Shaken and Stirred

Ancient Testimony - Matthew 20:1-16

September 19, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Some words get more of a workout than others.  “Shaken, not stirred” is a catch phrase of Ian Fleming's fictional British Secret Service agent James Bond.  When asked in the franchise reboot Casino Royale if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, Bond, who often seems very interested in this particular subject, snaps, “Does it look like I give a damn?”

This phrase has great cliché value.  It has the merit of meaning both strong preference and strong indifference.  It individualizes to go on to mock the individualization.  It exoticizes—making you look like someone who knows what she is doing—and then goes on to make fun of how very “special” you think you are.

I have it on good authority that Lee Hancock, our former pastor, who was memorialized here last week, liked her martinis straight up, neither shaken nor stirred.  She did not want to “bruise the gin.”  She was also a big fan of the cosmo and partial to a strong one.

I want to explore three identities today: one, that of the Christian; two, that of the cosmo or cosmopolitan; and three, the identity of the Judsonite.  You can easily be all three: a person touched by Christianity, a cosmopolitan, and a Judsonite.  What will be important in all three identities is that you don’t take them too seriously.  Each identity specials you and marks you.  And as long as you don’t overdo it, or give too much of a damn about it, all will be well.  The second you start fussing over these identities, you are on your way to a “bruising.”

Let’s take the Christian identity first.  A Christian is compelled to pay attention to who gets paid what in the vineyard.  Everybody gets paid, no matter how hard or expertly or long they work.  In the eyes of God, there is a larger justice than that of the work measurement.  So if anyone has ever told you that you were lazy, or that you have already peaked in your production, or that your résumé is impressive but not what we are looking for right now, you will hear a word of gospel here.  If, on the other hand, you are at the top of your particular pyramid, “been working hard or long all my life,” and you have begun to drink the Kool-Aid that therefore you are better than other people, you will not like this text.  You will find it unfair.  The gospel is often good news to the poor and the late and bad news to the punctual and rich.  The gospel says you have worth beyond your work.  You have worth if over-employed or unemployed.   If you are an artist, and you were not yet “early,” as in the Judson Dance Theater, or the creator of the next best thing on Broadway, you have worth.  Early is fine but your worth as an artist is not in being early.  You have worth independent of your capacity to work.  The blind, deaf, and lame often love this text.  Those touched by the Christian message understand that worth is independent of productivity.

Secondly, you have worth whether you live in Manhattan or Queens, Kansas or Bluefield.  That may sound funny at first glance but there are a lot of New Yorkers running around, internalizing the precious parochialism of New York.  By the way, it is a great place to live and the only problem is when we start thinking that.  New Yorkers can act like the early workers or the early artists or early activists and begin to be quite conceited about the way they like their martinis, as though their way of bruising gin was the right way to bruise gin.

On Monday last I fell in love with New York all over again.   I found a table on the triangle in the middle of the street that is overlooked by the Triangle Building.  I had just been in to the new Eataly store at 23rd and Fifth and was wearing that cosmopolitan sheen.  I felt bathed in light.  Great food, Italian imports, shopping carts that had design as opposed to the kind they have at Stop and Shop in the burbs.  You can imagine my burgeoning conceit.  I not only was having a martini, it was prepared just right.  I was doing what sociologists call specialing myself, donning a role that made me look really good to myself.  Status accumulation is often a more exciting job than money accumulation.  Either way, I had a table in a great triangle of a great and large world.  I was watching the New Yorkers watch the New Yorkers watch the New Yorkers.  Those of us who live here were making fun of the tourists.  The tourists were wondering how to be us.  We were shaken and stirred by each other.

For some strange reason, while sitting there, looking good to myself, I was reminded of what Tony Judt, the historian, said about Jews.  To Judt, the question of how best to live as a small people in a big world had been center stage for a long time.  Judt argues that Jews do best in diaspora, when they are without roots, which makes them into better cosmopolitans.  They do more shaking and stirring as a minority than as a majority.  The same may be true for Judson: we may make more contributions as a small church than as a large church.

The Jews and the Triangle Building bring me to Judson.  Judson is a local community in the cosmopolitan and global world of New York City.  We are local but not small—because local is not automatically small.  Every now and then we get to shine historically, to make a little buzz, to get noticed beyond our pay grade or even our magnificent real estate.  But we are not here to get noticed.  We are here to remark bodily on the way of Jesus, from time to time, and to make sure that we remember a story about a justice larger than the justice understood or commanded by the authorities.  Working hard may be a good thing but it is not the only thing or only route to worth, and that goes for people at Judson, too.  We love our hard workers.  We even overwork our hard workers.  But work is not everything here.  You can goof off here and still be a part of this haven for people from the South and the West.

I remember when the word “local” was a bad word.  Most of us went to high school in places where the idea was to get out as soon as you could.  Well, now, we are here.  The best thing we can do is to avoid conceit or becoming too precise about how we want to drink our martinis.  And if we can’t avoid that conceit, at least we should order up a cosmo.  We should become that best kind of cosmopolitan, the one who still knows how to drink a beer and remembers where he or she comes from.  Remember, you can take the band out of the Catskills but you can’t take the Catskills out of the band.  Our identity is best as the ones who don’t really give a damn about the unimportant things and who reserve all inner space for the act of gratitude.  That gratitude extends to the worker who is undeserving, toward the tourist who wears pedal pushers, toward that unstylish and lazy person deep within each of us. 

If we really want something with the capacity to shake us up, something that is truly stirring, consider taking back your name from all things, even the label “hard worker,” as in the one who deserves.  Or New Yorker, as in the one whose nose is turned permanently down on the tourists.  Even Judsonite, as in the one church that gets it right.  Except for when it doesn’t.  And don’t go overboard on that identity of Christian, either.  Just be a person, one who doesn’t give a damn about the small stuff but dares to be in diaspora, as a rootless local in training as a rooted cosmopolitan.

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