listened with understanding, perhaps not agreement, nevertheless your soul grows.

You may not always like it‹what you hear and see. You may not always find it easy to stretch your soul. Who said that soulwork was easy? At times that soul food is hard to digest. We may prefer to push it away, deny it, send it back to the kitchen, complain that it is too hot, too spicy, too painful, too foreign, not what we're used to, or the wine is not at room temperature.

And still we hear the voice of One calling us to befriend the enemy, welcome the stranger, move out beyond our own comfort zone, try another dish. For that seems to be the character of World-Soul; of Divine Soul--to embrace and include the world with its sorrows and joys. As if "God is a blues man." That's the title of a poem by Regie Gibson which I saw/heard recently on a short filler on PBS. When I heard it, I thought--Wow! That is good Lutheran theology. I don't expect you to hear every word, but perhaps you can get a feel for it. It goes like this:

God is a blues man by Regie Gibson
God is a blues man
sitting cross-legged
with an axe angling
from his lap
loving and reviling
us all, like the flatted thirds
pressed against the frets of pain.
God is a blues man
with life and death
strung like strings
around his lovers neck.
Listen to him prowling
the alleys of your mind
in search of the infant crying
from fear of the night.
And God,
believing it's his right
to ambush any bodies head
who dreams about him
ambushes mine, one time
taking the shape of a ghost note
while cooing fugues of rain from his mouth,
a mouth which transformed into
a dimly lit window
placed eastward in the sky.
A window in which I looked through
And saw myself as Vishnu
sleeping on a bed of lotus,
and dreaming of crosses etched in my hands.
And there at that cross in the roads,
where consciousness
shatters a vision to awakenings demand,
at that cross in the road
came the man I would be
for my humanity began to expand.
Now I understand that
I is the blues man
the blues man is I
I is the scream of all things terrible
and the whine of all things trembling.
I is the seraph whose wings beat hatred
and the demon whose smile is redemption.
I is the whisper which cushions the broken body
in the tumult of earthly existence:
I is the blues man
the blues man is I
I is the blush
of the trembling virgin.
I am the whore
that knows the dawn
I is the swollen eye
of the battered wife
wondering where
her husbands gone.
I is the song of fatherless generations
who were sired by the loins of war.
I am the cooing of the Bedouin soldier
bringing the smashing of heads and culture.
I is a white sail blown by the winds of profit
Above a ship made of black, severed hands:
I is the blues man
the blues man is I.
I is the ornament we forge
from the shackles of human freedoms.
I is an eagle's feather trampled
beneath the hooves of some final solution.
I is the shamed thighs of all raped women
demanding the rapist's death as my retribution:
I is the Blues man.
A black boot stepping, goose stepping and stomping
down the doors of scapegoats:
Bluesman
The screaming stream of ash
which blackened the skies
above Bergen Belsen,
Dachau and Auschwitz:
Bluesman.
I is the knife, and the wound
and the blood which will question soon.
The exorcism and the baptism
the missing eye of collective human myopia
the elegy of praise buried
within the fear of our anathema.
I is the fingers of dead lovers
Still reaching toward one another
Across the minefields of war torn lands:
I is the blues man
the blues man is I.
Bring me the tears of a five year old son
who wonders if he will ever fill his father's shoes at all
and I'll give you the soft eyed grin of a father
who knows that one day the shoes will grow too small.
Sing me the choir of home song sang by those in exile,
as their feet trod the sod of the stranger.
And let me show them the star which will guide them towards
their own miraculous births in the manger.
I is the knocking, I is the door.
I is that voice both harsh and warm.
I is that last bit of will‹your pain cannot kill
and that fine thread of light in life's tapestry of storms.
Listen:
to the jangling discord of my sonata
and you will hear within its pale, blue,
murmuring a thin cry of hope.
Listen:
to the single flower, as it sighs
its way through the cracks of concrete
And hear I split wind and cheat death
With this breath of human survival:
I is the blues man
I is the blues man
I is the blues man
the blues man is
Regie Gibson
© Regie Gibson and used by permission

When I first heard this I thought, "Wow. That is really good Lutheran theology!" What would Luther like about it? God is seen as the lowly one, completely immersed in the episodes of life. The one whose power is shown in painful, crucified weakness--singing the blues. A theology of the cross, not of glory. What would Luther like about it? He would like the transposition it takes into a new key when the reader becomes the blues man. You and I are learning how to sing the blues also--not out of cynicism, but hope; not out of paranoia, but trust; not out of fear, but compassion.

How can we be a blues man, carrying all those images within us unless we integrate them into patterns of compassion, weave them into tapestries of hope, fashion human spirals of trust? How can we expand our soul with the stories of joy and pain, unless we learn to digest them in meditative silence, in the reverie of music, in the connectedness of human conversation, in the companionship of eating together---soul food? How can we hear of the pains and sorrows of the world and not be destroyed by them, unless we know that our own story has been received and enfolded into the bosom of Divine Soul, the Divine Heart? Our stories are heard by the Divine Ear, Mind, and Heart. We can hear stories also--and generate hope.

We is the blues people because God is the blues man.


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