Perhaps it’s my age. Perhaps it’s the age I grew up in, or the households and locations of my youth, but I have been thinking lately that Hallmark cards (and maybe the most clever bumper sticker people) have made my life as a minister much more difficult than it otherwise needs to be. Hallmark, you see, has made a business of turning profoundly meaningful statements into something akin to kitsch. Like I said, it might only be me, but I find that short and pithy statements, some might even say proverbs, are undermined when they are thrown about and used too often. Of course, to some they remain powerful, yet many of us are cynical enough to find them suspect. We tend to overlook the simple looking as merely plain or unimportant, if it’s not complicated it isn’t worth much, maybe it’s because we live in a world of experts.
Take Thank You, for example. Thank you is one of the most profound statements any of us can make to another person, it says where I had need, where I wasn’t whole, you helped me. Saying there is, and/or was a need, is a serious admission, at least for most of the people I know. We are generally not that good at asking for help, so saying thank you isn’t just a piece of politeness, sending cards of thanks isn’t just a pro-forma, thank yous are deeply important to the connections in our communities and the relationships we rely on to stay afloat amid the sometimes rough sea of life.
Another one is the Valentine’s day card, anniversary card, or any of the cards which say “I love you” and add some sweet little line proving how thoughtful you are about the other person and the emotion you are trying to confess…except, of course, it’s not that you were thoughtful so much as the card writer was. Saying I love you and figuring out what that might mean, what analogy might work to convey the depth of the expression, is an important soul-searching way to spend our time. It helps us to think about the ways we appreciate others, especially those closest to us, and I think any time spent thinking about our gratitude is time well spent.
What has been bothering me is this: the Gospel is pretty straight forward and captured in a few very pithy verses, but they don’t have the same power, the same meaning, we don’t tend to spend the same amount of time plumbing the depths of them as we should. Maybe we never did, and maybe hallmark (and Twitter???) have nothing to do with this, but why is it so hard to convey eternal truths simply. Think of 1 John 4:19 “we love because he first loved us.” Man, doesn’t that capture so much about what it means to say I love you and how to live that love out? Or take John 19:30 “when he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” O.k. that one is pretty long, but only because we need a bit of context for those precious three words “it is finished.” Done, complete, irreversible, over, not to be re-done. Why is it so hard to accept, to convey to people, “it is finished” even after they have been going to church for years?
Another good one, and this one is particularly poignant for me as I walk with my congregation, which includes many elderly folks who have been losing spouses, and friends lately, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Has that been robbed of its power by Hallmark (and Facebook???), which makes such statements so benign by piling them one on top of another, and failing to honor the true despair of the moment?
Blaming the hallmark people is going too far, those cards can certainly be helpful when used right, like anything else. The enemy is much bigger than some man made corporation, the enemy wants us to forget what love really is, to lose the sense of gratitude towards others, and to feel despair he wants this because such emotions ferry us further from God. All is not well with the world and it is a hard and broken place and that makes it all too easy to use such things poorly and it also makes it hard to hear such things as, God loves you, Jesus died for you, grace is a gift for you, my peace I give to you. I suppose that’s why we have to hear these truths over and over again and part of why we need faith communities to tell it these truths to each other over and over again. This morning I am thankful that my family and I live in a time and place where it is safe to pray for those in less safe situations.