This is the Other MacArthur Foundation Calling

October 04, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister


It’s been a great week in Lake Greenwich Village. One person from the neighborhood came by to see if Judson, in the person of me, could bury her father. She had a date picked out and only one requirement. “No mention of God.” Another couple came in and asked if I could marry them right after Christmas. Indeed I could officiate at their wedding. I could not marry them. They had a date picked and only one requirement. “No mention of God.” And one more couple came in and asked if I could “do” their baby. Did they want a baptism, a dedication, a christening? “Any of these would be fine as long as you don’t mention God.”

During this same week, the Macarthur Genius grants were awarded and some outstanding people were chosen to receive them. In each case, I am deeply glad for their adoption as geniuses. I love that they get money for five years to do whatever they want. I love that they are no longer slaves to the monetization of just about everything, including art and literature and genius. I love the way the Macarthur foundation is so like God in adopting geniuses and giving them inheritances, which lead them beyond slavery to freedom. I also love the way God is like the Macarthur foundation, adopting us and giving us inheritances, rich ones that are way beyond monetization in the fist place.

And I wanted to tell my visitors, the ones who brought in the no mention of God “required”, that they were missing a lot by taking God out of their sacred mix and yearnings. I deeply respect the refusal of a growing number of people to be hypocritical about God. If they don’t believe or trust in a God, I am not going to push them so to do. Why would I? God doesn’t push us to believe or trust so why would I? Instead God creates us as choice making people, including the capacity to make choices about whether to have God in our life or our language.

Instead I’d rather say this is the Macarthur foundation calling. You are adopted by God to have an inheritance of freedom. Why not hatch, match and dispatch as though you were inclined to accept the adoption? Very few of us are that crazy about our earthly parents. We are still longing for a happy childhood. We are free to find surrogate parents all over the place in the form of mentor, teachers, guides and gurus. Why not take the fellowship when God calls?

Even the way you name what God is to you is an act of freedom and not slavery. Many of us are slaves to bad metaphors in many things. For example, we say we are against cancer. We war against it. Or we neglect to tell the truth about treatments. Or we say we burnt out as though we were machines. In the case of God, the metaphors are even worse than the metaphors we use about disease and our weariness.

So let me give you three ways to lean towards God and accept the call from the MacArthur foundation. The first comes from John Steinbeck’s book East of Eden. The book turns on the meaning of the Hebrew word Timshel.

By studying the passage in the Bible, Adam Trask's Chinese servant, Lee, helps characters Samuel and Adam understand the intended original meaning in this passage from East of Eden. The Hebrew word timshel—'Thou mayest'— gives a choice. For if 'Thou mayest'—it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' That makes us both free and great and that gives us stature with the gods.

Thou mayest mention God. Thou dost not have to.

A second approach comes from Pascal’s famous wager, reinterpreted recently by Professor Gary Gutting in Pascal’s Wager 2.0. This approach frees us for a different way not to believe. Pascal’s Wager, made by the 17th -century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, holds that believing in God is a good bet at any odds, since the possible payoff — eternal happiness — far outweighs any costs of believing — even of believing in a God who does not exist.

Gutting reinterprets Pascal’s wager as urging those who doubt God’s existence to embrace a doubt of desire rather than a doubt of indifference.

“Unlike the traditional versions, this wager does not require believing that there is a God. So the standard drawbacks of self-deception or insincerity don’t arise. The wager calls for some manner of spiritual commitment, but there is no demand for belief, either immediately or eventually. The commitment is, rather, to what I have called religious agnosticism: serious involvement with religious teachings and practices, in hope for a truth that I do not have and may never attain.”

A third approach is to admit what Yogi knew: 90% of this game is half mental, so said Yogi.

ANYWAY, I am not trying to convince you of God. I am interested in how you live with less slavery and more freedom. Accepting divine adoption, especially at moments of life’s great transitions, hatching, matching, dispatching, strikes me as a good bet. I have certainly laid y chips down for that card. Otherwise I fear I would be owned by way too many more people, ideologies, or spiritually nickeled and dimed to death by life’ s multiple and multiplying obligations

My sister’s daughter had a baby when she was 14. The secret was kept for a long time, only to emerge beautifully in a 27 year old woman named Emily, who is about to be married and had all of us to her bridal fitting barbecue in Minneapolis this summer. Her biological mother, my niece came with Emily’s two half sisters. Her adoptive mother came, with her new husband. And Her adoptive father cam with his new wife. And Emily’s biological father came with his wife. And then we had a barbecue. I am not suggesting that all adopted families behave this way. Most people can argue all night long about whether an adopted child should know their biological sources, etc. I have no opinion or advice here. I do know that Emily accepted her adoption. She adopted her adoption. That’s what I mean by adopting our adoption or taking the Macarthur Foundation’s call.

Someone said that the best marital advice is to treat your partner as your highest paying client. Hmmm. What if God is our best client? Even better than our newborn child or our dead mother or our wonderful partner?

Hear how Zora Neal puts it to those of us powerful enough to have timshel, the capacity to choose. "You who play the zig-zag lightning of power over the world, with the grumbling thunder in your wake, think kindly of those who walk in the dust. And you who walk in humble places, think kindly too, of others. There has been no proof in the world so far that you would be less arrogant if you held the lever of power in your hands. Let us all be kissing friends. Consider that with tolerance and patience, we godly demons may breed a noble world in a few hundred generations or so. Maybe all of us who do not have the good fortune to meet or meet again, in this world, will meet at a barbeque."

Margaret Mead said “too many people reject God but go on believing in the devil.” Peter Drucker said,

“Do first things first and second things not at all.” The Golden Rule says Love God the Most and Love your neighbor as yourself.” We have choices to be rich or poor, slave or free. We may adopt these choices or not. Genius is granted to the human by God.

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