The Common Good

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Alexander was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova / Shutterstock.com
Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova / Shutterstock.com

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It's a children's story. I know. A no good, very bad day ... how do you prepare your kids for that kind of day where nothing seems to go right, where at every turn knobs break and we step in puddles and get gum stuck in our hair?

Maybe, we tell ourselves, that we can move to Australia and everything will be better.

Well, no. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days happen there, too. They happen everywhere. Everywhere. It's a great book.

So what do we do about them? The classic children's book doesn't answer the question for us. Not really. It's just a little bit of truth telling with fun illustrations. Some days are just terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

But as we grow older, we learn that though these days do simply happen, that there are attitudes one can have, there are approaches to these days one can take.

We also learn that those days are rarely so kind. Gum in our hair? Mud on our clothes? Life can be much more challenging. There is greater cruelty in the world and we all know it.

I bring this up for us to consider today as we look to our Psalmist. Psalm 14 is a challenging lyric to hear. Fools. Evildoers. They're everywhere. The whole world has gone to Hell in a hand basket! Don't you see?! Doesn't everyone else see? No. Why? Because NONE are good, not one. Not a single one.

Our Psalmist is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The country is crumbling. The nation is in an uproar. The poor are ignored. The government is careless. The enemies of the state are gaining power.

It was a bad day. Truly. It was an apocalyptic day, the kind of day movies are made about.

Someone needed to write a song about it, it was such a bad day. Heck, the Psalm was so popular that it appears twice in the Psalter. The remix or cover is Psalm 53.

It's not a Psalm about unbelief (a possible contemporary reading), but a Psalm about relentless cruelty in the face of God, about life coming apart at the seams, and one person's wail of helplessness.

Why do these things happen?

Am I the only one who sees all of it flying apart?

What has happened to the world?

Are there any good people left?

I don't know about you, but I've had those days.

I'm not talking about gum-in-your-hair days. I've had my share of those, of course, and I cuss when I do. I hate water in my shoes as much as our boy Alexander does. No, I'm talking about the day that the Psalmist is having, the days where despair sets in and you are convinced more than ever, that nothing good could possibly come from anything.

Death. Destruction. Loss ... incredible grief about personal and collective loss.

A little testimony, if you will. I've had dreams dashed and hopes denied. I've wrestled with depression and addiction. In the process I learned that there is nothing at all unusual about wrestling with depression and addiction. One of the key components, however, of addiction is the illusion that somehow you are the only person in the world like you, that you are alone, so very, very special in that loneliness. Then, when you start to recover, to awaken from the nightmare of staring at yourself in the mirror or keeping your head in the sand, you realize that you are just like every other person on the planet.

You are just like everyone else, except that you are really bad at it.

I learned that I was the fool. I've hurt people I love and I've been hurt. But that's another story.

It's a silly title, the title to this children's book, Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but we know what it points to. "Terrible" becomes terrifying and "horrible" becomes horrifying.

I've been terrified and horrified ... sometimes at myself. Sometimes by others.

War. Terrorism. It's endless. Some of you are old enough that I know you sat at the feet of your parents to talk about the "War to End All Wars." And here we are a century later on the brink of another war, of another terrifying, horrifying display of human cruelty.

"There is no one who does good, no, not one."

I am sorely tempted to sing the song of the Psalmist. "There is no one who does good."

I want to bury my head in the sand. I do. I want to pretend that everything is okay. I want to insulate myself. I want to isolate myself. I want to do whatever it takes to keep "those people," whoever they are, as far away from me as possible. I want to run. I want to hide.

I want to deny the truth of the world as it has always been and pretend that I can keep the violence and cruelty at bay, that I can somehow, some way ... separate myself.

But then God comes like the shepherd from our story today. God comes and scoops me up out of my pit of despair, of my self-imposed isolation. I am the one sheep. I am the lost coin that the woman is looking for.

God, the shepherd, the woman, sometimes comes as a friend who knows me, as a wife who never ever lets me wallow in self-pity as much as I wish she would.

God comes as an encouraging bit of music, as an act of beauty and reverence, and scoops me up.

We are so often the sheep lost in anger, despair, longing for peace, convinced that there is "no one who does good. No, not one." We have to lament. We need to mourn. We need to grieve. We need to rail in horror and terror.

And then God comes.

God comes. And then we need to surrender it all.

We need to let it go and let God come and scoop us up. We need to surrender and let God carry us.

Sometimes I am the lost sheep. It's the truth of it. Getting ordained certainly hasn't protected me from that truth. And being “The Church” hasn't protected us from that truth.

It was my first year of seminary. The Twin Towers were destroyed, tumbled to the ground. So many people assumed that everyone would go rushing back to the churches. It was the turn of the millennium and we started counting heads to get a renewed sense of the church in the U.S. We assumed the crisis would encourage people to return. They would need the church. The exact opposite happened.

Since then it seems all my conversations have been about church and the place of Christianity in the world. My conversations have been about responding to crisis after crisis. "Save the church," is the constant cry.

Fix it. Fix. It.

It is like the church fell when the Towers did. That is not the reality of it, of course. Not at all.

Yet, I cannot help but wonder ...

Are we lost? Have we forgotten the shepherd? Have we forgotten the woman? Are we so concerned by our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day that we have become like the Psalmist? Have we convinced ourselves that everyone is a fool? There's no one who does good, no, not one.

How might we claim instead a sense of God's abundance? Not in possessions. No, that notion won't serve. But, in humanity.

How might we recover an abundance of compassion and grace, of a sense of shared humanity and the joy that comes from friendship and generosity?

We turned inward so long ago. How might we turn toward one another and the world today? There is so much to give and to share.

I have been seeing signs of hope. Have you? Have you been seeing signs of hope? Have you been seeing the shepherd? The woman? Hope abounds.

Last week the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported a statement from Pope Francis urging open dialogue with people who practice or adhere to no faith tradition:

"Since it is born of love," he wrote, quoting his own encyclical "Lumen Fidei," "faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. ... Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all."

This sounds like someone who has been scooped up by God.

This sounds like someone who has been found.

And then there's this from Andrew Slack, Executive Director of the Harry Potter Alliance (Yes, another children's book):

"Today, on September 11, we send love to children who grew up without parents ...We send love to all those who have lost loved ones in the madness that followed the attacks in 2001. We send love also to those in Darfur, in the Congo, and beyond: to those whose suffering has been ignored in part due to this madness. We send hope that those who have been living in fear for over a decade can find safety and healing. We send hope to the children of Syria and hope that all Syrian civilians find peace."

This, too, sounds like someone who has been scooped up by God.

This sounds like someone who has been found.

Tattoo-wearing, and cussing Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber writes:

"God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word. My selfishness is not the end-all…instead, it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn’t about God creating humans as flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us peace—like saying, ‘Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be a good guy and forgive you.’ It’s God saying, ‘I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.'" (Pastrix, p. 50)

This sounds like someone who has been scooped up by God.

Like someone who has been found.

These people give me hope.

Brothers and sisters, are we that one lost sheep?

Are we willing to entertain the idea that it may be we who are lost,

lost in our own fear,

our own insecurity,

our belief that there is no one who does good?

Do we need to surrender?

Perhaps.

We need to start paying attention to the people who've been found. We need to let God find and carry us.

And if this is you, I offer you this: Wait for the Lord.

No matter what happens, be gentle with yourself.

God is like a shepherd.

God is like the woman.

Amen.

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Image: Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova / Shutterstock.com

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