• Sad to hear of George H.W. Bush's death this past week.  From a political standpoint, I wasn't always a fan of his, but from an historical standpoint, I think he was one of our country's better presidents. He was an extraordinarily skilled and wise statesman, but a below average politician.  I expect that 100 years from now, historians will evaluate both him and Barak Obama as similar:  prudent and studious men, the best of their generation, who led the country safely through rapidly changing times, but couldn't grow their own political parties...and thus didn't have the support they needed to govern, and couldn't quite get ahead of the curve in a world where the rules were chaotically changing.  The best "H.W." biography out there is Jon Meacham's Destiny and Power:  The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.  If you want to honor the occasion of his passing, this is the book to read.
  • Meanwhile, I've just finished Chris Bohjalian's novel, The Flight Attendant.  It's a good murder mystery with a surprise triple twist on the very last three pages. 

December 2 , 2018
Your 13 Secrets
According to a professor from Columbia University,  you are trying to hide 13 secrets from the rest of us.  

Don't worry, Dr. Slepian hasn't been spying on you personally.  He reached his conclusion by interviewing 600 people and determined from them that the average is 13 secrets per person.  And while we may tell one or two people some of those secrets, we've likely never told anyone at least five of our secrets.

My grandma Haworth always tried to keep her age a secret.  Didn't work. 

One year my dad got my mom some intimate apparel for Christmas, and she told us kids to keep that particular gift a secret. Maybe if she hadn't said anything ...that story would have stayed a secret.   

Several presidents have required their underlings to sign "non-disclosure" agreements...promising that they will not blab any secrets about what really goes on inside the White House.  ...Doesn't work. 
The Bible is full of secrets.  From the very first, Adam and Eve tried to keep it secret that they had eaten the forbidden fruit. But...busted!  Noah's sons (two of them) tried to keep his drinking problems a secret.  Busted. Abraham tried to keep his marriage to Sarah a secret.  Busted.  Jesus tried to keep some of his miracles a secret.  Busted. He even tried to get his followers to pray in secret...but ...bunches of Christians keep wanting to practice their piety at sporting events, public school classrooms, and halls of government.  
A verse in James says that we should confess to each other...so that we might be healed. What? Share my secrets with my fellow Christians? Some of them will gloat over me, some will be judgmental, and some will put it on the prayer chain...and do you know how many stories get screwed up by the time they reach the end of a prayer chain?  I don't know exactly how many problems you have at the moment, but I'm going to guess that if you spill your guts and reveal your 13 secrets to your pew mates, you'll have even more of a mess on your hands. 

But is it healthy to keep secrets?  Is it Christian?
As a pastor, I am under a sacred obligation to keep other people's secrets.  And I do, even from my wife, which she secretly hates.  My bishop likes secrets, more than he realizes. After all, how busy do you think he'd be next week if all of us pastors started sharing the skeletons from our personal closets?  There would be lots of churches getting new ministers come the first of the year.

Sometimes people write information on the "Joys and Concerns" cards that are handed back to me on Sunday mornings.  But before I read them out loud to the rest of the congregation, I edit out portions of what is written...for various humanitarian reasons. Openness and transparency are laudable, except when the exposure might prove unkind. Sharing too much information is unhealthy...and has consequences:  just like getting too much sun. Sunlight has its benefits too, but only in moderation. 

Keeping secrets isn't always the worst thing; sometimes it's wise discretion.   But keeping secrets can be a problem, particularly if those particular secrets weigh heavily on us...or lead us to build our lives on deceptions.  It can be burdensome on our souls to keep some stuff a secret all the time. Secrets fester in guilt and shame, sometimes to the point of making us sick.  When we hold on to secrets about our own selves, we can sometimes feel anxious...or fake. 

One psychological study indicated that secrets that are shared with a close friend actually make us healthier...and strengthen our social relationships (provided... the friend doesn't blab things all over the place).  Many people keep secrets because they want to avoid harming someone else, or self-embarrassment, or the unpleasant consequences that would result.  

Researchers found a host of things people keep secret about their personal lives:  eating, drug use, weight, being bullied, sexual matters, theft, trauma from the past, hidden relationships, information about a family member, pretending to like someone, finances, ambition, body imperfections, wrongdoing from the past, religious or political opinions, financial matters, past failures...  
 So, is it good to confess?  Or is "mum" the word? Sometimes keeping secrets is healthy...and sometimes not.  What's the difference?  Not all secrets are an act of deception:  sometimes it's just no one else's business.  

But if relationships, financial security, commitments, or organizations are built on deceptions kept secret, then everything has to change.  People who will use their power to make things right need to be let in on the secret. 

If a secret is producing toxic anxiety, and the keeping of it is interfering with living a free and fruitful life, it's time to bring a trustworthy person into the know. We'll never be able to move forward in life until someone else knows and can offer us grace and pardon.  Not everyone needs to know, but someone does.  

Tt is never a good idea to tell the whole world your secrets.  Start small, and let prudence take it from there.

Sometimes we try so hard to hide secrets from others that we hide them from our own selves.  It is occasionally good to sit down with God and mention them all.  God already knows, and we would be better off if we did too.

The book of James probably has it right.  Some of the secrets that we hide may be keeping us out of trouble, temporarily, but they are destroying us in the long run.  Some of those 13 secrets, shared with a person of wise mind and gracious heart, will most likely lead to being born again.  

But, as my mom might say, just be careful what you tell the kids.


 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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